In keeping with the ever present theme of “those who doubt us are left embarrassed”, FC Cincinnati has taken 4 points from 3 of the last 4 MLS Cup finalists. Nobody predicted this, nobody except Knifey Lion Radio, that is. And after these three matches, we’ve learned a few things about this team.
Fear of the USL was Unwarranted
FC Cincinnati was ragged on in MLS circles for bringing up 9 USL players. Never mind that two of those 9 were Adi and Alashe, MLS players in 2018. Never mind that one of them was a backup goalkeeper in Spencer Richey (more on him in a moment). There was an absolute panic that Cincinnati “was going to be just like Minnesota”. Well, three games in, and those who were panicking should feel a little silly. Many of the questionable call-ups, and college draft picks, have been sent out on loan. And those that have stuck around? Well they’re doing their part. The standout is obviously Spencer Richey, giving up just one goal between the two MLS Cup finalists last year. Adi has looked the part, and if you go back and watch the highlights of the Atlanta game you’ll see he was robbed of a goal thanks to a dubious offside call. And this week we’ll likely see Forrest Lasso in the backline thanks to Waston being called up to the play for the Ticos. But the “reliance” on USL players just hasn’t been there. What they have done is provide a depth that can be tapped into of players that know Koch’s system, especially now that we’re back to a variant on the 4-2-3-1 that was run in 2018.
While I could have thrown this in the section above, Spencer Richey deserves his own call-out here. After starting 2018 as the backup keeper in USL, he has slowly but surely fought his way into starting against MLS’s best and in front of massive crowds, and did a superb job. Tyton sure has the pedigree, but against Seattle and even in the pre-season he looked lost. Flapping at crosses and being generally unsure when to come out, he looked like a player who had been out of contract for a year. Richey meanwhile has looked confident. Collecting crosses, shot blocking, and setting his defense on set pieces have been great to see. One measure of how he’s doing: Waston hardly yells at him. And that’s a victory. Richey should continue to start, even if Tyton is healthy, until he proves untrustworthy. The players trust him, and the results speak for themselves.
Koch is Better than Advertised
If you went into this season unconvinced by Alan Koch, I could see where you were coming from. Tactical adjustments haven’t been his strong suit and the inability to prepare a team for a press haunted him in USL. But in three games in MLS, he’s shown the ability to adapt. Bobby Warshaw of MLSSoccer.com harped on Koch for setting a high defensive line against Seattle. And then we saw that same setup against Atlanta. But after the first goal in Atlanta, Koch pulled the defense back. The midfielder was able to block passing lanes and attacks were broken up before they ever got started. Suddenly, the outside backs didn’t have quite as much work to do, and were able to play their game. And now, Koch has a system that shut down Atlanta and embarrassed the Timbers.
And let’s not forget who he was coaching against in these games. Frank de Boer, who at the time of writing is still in charge of Atlanta United, has coached Crystal Palace, Inter, and was a multi-title winning coach at Ajax. With over 100 caps for the Dutch national team and a trophy filled career at Ajax and Barcelona have him as maybe the biggest name in coaching to ever come to MLS. And the Timbers gaffer, Gio Savarese, has long been considered the best lower division manager in the US. The Venezuelan who played all over the world in his career, including multiple stops around MLS, led the New York Cosmos to being the face of the re-launched NASL. Criminally overlooked and undervalued, he proved his worth last year by taking the Timbers to MLS Cup in his first year in charge of a top flight team.
Alan Koch out-coached both of these guys.
It Gets Easier From Here, Kinda
If the first three games were supposed to be a hazing for the new kids on the block in MLS, the next two are a nice reprieve. New England Revolution and Philadelphia Union both look bad this year. Now Philly should be able to turn it around, and New England has done a decent job recruiting as of late, but both teams are not expected to be challenging for silverware this year. Their rosters are objectively worse than Seattle, Portland, and Atlanta. Thank goodness. So while FC Cincinnati may be a little shorthanded this weekend against New England, I fully expect guys like Manu, Lasso, and even Bone to get a chance to show they can play at this level. And against New England, they’ll do just fine. Could we be looking at a team with 10 points from 5 games? I’ll risk jinxing it.