Two of the Best Teams in the USL: FC Cincinnati
There is no faster way to put pressure on a head coach than to hand them an absurdly overpowered squad. That is the exciting, and perhaps terrifying, position coach Alan Koch now find himself in. Koch, Berding, and FC Cincinnati have put together one of the most impressive squads ever assembled by a lower division American soccer team. I have to admit my familiarity with Raul-era Cosmos isn’t quite what it should be, but this 2018 team has to stack up with the best squads NASL put together over the decade or so.
And in fact, I would go as far as to suggest FC Cincinnati now has not just the best squad in the USL, but two of the best squads in the USL.
Excitingly, FC Cincinnati finally has a “Number 10”. And nothing warmed my heart more than seeing the Cincinnati Enquirer discover some soccer terminology with their recent article on the position. To sum it up quickly, FCC has never had a skillful attacking playmaker playing in the center of the pitch. Central midfield stalwarts like Kenny Walker and Corbin Bone have attempted to serve that role in the past to an extent, but they are primarily defensive midfielders. With the addition of Nazmi Albadawi and Emmanuel Ledesma, FCC finally has options in the playmaking role. And this opens up a whole new world of formational opportunities.
Above is my idea of what a starting 11 could look like when the season opens. And you’ll notice there are not a lot of opportunities for the old guard in this team. The back line is revamped with experienced and skilled players. The loss of Delbridge and Berry won’t be nearly has hard to handle if Lasso and Keinen play like Koch is expecting them to. Laing out on the left would be a lot more defensive than he played at North Carolina FC, but would be a terror bombing down the wing. And Bahner on the right, where he really grew into the position last year, becoming one of the most reliable players in the 2017 campaign.
In the midfield, things get really exciting. Gibson joins Walker as the defensive cover for the back four, and Walker’s ability to shut down an attack is going to be crucial to provide support for when the outside backs are pulled further up the field. And then in the middle of the field we find the most exciting new acquisition, Albadawi. Directing the attack from the middle of the field, letting play go through him, will rely on his distribution. At the end of the year, ideally, he leads the league in touches, key passes, and assists. Expect a number of FCC counter attacks to be brought on from Walker poking the ball out from under an attacker, Gibson quickly collecting and getting the ball to Albadawi who then feeds the attackers with the incisive pass that leads to a shot on goal. And you know I am going to lose my mind in the bailey if this sequence ever happens. This defensive and midfield shape would be extremely difficult to break down and be an absolute monster to handle when possession switches teams.
And then finally, the attack. Ledesma on the right and Welshman on the left provide firepower that is unmatched in USL. Ledesma was a beast for the Cosmos, lighting up the NASL with goals and assists galore. Welshman joins as one of the lone bright spots for a Puerto Rico side that is in serious limbo right now. It is very possible that fan favorite McLaughin ends up in this position more often than not, but for now I’ll defer to the new guy. And then in the middle, Heinemann. The leading goal scorer for NASL champions, and dearly departed, San Francisco Deltas. His ability to score long distance shots is something FCC has lacked since day one. He has a big enough body to play holdup and layoff passes for Albadawi, Ledesma, and Welshman to lash home.
All told, this is a team that can compete not just in USL, but should make a very deep run in the Open Cup. The talent up and down the field is going to be very difficult for most teams to matchup against. Which means we’ll still probably lose to Charleston, but hey, what can you do. But the best part of this line up? It means the “second team” is good enough to make the playoffs on their own. And that might be because a number of USL teams still can’t field 11 players, but you get the idea.
Just look at that thing. De Wit, Hoyte, Josu, Bone, McLaughlin, and Konig were the core of the Open Cup run. Barrett comes in to solidify a back line that Chicago Fire, Columbus Crew, and Miami FC couldn’t break down which is a nice luxury. Hopefully Halfhill continues to develop as the FC Cincinnati pet project that needs to pay off this year. Bone marshals the midfield and newcomer Seymore gets to learn from the best. Haber and McLaughlin run wild on USL defenses while Cicerone feeds the Great Dane Konig up top.
As for goalkeepers, I would assume it is Richey’s starting job to lose, but Newton is no slouch. If Richey can live up to the promise he showed in Vancouver, he could easily become an MLS caliber keeper, and if not Newton has proven himself in this league.
Now all of this is dependent on what happens in the preseason. Maybe some of the new guys don’t gel as well, or different formations are tried out. Thankfully this roster is so deep I think they’re going to strike oil at Nippert. Which means it’s up to Koch to deliver postseason results that this city so craves. And maybe we take a few more MLS scalps with us.