Exactly one month after the Orange and Blue left Cincinnati for the MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando, they return home revamped with a new identity, mentality and optimism for the future.
For the league, the World Cup-style competition was promoted as a month-long celebration of soccer safely returning amid a pandemic. But for FC Cincinnati, the tournament was just about head coach Jaap Stam and the players establishing a foundation to build upon moving forward.
In that sense, FCC’s participation in the MLS is Back Tournament was a massive success.
“We go back home, but from all of this, from the whole tournament … a lot of positives within the team,” Stam said. “We’re very happy with what we’ve seen. The most important thing for us is now to wait for when the season is going to start and to hopefully do well in that.”
If there was constant theme for the club while down in Orlando, it was that FC Cincinnati would use the tournament as a learning process. Stam routinely – and legitimately – referred to the competition as a preseason with the team. After all, he only spent three weeks working with the players in person before a baptism by fire in the #HellisReal Derby.
Cincinnati opened the group stage by losing, 4-0. It responded by winning the next two games, finishing second in Group E, and being a few penalty kicks short of playing in the quarterfinals.
That the club rebounded and implemented a new playing style along the way, is a huge building block from FCC’s time in Florida.
“After conceding four goals, it’s never easy to keep up and to continue the group stage,” Mathieu Deplagne said. “So, we find a way to defend stronger, defend better. It was good in the last two games. And after (those), we continue on this way, so it was a lot of improvement.”
Cincinnati began playing in a 4-3-3 formation that focused on possession and aggressive tactics. That worked briefly – then was scraped for a dynamic 5-3-2 that became a 3-3-4 in the final third.
Considering FCC largely played in the same tactical setup the majority of 2019 – it’s an impressive feat that the side comfortably adjusted to a new system in a matter of days.
And when Stam wanted to see more attacking threats for his team, he reverted to the 4-3-3 late in Tuesday night’s game and saw the offensive capabilities that lacked the last time the team used the setup. These might sound like minor details, but they show huge growth from a team that entered the MLS is Back Tournament searching for a new identity.
“I was very pleased,” Stam said of the team responding well to the tactical shift. “Even in the other system that we’ve been playing, the players have been working very hard … We were very happy with what we’ve seen and there’s still a lot of room for improvement.”
FC Cincinnati entered the MLS is Back Tournament essentially with a blank canvas. Now, they just need to polish certain elements of their game as they prepare for their next competitive matches.
MLS hasn’t unveiled when the Orange and Blue will play again, but whenever it happens, the club will be in a much better situation than when the team first left the Queen City.
A lot can happen in a month – a club can discover its identity and a coach can evaluate his players. Now, questions can shift from wondering what the team will look like, to whether or not they can continue progressing. The initial signs are promising.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t win the penalty shootout, but, overall, we can be happy with the team’s performance this tournament,” Jürgen Locadia said. “This is the way we want to continue as a team, as a club. Everybody is a part of the so-called success of this tournament.”