Building Our Roster For An Open Cup Championship
As the off-season ramps up to our first season in MLS the front office and coaching staff are going to be faced with building a roster which can compete in MLS. Today I am going to lay out my reasoning on why that would be the wrong way to go. I want to present my case for why FC Cincinnati should build an Open Cup winner.
Let’s be realistic, as an expansion club it’s going to be difficult to compete for the MLS Cup in our first year. Take a look at some recent expansion clubs, LA, Atlanta, Minnesota. LAFC and Atlanta both made the playoffs in their first years while Minnesota did not. Even though LA and Atlanta made the playoffs they were both out in the first round. Even with the playoffs potentially expanding and changing format next year, going up against perennial playoff contenders like Atlanta, Red Bulls, Portland, Seattle, and Sporting Kansas City could prove disappointing. All this without mentioning Cincinnati’s inability to win a meaningful postseason game.
Winning the US Open Cup may be FC Cincinnati’s easiest path the the CONCACAF Champions League. That’s right, the winner of the USOC earns a placement in the Champions League and the ability to play against teams all over North and Central America. Although not as famous as it’s UEFA counterpart, the CONCACAF version still provides teams a way to challenge the continents best teams, providing more notoriety, more TV deals, and better chances to land higher quality players. In fact the 2019 Champions League draw happened Monday night. This year’s edition will see 5 MLS teams (4 US based clubs and Toronto FC).
As we all remember, FC Cincinnati has already had a little success in the Open Cup. Who can forget our games against Columbus, Chicago, and New York during the summer of 2017? We’ve seen success in the tournament already, let’s build off of that success this next year. We know Cincinnati loves to rally around a great team, the US Open Cup could prove to be the place for FCC to shine. If the tournament format stays the same (who knows if it will) FCC will only need to win 5 games to be champions. That likely includes at least one game against a USL level team or lower, and if we’re lucky we may face more.
If you look at the history of MLS clubs and the USOC you will see that there are a few teams which really take the cup serious. Not saying clubs won’t still play hard but generally MLS clubs use the Open Cup to play some bench players, give their second string some time, and their starters some rest. You’ll see that pretty much up to the semi-finals. FCC should build a roster which can compete against the level of teams they will face. We’ve seen what Koch can do when playing against tougher competition in a knock-out tournament.
What does this mean? In the coming months I would love to see the front office, Sassano, and Koch make a concerted effort to build a roster which can compete for the Open Cup. What does that roster look like? In my mind we should be working to build a roster with more skill-parity. It’s going to be good to have a DP or two, maybe a few national team or international players, but the key is to have a roster whose top player and bottom player are closer together skill wise. This will help with the rotation between MLS and USOC games and allow coach to pick the best player at the time. We saw this frequently with some roster spots this past year. Think of our CB’s. Lasso and Dekel were clearly starters but as the season wore on we saw Paddy more often and often times he came on without us losing much quality. Paddy even served as captain on a number of occasions.
As the drafts come closer and free agency and the winter transfer window looms near it’s time for the front office to build a competitive roster. The oldest competition in American sports is a great place for FCC to make a mark. Working towards a strong USOC will do nothing but be positive. Imagine sitting in Nippert in 2020 watching a club like Tigres play a competitive match. All that stands between now and that future is a five game stretch in this summer.