FC Cincinnati has multiple paths they can take this offseason, whether that is trying to run in back or bring in multiple brand-new players with different styles. Multiple members of the CST staff decided to try and see what they would do in the offseason to improve on the squad.
Outside backs are going to be key to the club’s success in 2024. Whether Pat Noonan wants to continue with the current formation or rely on outside defenders who are more defensive-minded and not relied upon to spur the offense, there are two big holes on the back line. The addition of two solid outside backs will certainly help.
Brad “Coach” Gough
Go big in free agency. We’ve already seen the news that Miles Robinson visited Cincinnati and if the front office can land his signature that would be a huge get for a back line that was already quite good in 2023. However, this roster will have some more holes with the impending departures of players like Alvaro Barreal and Brandon Vazquez. I’d like to see those holes filled with players that have MLS experience. Diego Palacios could slide in and immediately play as a left-sided defender and Danny Musovski could be a great analog for Brandon Vazquez. As a bonus pick, Jamiro Montero could not only replace Junior Moreno’s contributions as an 8 but could fill in as a 10 when Lucho Acosta needs a break. If Albright and Co. can land two of those four free agents, things will look extremely bright for 2024.
I’d like to first say, thankfully for everyone at FCC, I am not in charge of the offseason season plans. With that out of the way, here are a few unqualified suggestions for FCC. The first thing I would address is to find a dependable reserve option for the 10 position. Everyone wants to see MLS MVP and captain Luciano Acosta on the pitch for as long as he possibly can. But, in reality, that just isn’t sustainable. Acosta logged 3590 minutes through all competitions in 2023. At that grueling clip, it is incredible that he managed to stay relatively healthy.
The second thing I would want FCC to address is its lack of competitiveness in the MLS NEXT PRO league. I am concerned that players aren’t being set up for success with the current ragtag tactics we deploy in the FCC2 matches. This can hurt FCC’s development of talent that will one day be called upon to join the first team.
Lastly, I think it is time that we identify what the forward position will look like moving into the future. FCC fielded 10 different combinations of their preferred two-forward system. The move of Brenner in April, cup competitions and injuries played a factor in why there were so many changes, but those reasons aren’t what concern me. I am curious if FCC has identified who will be opposite of Aaron Boupendza if Brandon Vazquez leaves.
Help in midfield. FC Cincinnati needs to find a complimentary piece to Obi Nwobodo in the middle. Nwobodo is an elite ball-winner but still doesn’t provide much in terms of moving the ball into the final third. Junior Moreno and Yuya Kubo can both do a job when paired with Obi but I’d like to see Chris Albright identify and sign a midfielder who can take some of the load off Lucho Acosta. Another option with passing range and dynamism on the ball who can interchange with Acosta when he wants to drop deep to find the ball as well as provide reliable service to the Orange and Blue’s talisman in dangerous parts of the field. Another creative option in midfield will likely soften the blow of a departing Alvaro Barreal, necessitating that his replacement on the left not be as integral in the final third.
Personally, I’m not a good judge of a team’s needs from the perspective of the team itself. I haven’t the understanding of Financial Fair Play nor the basic mechanism of roster builds. (I leave that to the smarter eggheads at CST.) Sure, replacements for Vazquez and Barreal should be necessities, and a midfielder to give Lucho a rest periodically is probably a wise investment.
But what I do wish to see is adjustment across the board so that all teams have the ability to lessen the expected strain on rosters.
One argument provided by MLS for the proposal to pull out of the U.S. Open Cup is that the schedules are too congested for players to perform adequately. The way that rosters and proposed schedules stand now, players cannot go through 50 matches or so in the upcoming year, let alone 40. More needs to be done to bolster a team’s overall quality and headcount, and that comes with MLS allowing teams more roster spots in the future and the mechanics to bring in better talent.
The question in this roundtable asked how I would improve FC Cincinnati’s squad in the offseason. It never said I couldn’t demand improvements to all of the MLS squads.
If I were the GM for a day, I would be looking for players who can help carry the creative load with Lucho.
Last year, it was really no secret that much of FCC’s formula was to get the ball to Lucho. He led the team in the obvious stats of Goals and Assists, but according to FBRef, he also led the team in the advanced creative stats, with the highest ratings for Progressive Dribbles, Progressive Passes and Progressive Passes Received. He also outperformed his non-penalty xG by 3.5 Goals, while converting seven Penalty Kicks.
That is a lot of weight on his shoulders that will be very hard to replicate. And, in all likelihood, he will be the focus of off-season game planning for the opposition. So I would be looking for players who can create something on their own through their dribbling skills or finishers who use smart runs to make space for Lucho and give him the best opportunity to replicate this latest season.