Time Will Tell
FC Cincinnati’s season ended on Saturday the exact opposite way the club has done most things: helplessly floundering in front of a small audience. The 1-0 loss to the baby bulls hurts in brand new ways every time I stop to think about it. And as tempting as it is to write 3000 words on how disappointing the playoff loss was, there is little value in railing on and on about the game itself.
I will say, Gibson being concussed was a huge issue that I have not seen anyone give the club flak for. And in the name of the almighty Twellman, FCC paid the for their lack of medical competency in the form of cosmic karma when Gibson failed to defensively handle a fairly routine breakaway. He spent most of the rest of the game looking lost and you have to say none of it was his fault. If concussions are a big deal in American Football, they need to be in soccer as well.
And Adi failed to come up big. I said last week it was his team now that Konig was gone, and well, this is where we are. He is a massive presence up top but his inability to properly judge headers is a concern that needs to be addressed going into the MLS season. It wasn’t that he was being beat to the ball, it was that he consistently failed to get underneath them to even challenge for them in the first place. I’d like to see him head off to Arizona with the Reds and take fly balls in the outfield until he can properly judge the flight path of a ball.
But enough about the game. The question on my mind now is was this season a success? And I’m not sure how to answer that.
On one hand, yes, this season was a resounding success.
In fact, you could make an argument that FCC was the most successful team in the top three divisions of American soccer. For one, the club secured their bid to MLS. And frankly, almost nothing else matters. I know there are some USL-truthers out there that would rather stay in USL, and they’re wrong. MLS offers the most stability a team could ask for. Cincinnati will now be on a global stage the likes of which has never been offered to the Queen City since we turned down the opportunity to be the prime meridian. If soccer is the world’s game, Cincinnati and FC Cincinnati just became massively, massively relevant. And while it has felt like the club was going to get the nod for awhile, that capping off ceremony is something no fan of the team will forget. Tack on the fact that the club managed to secure a privately funded downtown stadium, one of the most lucrative kit sponsorships in MLS, a brand new training facility, and smart soccer hires makes this season wildly successful.
Oh not to mention that regular season title the team won. An 11 point margin on the end made sure nobody was even close to what Cincinnati put together. Setting the USL unbeaten record too, a record that ought to age like fine wine as USL becomes more competitive. This team was so much fun to watch at times. It seemed every week FCC was on the SportsCenter Top 10 as we all collectively learned how to pronounce Ledesma and Albadawi. And speaking of Ledesma, in one season that man made a mighty case for being the best FCC USL player. Being able to see Manu score at will was something I know I will miss dearly in MLS.
FC Cincinnati also advanced in the playoffs. A feat that seems to have been solely accomplished to trigger the hell out of Cyclones fans but, nonetheless, the team avoided first round heartbreak. Something that is a rare around these parts.
At the same time, you could make an argument for this season being really disappointing.
The most immediate place to start is the playoff loss. The Red Bulls 2 team that bossed FCC’s midfield is made up of a bunch of guys who aren’t able to break into their MLS team. Meanwhile FCC was spending like a low-ranking MLS side on their roster. Bone and Naz are expected to make the jump to MLS and seeing them fail to control passes against a reserve side does not fill me with confidence. FCC’s roster was built to win a USL title and it failed. Alan Koch was given a war chest to slash and burn the league and, well, didn’t—while the team looked amazing at times through the season, they also struggled against weak opposition. They won the regular season title though not by the same margin they were spending. Individual moments of brilliance covered up poor tactics time and time again.
And while the Open Cup became a defining element of this club last year, this year it was really disappointing. The need to go to extra time against an armature team, two years in a row mind you, set the table for a poor showing in the cup relative to expectations. Cincinnati was miraculously—and a little CONCACAF-y—gifted a home game against a weak MLS western conference team that they failed to put away. To add insult to injury, Louisville went on to be the darlings of the cup run this year and oh yeah, lost their coach halfway through the season and still went further in the Playoffs. FCC advanced in the playoffs, in the most technical sense, then failed to win in the playoffs. Yes, it turns out penalties in a knockout tournament are officially recorded as draws. What a fun fact to learn!
Overall, I don’t think you can say this season wasn’t a success. It was absolutely not as successful as anyone would have hoped for (or expected, if you were feeling cocky) but the real judge of this season will be time. When the club has been in the West End for a decade and many in the bailey have moved to the nursing home that is the sideline seats, how will we remember this season? I would suspect a successful first year in MLS will make us forget USL ever even happened. Who among us remember that Wilmington Hammerheads were a team in this league? FC Montreal? Like Spider-Man laying in Tony Starks lap, the memory is already fading, isn’t it? It is also very possible this will be seen as a terrible ending to a lower division story that could have been absolutely fairy-tale. Perhaps this is a stigma that follows the club. Or maybe the merits of what Cincinnati has accomplished in total will forever be the bench mark that all lower division teams are judged against. Leaving our names carved into the history books, records that will never be broken, forever a monument to the "good old days."
While the lower division story wraps up, with a sopranos-sequel ending, we are left with a future that is impossibly bright. A move to MLS as MLS is pondering a move to join the Copa Libertadores. When more and more talent is being injected into a league that continues to raise in global prominence. The club is investing in itself and will soon have a stadium that glows as bright as their future appears to be. The ability to recruit talent from around the world will be easier based on the first three chapters of this clubs history. We’ll enter MLS with a fan base most MLS clubs will be jealous of. This weekend sucked, but it’s a minor speed-bump on the hype train. We still crushed this league. We also left this league. Onward and upwards folks, this off-season is going to be insane.