Learning communication styles, preferences a key part of early season success for Roman Celentano and FC Cincinnati defense

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Integrating four new members of a defensive core is a job into itself, on top of new attacking forwards and midfielders. But FC Cincinnati have done just that through eight games of the season.

While the offense continues to be a work in progress, generating chances but failing to put them away when needed, the defense has dismissed chance after chance and stood up to the pressure of not only MLS play, but the top clubs in Concacaf while looking to fit in with the best.

Part of that is the talented added. Miles Robinson and DeAndre Yedlin are elite MLS players with a U.S. Men's National Team pedigree. Luca Orellano arrives as a promising young winger, and Kipp Keller, while coming in as a distressed asset from Austin FC, was a highly-touted 2022 SuperDraft pick with clear upside that FC Cincinnati has seen flashes of early.

But talent alone can’t carry a team. The defensive core needs to work as one to be effective as the collective back line is only as strong as its weakest member.

The only man who can see all members of the group is the goalkeeper, in this case Roman Celentano, who is charged with keeping his defenders informed, in shape and instructing where they need to be to keep him as protected as possible.

An ideal defense means that Celentano never sees a shot, but that doesn't mean he won't spend 90 minutes working to make that so. Expertly directing traffic and organizing his defenders in front of him to put them in the best situation to succeed.

Part of the integration of the four new defenders is learning to communicate with them.

“I feel like people might not understand that aspect of it, but each player is different,” Celentano told FCCincinnati.com. “Each game we're getting better at learning each other's tendencies, and what we like to respond to.”

Each player is used to a different dictionary of terminology that they quickly understand and react to. Some are further along in the gelling process with Celentano simply by virtue of time together like Matt Miazga, Ian Murphy and Nick Hagglund. But for the new faces on the roster, there is a learning curve of not only what to instruct but how.

“Miles (Robinson) comes from Atlanta, where his terminology and how they like to play – even things like passing angles going back to me – is different than what we're used to in a back three,” Celentano adds, highlighting the differences between Atlanta United’s two center back system compared to FCC’s signature three-man group. “So it's kind of just getting used to how he likes to play and trying to put myself in positions that are better spots for him.

“It's just like Kipp (Keller) comes from Austin. He responds to different types of communication differently. So I feel like it's not going to be 100 percent smooth off the bat. Each game we're getting better at learning each other's tendencies, what we'd like to respond to, so we'll get there eventually.”

Playing so many games consistently has been a trial by fire for Celentano and his group. But the rotation has allowed quicker integration for everyone, so when they are called on later in the season, there is a baked-in relationship ready to be called upon and utilized.

For example, Miazga missed the MLS season opener. Robinson will be unavailable this weekend thanks to a call up to the U.S. Men’s National Team. Hagglund has yet to make his 2024 debut as he recovers from surgery at the end of 2023. Keller and Murphy have been stalwarts of availability, but in Murphy's case, regular rotation due to fatigue has been needed.

FCC has utilized just about every combination to exceptional outcomes. Through eight games, opponents have scored just five goals across all competitions, and just four from open play.

“I feel like we have ballers, so the guys kind of respond anyways,” Celentano admitted with a smile. “So that's kind of … it helps. Obviously having a bunch of games in a short amount of time helps get guys up to speed quicker than normal.

“You’ve got so many games to see how guys like to play and obviously sometimes they're tired, this and that, but it's been a good shift. Just to see how the guys work together, it's been good.”