As the transfer window opens and we enter the “silly season” of MLS rumors abound as to who FC Cincinnati is targeting in the transfer window. Last week I wrote about my No. 1 desired signing for the team, a central defensive midfielder. In my opinion, there are three other positions that are needed, albeit to a lesser extent. Here they are in order.
Joseph-Claude Gyau performed admirably as a right wing back in coach Jaap Stam’s 5-3-2 during the MLS is Back Tournament, but anyone watching him skin the opposition going forward knows that winger or wide midfielder is his more natural position. Outside of his performance in the tournament, he has only played outside back for 64 minutes in his entire career.
Mathieu Deplagne and Saad Abdul-Salaam are the other players that we’ve seen play the position. However, in terms of outside backs, they are average defensively, and far below average going forward. Both of them hover around completing 20% of their crosses and winning below 50% of their offensive duels.
In his single start during the MLS is Back Tournament, Abdul-Salaam completed 82% of his 23 passes. At first blush, these stats aren’t too bad from a side that had so little of the ball. However, he completed only 5 of 9 forward passes. All of the rest of his passes were square or backward.
This play from FC Cincinnati’s first match against Atlanta shows Deplagne’s lack of attacking nous. With a ton of time and space, two great windows and four potential targets, he attempts to force a ball into Haris Medunjanin, who is just making a run trying to free up the pass to Yuya Kubo in the center. Medunjanin manages to stab the ball back to Deplagne, who still has Kubo waiting wide open centrally. However, he instead attempts to force the ball into Gyau on the sideline and turns over possession.
Both Deplagne and Abdul-Salaam are serviceable at the position. However, if Stam wants to play in the 4-3-3, he’ll need a right back that is very good both defending and going forward.
It’s looking more and more like Maikel van der Werff will have an extended stay on the sidelines due to a groin injury. And let’s be clear, even with van der Werff in the lineup the FCC center backs could use some help. Tom Pettersson and van der Werff are unproven in MLS and look to me to be average players at the position. Kendall Waston has best XI caliber upside, but only in a system that allows him to defend in tight areas and use his strength and aerial prowess.
The series below shows Waston’s glaring lack of speed and agility, which makes him a liability defending in space. Greg Garza is caught upfield, and Waston needs to delay Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez, who is bearing down on him from the wing. Besides Garza, Waston has two other defenders to his inside that are recovering to provide help. As Martinez closes on the big Costa Rican, Waston is unable to get his hips in a position to push the attacker to the inside. In one dribble, Martinez blows by Waston and creates more than a yard of space.
Let me be clear, Waston performed admirably in the MLS is Back Tournament. But that was in a three center back system. I think he, Nick Hagglund and Pettersson are all best suited to playing with two other center backs there to cover them.
Backup Center Forward
Jurgen Locadia has looked the part of a capable No. 9 so far. His holdup play and movement have been excellent, and even though it looks like he hasn’t quite found his scoring boots, he still has two goals in 133 minutes played for the club. However, what’s left behind the Dutchman? Adrien Regattin was favored over Brandon Vazquez in the MLS is Back Tournament. This is telling of how little Stam trusts the young American.
For all of Regattin’s quality, the holdup play that is needed to play in a possession heavy 4-3-3, or in a low block 5-3-2 is not one of them. In the tournament, Regattin only won 40% of his aerial duels and gave the ball away a whopping 61% of the time that he touched it in FCC’s defensive half. For comparison, Tesho Akindele of Orlando City, who many view as average at the position, won 58% of his aerial duels and gave up possession only 16% of the time he received the ball in his own half.
For his part, Vazquez shows much better hold up play than Regattin but still has far too many turnovers, poor touches and erratic runs to be a consistent performer. I do think that Vazquez has shown some quality and will improve, but Stam’s selection of Regattin in each tournament match is telling. Behind Locadia, there is not a real center forward that is ready to get solid MLS minutes.
Brad Gough is the former head coach of the Cincinnati Lady Saints and Cincinnati Christian University, and a former Director of Coaching for Northern Kentucky Soccer Academy.
Tune into the latest Talking Tactics with Coach Gough Podcast as Brad breaks down the final match of the MLS is Back Tournament with guest Joe Lowery! Look for our new podcast on your favorite podcast network each week!