Clock ticking for Nijkamp, FC Cincinnati to fine-tune 2021 roster

In a video conference Thursday with reporters, FC Cincinnati general manager Gerard Nijkamp says the club is not done adding players, but time is running out with the season scheduled to start on April 3.

Photo Credit: Jeremy Miller

The opening of West End Stadium has long been the target for FC Cincinnati to take the next step toward fielding a competitive squad in MLS — one that can challenge for playoff positions. That clock is ticking, with the 2021 season scheduled to begin April 3.

On Thursday, general manager Gerard Nijkamp held a video conference with members of the media to discuss where the club stands in terms of its objectives, what progress has been made to this point and what work remains to be done.

“It’s absolutely our goal to be better, to be competitive for a playoff position,” Nijkamp said. “If we succeed, you will see it at the end of this year. My takeaway for 2020 is that we were competitive. We were not lucky. We didn’t score enough goals. We showed progress in the way we want to play, (but) we didn’t show progress in results. In ’21, we need to go to the next level.”

The European transfer window closes this weekend, but FCC’s opportunity to add players extends until May. By most accounts, the club did well in this year’s SuperDraft and made some quality additions this winter.

While the laundry list of needs remains long, the newest faces, many of whom will report to the Mercy Health Training Center on Feb. 22, are generating some excitement, starting with Calvin Harris, the second overall choice in the SuperDraft.

When Austin FC selected Virginia Tech midfielder Daniel Pereira with the No. 1 overall pick, it appeared FCC might go after midfielder Philip Mayaka from Clemson, who was projected to be the top pick.

But Nijkamp said Harris, who scored 25 goals in 32 appearances over two seasons at Wake Forest, always was going to be FCC’s first choice, regardless of what transpired in Austin.

“Calvin Harris was absolutely our first pick, on top of our list,” Nijkamp said.

Nijkamp pointed out that Mayaka projects similarly to midfielders Frankie Amaya, Kamohelo Mokotjo and Haris Medunjanin.

Nijkamp also added that as a Generation Adidas player, Harris’ salary will not go against the cap, freeing up money for additional player acquisitions, while also giving Harris more time to develop.

But that doesn’t mean the Middlesbrough, England, native won’t get a chance to contribute immediately this season.

“He’s a talented, important player for our future,” Nijkamp said. “And he will have the opportunity to compete and impress in preseason, of course, and how he will suit in our team. Calvin is a player who brings something different in our roster. Up front we can use his kind of player with pace, directness, scoring goals.”

Another drafted player that Nijkamp rates highly is defender Avionne Flanagan, the 29th selection out of South Florida. He will join the club in preseason to see whether he can step in to back up Costa Rican Ronald Matarrita at left back.

“We see his quality and his talent,” Nijkamp said of Flanagan. “But it’s important to see him in our environment, if he is good enough for our roster. In the way we want to play, and especially the way Jaap (Stam), our head coach wants to play … playing more like a wing back than a left back when we have the ball. He’s a player like that. Matarrita is a player like that. The profile that we are looking for.”

FCC’s other draft choices – midfielder Jonas Fjeldberg, the No. 54 pick from Dayton and forward Matthew Vowinkel, the No. 56 pick from Hofstra — will return to their respective universities where they will be monitored to determine if they’ll earn a trial with the club.

“The four players we want, we got,” said Nijkamp. “Big thanks to our scouting team under the leadership of (director of domestic scouting) Hunter Freeman.”

In addition to Matarrita from New York City FC and Ben Mines from New York Red Bulls, FCC also strengthened its goalkeeping ranks with the addition of Cody Cropper.

“There must be competition on the goalkeeper side,” Nijkamp said. “We are pleased that we have that job done.”

Nijkamp said he expects incumbent No. 1 Przemyslaw Tyton and Cropper to compete for the starting spot, but he’s pleased with the club’s depth at that position with Ben Lundt and Beckham Sunderland waiting in the wings.

The finishing touches are being put on FCC’s state-of-the-art stadium, which becomes more prominent by the day along Central Avenue. Nijkamp insists the club isn’t finished securing reinforcements to help elevate the second-year MLS franchise from the cellar of the Eastern Conference and into postseason contention.

The list of needs hasn’t shrunk much, however. Nijkamp still hopes to bring in No. 10, a winger, a center back and a new No. 9.

“We are continuing to evaluate additions to our roster, but we don’t want to rush because there is time pressure,” Nijkamp said. “We have to find the right players, what’s fitting our roster and what we think we need to be a winning team next season. We are working hard to get these additions.”

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