The sun is beginning to set on the summer transfer window, and many FC Cincinnati fans were hoping the club would add a striker, perhaps even more so now after Saturday’s 2-1 loss to Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Nippert Stadium.
While it’s still possible the club acquires a striker before the window closes on Thursday, general manager Gerard Nijkamp said adding defenders was the plan entering the window. He compared building a team to building a house, beginning with the foundation — the back line.
“There was a lot of work done before my time, but now we evaluate and analyze the balance in the team,” Nijkamp told reporters before Saturday’s match. “And we’re starting in the foundation — that means in the back four. From there we will build to the top. Of course we are also looking for an upgrade for up front, but (he) must also be available in the market. If not, then we will focus on the next window for the preseason for the next season.”
In this window the club has added center back Maikel van der Werff, who made his second start on Saturday, and left-back Andrew Gutman, on loan from Scottish Premiership giants Celtic FC. Gutman made his introductions to FC Cincinnati’s media contigent on Saturday.
Gutman came over from USL Championship side Charlotte Independence, where he was also on loan. He said he’s fit and ready to play. Whether he plays in Saturday’s Hell is Real Derby in Columbus depends on the coaching staff.
“I knew I had a really good preseason with Celtic, but I needed to get games,” said Gutman, last year’s Hermann Award winner. “Coming here is a really good opportunity to get games at a very high level. I was ecstatic about the move, and everything just worked in my favor for me to get here.”
Of course, FC Cincinnati is still trying to land a head coach after firing Alan Koch in May. There are reports the club will hire Ron Jans, who Nijkamp worked with while at PEC Zwolle, but the club has been silent on the matter.
When asked directly if he could say anything about a coaching hire, Nijkamp declined but hinted an announcement could be imminent.
“Good try, good try,” Nikjamp said in a good-natured manner. “Sorry, I cannot say. But don’t go on holiday. Don’t go traveling with the family because maybe there is something coming in the next 48 hours.”
After conducting business with the club while commuting across the Atlantic Ocean, Nijkamp is now in Cincinnati to stay except for return trips back to Europe or elsewhere for scouting purposes.
As Nijkamp assesses his first transfer window with FC Cincinnati, he said the hardest part of trying to make transactions from the Netherlands was the time difference.
“Very important to start in a good way, to build that foundation from a distance with the Atlantic Ocean in between,” Nijkamp said. “But I think we did it well. It was not a negative point. It was challenging, but with the communication ways there are these days, we did I think a great job the last few months.
“Busy times, always. It’s not only Europe but also America. We have a few days to go. We have to be smart. Strategy is very important in the window. This is the second window in the season, so that means we cannot do a lot, but maybe we can make some swaps and we can have action in the roster. We will see what’s happening the last few days.”
Adding Gutman on loan through the 2020 season was the latest piece of business. FC Cincinnati has been sorely needing depth at left back with injury-ridden Greg Garza largely unavailable this season.
Garza is working to make his way back to match fitness but still has a few weeks left before he returns, Nijkamp said. Garza has played just seven matches this season and has been out of action since leaving in the 10th minute against Orlando City way back on May 19.
“I know it was before my time, we already had Gutman on the radar,” Nijkamp said. “I saw him on video, and I liked him a lot. I think he will fit in the way we want to play — now and in the future.”
Gutman has the same style of play as Garza — that of an attack-minded left back. Gutman had 11 goals and nine assists last year in his senior year at Indiana.
“Obviously I’m a defender first, so I have to defend,” Gutman said. “But I like to get forward. I have a good engine. I’m very direct with balls into the box. I can kind of create my own chances and hopefully score a couple of goals as well.”
Gutman and Garza are so alike, in fact, that once Garza’s healthy, no matter which one starts and which one comes off the bench, they’ll have the same playing style and the same role in FC Cincinnati’s system.
“That’s a positive thing because we want to have a profile at every position,” Nijkamp said. “On the left side, (that profile is) aggressive in duels, playing with space in the back and attacking, coming making the overlap. Garza is the same profile as Andrew, so that’s a nice fit.”
Adding Gutman also means Mathieu Deplagne, who has been logging many minutes at left back, can move back to his natural role of right back, where Justin Hoyte and Alvas Powell have been spending time since Garza’s injury.
Deplagne has started every match this season but just seven at right back.
“That means balance in the back four,” Nijkamp said. “Deplagne is a normal right fullback. He has to play as a left fullback. He does very good as a left fullback. But his nature is more on the right side. That means for him he can be available for the coaches for the last 10 games for the right side. The coaches choose, but the opportunity is there to get Deplagne to the right side.”