Anyone who watched FC Cincinnati play in USL, where the team drew crowds larger than many MLS teams, knew that the move to MLS would be an exciting one.
Getting the team's quality to catch up to the strength of FC Cincinnati's support is the real challenge, and it won't be easy in year one.
FC Cincinnati has already reached the 20,000 season ticket mark, ensuring the kinds of passionate crowds that supported the team during its USL days. That fan base will need to be patient, because their team won't be ready-made to compete right away like 2017 Atlanta United, but Cincinnati has added enough quality to potentially avoid a rough debut season like 2017 Minnesota United.
The emphasis on building a strong defense was clear early on and the result is a potential back-line that can keep Cincinnati in matches. Landing Kendall Waston and Greg Garza, as well as a defensive midfield options like Allan Cruz, Victor Ulloa and Caleb Stanko should help give head coach Alan Koch the pieces to put together either a four-man defense, or five-man unit.
The attack is where there are questions, and the lack of a true playmaker is a lingering question. Cincinnati is closing on U.S. national team midfielder Kenny Saief, who would help address that need for a playmaker.
If Saief is signed and delivers, and if Fanendo Adi, Roland Lamah and Kekuta Manneh can give Cincinnati the kind of attacking threat to give Saief good passing options, then Cincinnati could wind up being much more competitive than first thought. The pressure will be on Koch to get the formula right, both defensive and in midfield, and even though expectations shouldn't be overly high in Cincinnati, a terrible first half of the season could pile the pressure on.
FC Cincinnati's key offseason additions
Securing the services of Kendall Waston was a big step, with the towering Costa Rican defender giving Cincinnati the perfect anchor to build around. Cincinnati paid a hefty price to bring in hometown product Nick Hagglund, who will be expected to start. He had a rough 2018 in Toronto, but could be motivated to regain his top form by playing at home.
Costa Rican midfielder Allan Cruz was added as a designated player and brings quality to the Cincinnati midfield, though he is more a box-to-box presence. If Cincinnati adds Kenny Saief, the USMNT midfielder will be a good fit in the attacking midfield role, and can also work on the wings.
Cincinnati added some considerable speed with the trio of Roland Lamah, Kekuta Manneh and Darren Mattocks, which along with USL holdover Emmanuel Ledesma, should allow FCC to play with wide forwards in a 3-4-3, or traditional wingers in a 4-4-2.
Another player to watch is MLS number one overall draft pick Frankie Amaya. The USMNT Under-20 midfielder should see some minutes as a rookie, but Cincinnati won't rush him, not with all the veteran midfield options on the roster.
Atlanta's fullback options are also solid, with Greg Garza and Alvas Powell bringing MLS Cup-winning experience, and French veteran Mathieu Deplagne pushing Powell for the right back spot, if he isn't deployed as a central defender.
Full FC Cincinnati roster entering 2019 season
Goalkeepers: Jimmy Hague, Ben Lundt, Spencer Richey, Przemysław Tytoń
Defenders: Mathieu Deplagne, Greg Garza, Logan Gdula, Nick Hagglund, Justin Hoyte, Forrest Lasso, Hassan Ndam, Alvas Powell, Blake Smith, Kendall Waston
Midfielders: Fatai Alashe, Nazmi, Albadawi, Eric Alexander, Frankie Amaya, Leonardo Bertone, Corben Bone, Allan Cruz, Roland Lamah, Tommy McCabe, Jimmy McLaughlin, Caleb Stanko, Victor Ulloa,
Forwards: Fanendo Adi, Rashawn Dally, Kekuta Manneh, Darren Mattocks, Emery Welshman
FC Cincinnati projected starting lineup
Projecting Cincinnati's lineup is tricky for a variety of reasons. For starters, there are injuries heading into the season, with Greg Garza sidelined and Kendall Waston having battled injury. Then you have late arrivals, such as the looming addition of Kenny Saief. Then you have Alan Koch's affinity for trying different systems, both 3-4-3 and 4-4-2 are possible options.
The position battles to watch for are in defensive midfield and at right back. The Deplagne-Powell battle could be resolved by shifting Deplagne into a centerback role, but if Cincinnati trots out a four-man defense then one of them must sit.
Central midfield has a wealth of options for Koch, from MLS veterans like Ulloa and Eric Alexander, to a sturdy newcomer in Caleb Stanko, and the dynamic Allan Cruz, who can play in a deeper role or box-to-box role.
The pressure will be on Adi to produce, because if he doesn't then Mattocks could give Koch a decision to make. Koch can also play Adi and Mattocks together in a 4-4-2 or 3-5-2.
FC Cincinnati national TV coverage
- Seattle Sounders vs. FC Cincinnati, March 2, at 10 p.m. ET on FS1
- Atlanta United vs. FC Cincinnati, March 10, at 5 p.m. ET on ESPN
- FC Cincinnati vs. Portland Timbers, March 17, at 5 p.m. ET on FS1
- FC Cincinnati vs. Sporting Kansas City, April 7, at 3 p.m. ET on ESPN
- Minnesota United vs. FC Cincinnati, June 29, at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN
- FC Cincinnati vs. D.C. United, July 18, at 8 p.m. E.T. on ESPN
- FC Cincinnati vs. Columbus Crew, August 25, at 8 p.m. ET on FS1