Fc Cincinnati has reached the halfway point of a season that had fans expecting improvement. It's debatable if improvements have been made at all. The team still sits towards the bottom of the table. Scoring goals is still an issue and keeping a lead has been even harder. Changes have been made however.
The club announced on August 6th that they had "Mutually parted ways" with GM Gerard Nijkamp. That came after what was, to be fair, a lackluster Summer transfer window. To be clear, when I say lackluster I don't mean that as an attack on additions Tyler Blackett or Florian Valot. They are both solid players who can hopefully help the club this season.
The window was Lackluster because the club knew what the roster needed (it was painfully obvious) and they still failed for fill those needs. It was even talked about publicly by Manager Jaap Stam and the GM himself. They had the funds to make a significant move as well. The moves that sent Amaya to New York and Locadia back to Brighton specifically opened up funds and roster spots that could have been used for a starter or two. Again, no offense to the two additions, but immediate starters? Probably not. While Nijkamp is gone now, the way he left and the verbiage used by the club is.... curious.
"Mutually Parted Ways"
The phrase itself is not unusual. It's often used during sports personnel changes. However, knowing what we do about the timeframe specified for success and the results of this transfer window, it raises questions about what was happening behind closed doors at Mercy Health Training Center.
FCC fans are well aware of Nijkamp's spoken timetable of 4-5 transfer windows to compete. What we don't know is, was that self imposed or was that a deadline from ownership? This Summer transfer window would count as the 4th window for Nijkamp, and the club is unfortunately not competing for anything but another wooden spoon. So that raises the question, was Nijkamp trying to save his job or did he already know that it was over?
To be clear, I don't know Gerard as a person and I have no reason to believe that he didn't give this window his best effort. That being said, if the writing is on the wall... Still, there very well might have been a big "Job saving" signing on the table that just fell through. In any case, the moves made in this window weren't enough to save him. So whether he tried to save his job or not, he's gone. Now the question is, where does the club go from here?
Learning the Hard way
Now that the club has moved on from Nijkamp, ownership has another major decision to make about it's direction for the future. Fans are concerned about who will be making that decision.
Club President Jeff Berding has had a tenure that has been like a rollercoaster. Towering highs mixed with free falling lows that has often left the fanbase feeling a bit sick.
Berding's successes on the business side of things is well documented and without dispute. The club likely wouldn't exist without the work he put in at it's inception. The Brand of Fc Cincinnati is exceptional. We all know how the meteoric rise of the club took place and the deals that were made along the way that helped it do so.
Berding's true masterpiece however is the stadium. It's wonderful, a true gift to the city and the fans. It's so impressive that we have two National team matches coming to TQL stadium this year. One men's and one women's. The men's match is the big one, it's THE match. Cincinnati will host USA vs Mexico in a World Cup qualifier. The match is one that every city in America wanted to host. It's another example of TQL stadium being the envy of MLS stadiums. Like it or not, we have Jeff Berding to thank for that.
So then there's the lows. Berding's decision to attempt being a GM in sport he admittedly knew very little about has set the club back years. It was a major mistake even by his own admission, and now his remedy for that mistake, (hiring Nijkamp) didn't work out either. Berding hired a GM that, while he had success in Europe, had zero knowledge of MLS's vast web of transfer rules and restrictions. With all due respect to Nijkamp, it showed.
Reports point to Berding having learned from that mistake as well. It has been reported that FCC will prioritize MLS experience while looking for Nijkamp's replacement. Better yet, they may look to fill the void with multiple positions. Reports are that the club may look to sign a "Director of Soccer operations" as well as a new GM. Several other clubs in MLS have had this setup for years already. Still, Berding has stated that he plans on making the decision himself. One step at a time I guess.
What Now for this season?
As we reach the midway point, Fc CIncy sits 13th in the East. Just one spot and one point ahead of cellar dwellers Toronto Fc. Lets face it fans, the real battle for this second half of the season will most likely be avoiding the Wooden Spoon three-peat. The frightening thing is that while many clubs at the bottom of the table used the summer transfer window to make significant improvements to their rosters, FCC may have simply added some depth.
Though, depth is what the roster sorely needs, and while two solid players will help, it may not be enough. The team is showing signs of exhaustion. The roster is so shallow that Manager Jaap Stam isn't making substitutions. Some wondered if Stam's refusal to sub players off was a statement to the GM. Well, now that the GM is gone, Stam has shown no signs of changing that philosophy. He even went so far as to state that he was almost never subbed off as a player and that his players may have to do the same. You we a Center Back Coach, try that while playing Midfield or Winger.
It will be interesting to see how things will change now that Nijkamp is gone. This is all Stam's team now. Will the tactics change? They changed some with the use of Nick Hagglund at Right Back, who seemed to hold his own at the position. Personally, I hope with team will be more aggressive. Far too often players (especially wingers) will not attempt a through pass in the attacking third. Choosing instead to pass back to maintain possession, only to have either a defender or GK Vermeer boot the ball forward to the opposition while being pressed. It's so frustrating! Why not make the attempt?
A must win vs Montreal
Today FCC has another chance to break the string of draws and FINALLY get a win at home. You heard that right, the team is winless at home.
In the Best soccer stadium in the country.
With the third highest attendance in MLS.
Somehow the club has been more successful on the road. Tonight provides a chance at another "Must Win." Not just for the sake of the standings, but for the players and the fans as well. They have had some success against their opponent (Montreal) and the off weekend means that they will be more rested than they have in weeks. The question is, how will they respond?
With major changes once again on the horizon, the remainder of the season will hopefully show some important things. Namely who wants to be here, who deserves to be here, and who needs to go. That goes for the coaching staff as well. Stam's contract expires after this year and he isn't known for long lasting tenures.
Either way, fans are praying that more members of the club prove their worth than do not. The last thing any of us want.... is to start all over.
By: Rob Burkhardt