Richey and McLaughlin: Pandemic latest chapter in FC Cincinnati story

Richey is hopeful that MLS can restart with a condensed schedule with matches on Wednesday and Saturday, perhaps in a tournament format. But there are many variables at work, and as Richey pointed out, most of them are outside the realm of sports.

During his five seasons with FC Cincinnati, Jimmy McLaughlin has experienced just about everything imaginable. While wearing the Orange and Blue, McLaughlin was part of a magical US Open Cup run, the remarkable rise from fledgling USL franchise to MLS, some messy managerial changes, and now the unthinkable, a global pandemic that has halted the season.

“I’ve been thinking for years there’s a million-dollar book deal with this organization,” McLaughlin said, via video conference call on Tuesday. “You can kind of script it. It’s just a matter of time before there’s a Netflix documentary on FC Cincinnati. People would watch.”

Goalkeeper Spencer Richey who has been McLaughlin’s teammate for three of those seasons, is waiting to watch the Netflix documentary “Sunderland ‘til I Die” because his wife wants to watch it too. But he’s aware of the similarities between the English football club’s rollercoaster ride of a history and FCC’s recent saga.

“As someone who’s been in the thick of it here, both the good and the bad, it’d be a pretty cool story,” said Richey, who joined McLaughlin on Tuesday’s Zoom chat.

Richey and McLaughlin have plenty of time on their hands at the moment, waiting like all of us for the restart of the MLS season. The thought of resuming the season in empty stadiums as some European leagues have suggested is not something the two players would embrace, especially since it would mean a barren Nippert Stadium devoid of Orange and Blue. No Bailey. No chants. No cheers.

“It would be brutal,” McLaughlin said. “That’s what you dream about, playing in front of 30,000 fans, when you’re in the backyard as a little kid. It would not be the same. Just from an atmosphere standpoint, with nobody there, the level of play changes a little. I don’t know what the recommendations will be, if it’s safe and they would allow it, but having fans would be the most ideal.”

For McLaughlin who returned this season from an ACL tear that caused him to miss all of last season, the hiatus is allowing him some additional time to heal. In fact, he hopes to come out of the shutdown ahead of some other players in terms of fitness.

“It does take about 18 months to be completely back to your normal self,” he said. “So, having more time helps. It is frustrating to be back in the soccer environment and finally feel sharp and getting used to playing in real game situations … but I’m going to be healthier and stronger than I would’ve been.”

McLaughlin joked that he’s becoming quite adept at getting kicked off playing fields by police officers and campus security at parks that are currently closed to the public, but he and Richey are doing their best to stay fit with limited equipment and resources. All FCC players have individualized training programs from Gary Walker’s sports performance staff.

“Most players would agree it’s the training, high-tempo sharpness that’s the thing that will suffer the most,” Richey said. “There’s enough you can do, finding a random field, resistance bands, things at home that you can maintain a lot of your strength, injury prevention stuff.”

Richey is the club’s MLS players association representative, so he was more than willing to answer some tougher questions on Tuesday, specifically in regard to the possibility that MLS players might be asked by owners to take a pay cut if the stoppage continues.

Richey said MLS owners have not presented the players with a proposal in this regard and no specific numbers have been offered. Richey has told teammates to be smart with their money and to prepare, but he hopes it doesn’t come to that.

“Obviously from the players’ end, you don’t want to forfeit any of your money, especially when 50 percent or whatever, means more to some guys than to guys who are making a ton of money in the league,” Richey said. “From an owners’ side, we’re aware they are losing millions and millions of dollars during this. It’s not something that has been put on the table.”

Richey and McLaughlin recently competed in the Twitch Rivals SuperGames Fortnite competition, which featured athletes from all major sports in the U.S. McLaughlin and Richey finished in 16th place out of 50 teams who qualified for the semifinals – the best finish for any MLS pairing in the competition, besting the likes of Seattle’s Christian Roldan and Jordan Morris (18th place) and Philadelphia’s Brendan Aaronson and Dallas’s Jesus Ferreira (19th place).

While both enjoyed that competition, they’d much rather be playing soccer, for real. Richey is hopeful that MLS can restart with a condensed schedule with matches on Wednesday and Saturday, perhaps in a tournament format. But there are many variables at work, and as Richey pointed out, most of them are outside the realm of sports.

“A lot of the information that’s coming, is not really from the MLS offices, but the medical offices above them, the CDC, WHO,” Richey said. “Hopefully soon there will be more access to testing, with a vaccine probably a way’s out. Until there is more access to testing, where MLS isn’t taking tests away from people who have symptoms or who are at risk and really need that, it’s going to be difficult to get the league to start back up again. All it really takes is one player to get unlucky and contract the virus and it gets out in the locker room and the whole league shuts down again. It’s going to take some time.”

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