FC Cincinnati supporters are riding high on 2022’s successes going into the new campaign this upcoming weekend. The Orange & Blue, under new general manager Chris Albright and head coach Pat Noonan, exceeded all expectations in their inaugural season and now come into their second year with loftier goals.
FCC is still in a bit of a transition phase as Albright looks to acquire players that fit specific profiles for their desired playing structure. While the long-term plan might still not be fully realized, there is a tremendous amount of talent on the team this season. However, outside of Marco Angulo, Cincy has not had a big money addition, so have Albright & Co. made enough moves to compete for FCC’s first silverware since the USL days?
Let us not forget that the FCC squad that took the field in Austin last Spring contrasted immensely with the group that lined up in the playoffs against Philadelphia and New York.
Allan Cruz lined up in the midfield, Kenneth Vermeer was the second-choice goalkeeper and Ronald Matarrita was coming off an excellent 2021 season. Rookie Nick Markanich is now with Charleston, with Tyler Blackett and Geoff Cameron not associated with any club. Club fortunes can change between February to November.
While FCC is gathering praise and high predictions (Matt Doyle – 1st Place in the EC), the group will need to improve compared to the 2022 version.
Sometimes good performances the season prior do not always translate to the new campaign. For example, see Geoff Cameron. Has FCC done enough to shore up key positions to address potential drop-off or find new ways to generate wins?
Let’s start with the back line (5-2-1-2 or 5-3-2). Alvaro Barreal has had an entire offseason preparing as a left-back vs. being shopped across the league, with the first week’s opponent nearly being his destination. His growth in that role was a tremendous surprise and I think he will be given a wide berth to continue his progression.
Isaiah Foster will take the minutes of Johnny Nelson. Barreal (5g/5A) overperformed Matarrita’s 2021 numbers (2G/5A), so I think it is fair to assume he can do so with more consistent time.
The 2022 right-back group of Ray Gaddis and Alvas Powell was fairly effective but particularly hard-working. The pair’s final ball was lacking and a cause for concern as the club looked to improve efficiency going into the latest campaign.
Incoming right-back Santiago Arias has one of the best pedigrees of any right-back in Major League Soccer but hasn’t played consistently for two seasons. Having Powell and Gaddis in the wings allowing a chance signing like Arias is the benefit of a good roster build. Arias, should he be 90 percent of his La Liga self, will be one of the better right-backs in MLS.
FCC’s fullbacks are still an area where the club could look to improve throughout the season. The time between now and the opening of the summer window in July will give Noonan and Albright 20+ matches to fully consider if this group can help win hardware.
Returning center-back starters Matt Miazga and Nick Hagglund were key contributors in the transition to a three center-back formation in 2022. Draftee Ian Murphy was a revelation, supplanting Tyler Blackett and Geoff Cameron on occasion.
Wolverhampton Wanderers defender Yerson Mosquera is a highly-talented player, but like Arias, has been missing consistent playing time. I like the Yerson loan as this gives the club more time to find the right player to pair with Matt Miazga should the club transition to a back four. This might be the most athletic center-back group in the league and that’s not even mentioning Bowling Green State University SuperDraft selection Joey Akpunonu.
I do think FCC needs another piece here, but it could wait until the Summer. I’d like a left-footed ball-playing CB to slot left of Matt Miazga, but those aren’t necessarily the easiest to identify. A good group no doubt, but I think it is the clearest spot where an addition will come sometime this season.
Does FC Cincinnati have the deepest midfield in MLS? I think there is an argument to be had. First, let’s count Lucho Acosta in this group. The playmaker is one of the best in MLS and will compete for MVP should the group behind him do the necessary dirty work.
Obinna Nwobodo looked the part of a top defensive midfielder in the league over the last half year and even contributed to over a half-goal conceded improvement. Junior Moreno was a guardian angel in the midfield coming from DC United and will still play a huge role this year.
I don’t know who would have said Yuya Kubo would be such a key cog in finishing off matches. The loss of Kubo for the Philadelphia match was noticeable and I hope that his form matches last season. I think you could even see more from him if a formation change occurs.
The most significant addition to the midfield will be U-22 signing Marco Angulo. FCC’s newest box-to-box midfielder was nearly called into the Ecuadorian national team for the World Cup and his skill set should be fleshed out by the end of the season. Do I think he starts right away? No, but again, due to a good roster build you are able to slowly facilitate a talented player into the team thanks to the already productive system.
Add in a host of youngsters that includes Stiven Jimenez and Malik Pinto, and the midfield, which has been the bane of FCC’s existence over the past four years, looks really good.
FCC can boast two of the best young forwards in MLS with Brandon Vazquez and Brenner. Throw in another forward/midfielder in Quimi Ordonez, who is a best XI talent in the latest Concacaf U-20 championship, and veterans Dom Badji and Sergio Santos, and you have a deep pool in the attacking third.
The 10-ton elephant in the room is Brenner. It’s not will he leave, but when he will leave. Can FCC orchestrate a buy-and-loan-back situation for the Brazilian or does he split the first chance he gets?
As it stands, FCC should be able to add two to three more senior roster players. Left-back and center-back look like options, but for the first time in FCC history, there isn’t an absolute need. I still think the risks at full-back are great, but how many MLS Cup champions get well above-average production from that role?
The depth of this roster should also allow FCC to compete for non-league trophies. This summer’s Leagues Cup pitting Liga MX against MLS clubs, along with the US Open Cup, should give FCC a really good chance to win silverware.
Albright will need to have his sights on a Young Designated Player this Summer. If he can land a semi-productive talent there along with at least one defender, I feel the best about FCC since their final year in the USL.