FC Cincinnati turns attention to 2021, West End stadium

FC Cincinnati general manager Gerard Nijkamp and coach Jaap Stam addressed the media on Monday as they begin the transition from 2020 to 2021.

Photo Credit: Jeremy Miller

The turbulence during FC Cincinnati’s flight home from Miami on Sunday night was unnerving for those on board but also metaphorical of how things have gone for this club the past two seasons since joining MLS.

“If you were feeling that in our plane, it was incredible,” said general manager Gerard Nijkamp, during a video conference call on Monday.

Thankfully, the team plane got through Tropical Storm Eta and landed safely. Nijkamp, along with everyone associated with FCC, is hoping for a similar soft landing when they move into the West End stadium next spring.

It has been a rocky ride for the Orange and Blue, with consecutive last-place finishes, but there at least now appears to be a flight plan, with a roster foundation built and a technician staff led by coach Jaap Stam firmly in place heading into the West End stadium.

“I am 100% confident Jaap is the coach who will guide us in the new season and the new stadium,” Nijkamp said on Monday.

So what’s next? Not exactly a roster overhaul, more like a roster enhancement, but it will need to be a substantial one.

Nijkamp said he’ll be searching for some central defenders with pace, a No. 10, and a winger or two. The club remains in negotiations with Andrew Gutman, Joseph-Claude Gyau, Nick Hagglund, Caleb Stanko, and Przemyslaw Tyton on new deals.

“It will be a long offseason, that is nice,” Nijkamp said. “Gives us time to build the roster and improve the playing style and give as much ammunition for the technical staff led by Jaap Stam. We are looking for core players, youngsters who are potential players and players who will help us in depth.”

Gyau who was chosen as FCC’s c0-player of the year by the Cincinnati Soccer Talk staff, will be at the center of speculation this offseason. The American winger, who scored a roaster Sunday at Inter Miami CF for his first MLS goal, is in talks about a new deal.

“He’s been very important for us,” said Stam during Monday’s video conference call. “He’s a professional. Works very hard. Treats his body well. He has been the main threat for us during the season. We’re in talks with Joe, and hopefully we can come to an agreement.”

Nijkamp said the club is in talks with Celtic to find a solution for defender Andrew Gutman who could have his loan extended or a new contract negotiated.

“Andrew is positive,” said Nijkamp. “He feels confidence and he’s getting playing time and more experience. Hoping to have him on the roster for next season. I want to have good players. I want to convince them to be a part of our project. Gutman and Gyau are examples of domestic players who are playing hard and help to improve our team.”

Nijkamp said on Monday that Stam and the technical staff would remain intact for next season, but there might be additional staff added. In his assessment of Stam, Nijkamp cited the numerous challenges the former Manchester United defender faced this year, including an abbreviated preseason and a roster that already was constructed prior to him taking over after Ron Jans’ ouster.

Under Stam, FCC, a club that leaked an MLS-record 75 goals the previous season, managed seven clean sheets. But for the second straight season, FCC had an MLS-worst point total.

“Jaap came in and it was always difficult to start working with a roster that is not 100% yours,” Nijkamp said. “He created directly a good working rate and team spirit on the players that you could see in Orlando. We had our difficulties and struggles with the schedule with a lot of games in a short time period and some injuries. He tried to get the best out of it.”

There were some massive disappointments, of course. Most notably former Ajax and Newcastle United midfielder Siem de Jong, who had zero goals and zero assists in 15 appearances.

Dutch striker Jurgen Locadia managed one goal in 17 matches after being the most ballyhooed signing of the offseason. Injuries and confidence issues as the season wore on contributed to Locadia’s slide.

“He had to overcome a lot of hurdles,” said Nijkamp. “His execution was not good enough. We spoke about it.”

Locadia will be back next season. De Jong will not. Other notable departures are FCC original Jimmy McLaughlin as well as Spencer Richey and defenders Kendall Waston and Greg Garza.

FCC exercised the 2021 contract options on three players: Zico Bailey, Ben Lundt and Haris Medunjanin.

There were notable additions, too with midfielders Alvaro Barreal and Kamohelo Mokotjo, and new loanee Franko Kovacevic impressed upon arrival.

Stam’s first introduction to his new club was in the bubble in Orlando, Florida. This season was unlike any other, of course. From COVID-19 protocols, including no fans in Nippert, to a grueling schedule that included 11 matches against teams in the top four in their respective conferences, including four against rival Columbus Crew SC, Stam, like all coaches in MLS, faced an unprecedented situation.

“It was a challenging season with everything that happened with the club, the team and (Jans) before I joined,” Stam said. “Trying to find a way to get some success, some results. We tried to compete, which we did in a lot of games against very good teams.”

Stam said Monday that he’s looking forward to a more normal offseason. He has had time to evaluate his roster, and discussions with Nijkamp have been ongoing about what qualities he needs in players to execute his system, and the promise of a new stadium can’t hurt.

“If people around the league have seen us play the past couple months, that if we do make certain changes, we’re in a good way,” Stam said. “We need to be creative in making our choices. It’s about setting standards and reaching our goals.”

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