MILFORD — Alan Koch wanted nothing to do with the question. When a reporter asked what it would mean for FC Cincinnati to be off to the best start of any expansion club in MLS history with three points on Saturday against Philadelphia Union, the manager’s expression said it all.
Then Koch responded with all the appropriately canned answers, about how his team is focused on one game at a time and how five matches mean little in the scope of a 34-game schedule. “It means absolutely nothing,” Koch said.
But isn’t this when FCC is at its best, with an opportunity to do something that no other expansion club has done? To defy the odds, and virtually everyone’s expectations? The more this franchise is told it can’t do something, the more likely it will.
“We have a group of guys this club brought in who are cut from the same cloth,” said defender Forrest Lasso. “We’re a blue-collar team. We have a lot of guys who might have been overlooked in their career. That little bit of determination fuels our fire.”
Take last Saturday’s match at New England, for example. There was no Fanendo Adi due to injury. Out on international duty were Kendall Waston, Allan Cruz, Darren Mattocks, and Alvas Powell. The Revolution are struggling, to be fair. But playing on the road without several key components in the first month as an MLS club, it was a match met with nervousness by even the most positive-thinking orange and blue clad fan.
So, what did FCC do? They stayed on the front foot for all 90 minutes. They were the more attacking, dynamic club in a convincing 2-0 victory which moved them into a first-place tie with DC United in the Eastern Conference — albeit with Wayne Rooney’s club having a match in hand.
“It was great for other guys to get the opportunity to step up and do their job,” said midfielder Victor Ulloa. “We missed those guys on international duty and now it will be good to have them back. But this is what we do, we compete.”
Where are the goals going to come from, they asked? Try seven from seven different scorers. What’s the best we can expect from a brutal early slate with road matches at Seattle, Atlanta, and home against Portland, they wondered? Try seven points in four.
April Fool’s Day is still a few days away. When the MLS regular season concludes, the leaves will be beginning to brown. Nobody is clearing their October calendar for playoff matches at Nippert. But, isn’t this just like them? From the first day the USL franchise was announced, FCC has been doing the unexpected. And, as Lasso said, they’ve built a roster of players who thrive in doing just that.
“It’s hard working guys who want success,” said midfielder Kenny Saief. “It’s not only the starting eleven. It’s the whole group that has a lot of quality. They are all motivated. Hopefully, it keeps going like that. We’re all motivated to show everyone that FC Cincinnati is a very good team.”
There’s a culture among FCC players of having something to prove. There’s a collective chip on the shoulders of almost everyone on this roster. There also is a culture of competition. That’s not hard to visualize during FCC training sessions which are physical at times, but also very spirited. The players pull for each other, they also push each other.
“We speak to the players about opportunities and grabbing opportunities,” Koch said. “So far, every player is in a good place because they have been presented with opportunities and for the most part, the guys have grabbed those opportunities. You have to have competition to be remotely successful in this league. You have to have players who push each other every single day. We’ve created an environment where you come to work and you have to push each other to get your job.”
Three of FCC’s next four matches are at home, beginning Saturday. Adi’s status for the match remained uncertain on Wednesday. He was expected to see the doctor again on Thursday. With the exception of Frankie Amaya, the players out on international duty were still en route and not at training on Wednesday. No word yet on the condition of Kendall Waston’s calf which he injured playing for Costa Rica. Also absent from training was Greg Garza who wasn’t feeling 100 percent on Wednesday so he was rested.
Even if FCC’s roster isn’t quite back to full strength on Saturday, and regardless of the makeup of the starting XI, fans can expect a packed house at Nippert and a club that defies the odds.
“Our goal is three points every time we step on the pitch,” Lasso said. “I will quote our president (Jeff Berding), and he’s going to love me: we have a group of fighters. It’s not always done the prettiest way possible. But if you get it done, you get it done.”