Thoughts on Koch
Trying to analyze Alan Koch’s performances so far as the manager of FC Cincinnati is a tough nut to crack. From a tumultuous and thrilling season a year ago to the ongoing run towards a USL title; there has been no shortage of challenges since he arrived in Cincinnati. In order to really analyze his performance so far, I’m going to pick apart his time as manager piece by piece.
Based on the circumstances surrounding his arrival in Cincinnati, it’s hard to fairly judge his performance in his first season with the club. With a roster of someone else’s players, it’s hard to fault him for the uneven performances that plagued the team all of last season. And that’s not even mentioning the...let’s call it ‘poor offseason preparation’ employed by then-coach John Harkes. In hindsight, it’s amazing that coach Koch was able to pull off what he did given the hand he was dealt. The deck was certainly stacked against him from day one, and it showed throughout last season.
It was really the story of the entire 2017 season. The team would go from amazing performances against MLS teams (that we had no business defeating), to looking completely undisciplined against USL squads that we should’ve handled with ease… often times in the very same week. It was because of this that we saw many reddit threads, facebook posts, and offhand comments questioning Koch’s appointment in the first place. While, personally, I found these takes to be extremely short sighted and unfair, it’s hard to blame fans from jumping to that conclusion.
After all, Harkes was a big name. He brought us instant success and credibility that most would never have expected. And for most fans, the reason for his dismissal seemed...rash at best (even if we would later learn just how justified it was). In comes a new coach that few have ever heard of, and right out of the gate you had what seemed like a serious discipline problem. From straight reds for elbows to the face (looking at you Craven) to games with more yellow cards than shots on goal, it sure seemed like Koch did not have a firm control on his locker room. That’s not even mentioning the alleged beard trimming that one Niall McCabe may or may not have received that further cemented what seemed like a locker room on shaky footing.
But for all the controversy that surrounded his appointment as head coach and the less than stellar start to his time in Cincinnati, Koch would find a way to not only hold the team together, but to grind out improbable performances. Let’s not forget, it is these minor miracles that Koch helped orchestrate in the Open Cup that put us on the map for MLS expansion. Without those matches and the stage it provided, who knows where the club would be today. And he did that within an absolutely grueling schedule that took its toll on everyone, supporters included. So regardless of the times when I question Koch’s tactics. Regardless of the times I pulled my hair out wondering why he would make this sub or that sub (or not use them at all). Regardless of all the times Koch seemed to refuse to make changes to formations or change tactics during a match. Regardless of all the minor failings from last season, Koch succeeded in helping achieve the one goal that really mattered; an MLS bid. He did his part, and that’s all we could really ask given the circumstances.
That brings us to 2018 and Koch’s first real test to prove what he could do on his terms. He finally got his say on both the quality and character of the players on our roster. He overhauled the entire offseason program. Both of which set the tone for exactly what he expected out of his team; nothing short of complete professionalism on and off the field. And in that regard? There is little doubt that Koch passed with flying colors. Now, obviously the front office opened up the pocket book to make that happen; splashing money on what amounted to a USL/NASL All-Star team. However it was on Koch to be able to manage those personalities and to achieve the one thing the club has been striving for since its inception: a championship.
Regardless of the overwhelming quality that Koch clearly has at his fingertips, the goal remains the same. And until this point, he has both met and exceeded those expectations. Now I will not mince words, Koch has at times been tactically overmatched (see the first two matches against Louisville and large portions of both matches against Pittsburgh), but bye and large he has done what is expected of him. And more than that, he seems to have created an incredibly strong locker room that will serve them well going into his final challenge. You have to look no further than the celebration from just this past weekend with Koch leaping into the arms of his star striker in jubilation.
Ultimately, this is a results business. Nobody cares if you didn’t use a 3rd sub or not...as long as you win. Nobody cares if you struggle for 60 minutes as long as you pull it out in the final 30. But that said, there are a lot of tests that we have not yet seen Koch pass. First and foremost, is getting that playoff monkey off an entire city’s back. Make no mistake, anything less than a championship this season will be seen as a failure. Given the resources he has at his disposal, Koch is keenly aware of the challenge that awaits him, and I fully expect him to meet that with the same composure that has become a trademark of the squad that he coaches.
So what can we make of Koch’s time so far in charge of FC Cincinnati? I’d say for now, he receives an incomplete. Until we are celebrating a title on fountain square, I don’t think it’s fair yet to give him a true evaluation. Beyond this season though? It will be very interesting to see what Koch can do once the club makes the move to MLS. What happens when he faces his nemesis in James O’Conner once again? That’s a question for a later date, but I have little doubt that Koch is the right man to lead the transition and can not wait to see the heights he can take this squad.