MILFORD — When Ron Jans took over as FC Cincinnati’s coach last August, he looked at the results and knew where the club would finish in the Eastern Conference table. After a few matches to see what he had, he started planning and evaluating for next year.
Next year is now here. When players reported Saturday at the Mercy Health Training Center, it signaled a fresh start for the club in its second MLS season. The last-place finish in 2019 is now history.
The front office brought in new faces such as designated player Yuya Kubo, midfielder Haris Medunjanin and center back Tom Pettersson — among others. It’s a new step for FC Cincinnati, a club still in its MLS infancy.
“We have a new team, it’s not easy,” left back Greg Garza said. “We have a lot of guys that have to click in certain ways, have to build a good chemistry on the field. But from the looks of it, from walking into the locker room, it’s good to see a lot of new faces that hopefully have different aspirations than what last year turned out to be.”
FC Cincinnati landed Sunday for a 19-day stay in Tucson, Arizona, the first of two preseason destinations.
It marks the start of Jans’ first full season in Cincinnati. Last August he took over midweek with Hell is Real rivals Columbus Crew SC looming just days away. Now he has had an entire offseason and gets a full preseason to prepare for 2020.
Jans says he feels like he has settled in with the club.
“What is very important for me personally is that in four months’ time I know everybody in the club,” Jans said. “I know how it works. The staff has developed I think a great structure. … I know the players. I know the league much better, the rules. And I don’t use my Google maps so much anymore in the car when I’m driving in Cincinnati. I feel at home.”
In those final 10 games of last season, Jans developed a rapport with the players.
From the returning players’ perspective, that familiarity and Jans’ personality will go a long way toward unity and cohesion, one of Jans’ stated preseason objectives.
“He’s definitely a fun guy to work with,” forward Kekuta Manneh said. “He’s got a lot of energy. He’s a character for sure. I think we needed that especially last year with the slump that we went through. He came in and put smiles on peoples’ faces. But also he knows when to work. When we’re working, we’re working, but he made it exciting for us. We’ve seen a glimpse of his tactical genius. He kind of changed things around.
“For me he’s a fair guy. He gives everyone a fair chance. It doesn’t matter how old or young you are, if you are performing and he thinks you can help the team, he will give you a chance. He’s a confident guy, which I like. We all know what to expect from him, and I think that will go a long way for us knowing him and how he operates and his system.”
That system will center around a Dutch-style 4-3-3 formation. Jans said he’s happy with the current roster but emphasized the need for a few more attacking pieces.
Expect FC Cincinnati to make another addition or two in the coming weeks. The season begins March 1 at the New York Red Bulls.
“We’ll all welcome them with open arms,” said Manneh, who may find himself competing for minutes with whomever is brought in. “The team needs to improve.
“I like to look at it in a positive way. It can only make me better as a person and as a player. That would be good if they can bring someone in that can help us.”
Jans’ first full year is another step in the process as FC Cincinnati plays its last home season at Nippert Stadium and prepares for the new West End stadium in 2021.
Garza, an inaugural member of Atlanta United, indicated the club’s MLS existence is still a project. He compared FC Cincinnati to Atlanta, which finished fourth in its inaugural 2017 season and then hoisted the MLS Cup in 2018.
FC Cincinnati, he concedes, has a few steps to go to reach that kind of success.
“Here, you have to be honest with yourself and say we’re still trying to find that perfect solution and that perfect chemistry within this team to make it to the playoffs and then take it step by step,” Garza said.
“We have to try to build that chemistry on and off the field. For me from last year, you go through so many lows that you lose that (chemistry) in the locker room. It’s sad to see, but we all have the opportunity to now start with a fresh slate.”