In January 2019, FC Cincinnati, then preparing for its first season in MLS, paid a hefty price to bring defender Nick Hagglund home. The trade, which sent $300,000 in allocation funds and the No. 1 allocation ranking to Toronto in exchange for the Xavier University product, drew hefty criticism.
But Hagglund is still here, preparing to enter his third season with the Orange and Blue, having signed a new contract this past December. With 33 appearances with FCC and 121 overall in MLS, the 28-year-old Hagglund is now a cagey veteran. For him, staying in the Queen City wasn’t a difficult decision.
“I just felt like there was unfinished work,” Hagglund said, via Zoom on Tuesday. “When I go to a place, a team, anything, I want to leave it better than I found it. I felt like that hadn’t come to fruition.”
Hagglund made 11 appearances for FCC last season, including eight starts. He scored one goal, a blistering header off a Haris Medunjanin free kick in the 49th minute, putting the Orange and Blue ahead to stay against rival Columbus at Nippert Stadium.
“He stepped in and he took his opportunity when he came on,” said FCC coach Jaap Stam, via videoconference on Tuesday. “He showed his mentality and what he can do and what he can bring to the game. We gave Nick a new contract, that means we’re happy about what he can bring.”
Hagglund was part of a backline that contributed to seven clean sheets for a club that allowed an MLS-record number of goals the previous season. With new attacking options Brenner and Luciano Acosta partnering with Jurgen Locadia, FCC should score more goals, which also could ease some of the pressure for Hagglund and his mates in the back.
“People will worry about these guys a little bit more,” Hagglund said. “They won’t be able to press us as easily. We’ll have the ball a little bit more. There’s a little bit of a fear factor to these guys. It gives us the confidence to continue to do the things we do well, without being fearful of losing a ball, them getting a goal, and not being able to come back. No matter what the script is of the game or what’s happening, that we’re in it.”
Last offseason, as Hagglund put it, FCC was trying to “build an airplane on the fly” with Stam new to the job and a condensed preseason. The switch to a 4-3-3 system came later in the season. Now they’ve added some pieces to fit that system, and they have a full preseason to refine things.
“We tried to do a lot of these same ideas last year toward the end of the year, once we switched to the 4-3-3,” Hagglund said. “Having a 10 like Lucho really helps us to open up spaces to make the final passes. For us it’s about executing on the ball and doing it well and having those connections.”
Only one preseason match has been streamed to the public – Saturday’s 2-1 win over the Chicago Fire — and media doesn’t have access to training, but Hagglund said the partnerships along the back line have been growing stronger during matches and intra-squad scrimmages.
“I feel like everyone that has stepped into the back line, no matter where they’ve been, has done a job this preseason,” Hagglund said. “You guys have only seen the (Chicago) game but we’ve had intra-squad, we’ve had competition in training. I feel like everyone who has had an opportunity has been great. Tom (Pettersson) and myself have had a lot of time together. Joe (Gyau) and I have, on the right side, had a lot of time to gel. I think those relationships have been good.”
There will be a new name added to the defensive mix as well, with a report Tuesday from Laurel Pfahler that FC Cincinnati will add center back Gustavo Vallecilla as well as winger Isaac Atanga. That news comes after initial reports on Monday night by Nick Seuberling on the Cincinnati Soccer Talk podcast that the club was adding two players.
Hagglund is excited about it all. He came back home to be a part of something special — the arrival of MLS in the Queen City. Then through all the losing, the coaching changes, the upheaval, he’s ready to turn the page and bring back the winning.
“I was really happy to be back here and get something going here,” Hagglund said. “My body’s been feeling well. I got 90 (minutes) under my belt (vs. Chicago). The intensity of training has been good. I’m ready to do whatever job or role that needs to be done.”