The only thing that stays the same is that change is inevitable. In professional sports, roster turnover is an unavoidable beast. For FC Cincinnati, that is no different. It's as a part of the business and culture game as kickoffs and throw-ins are.
The wrinkle, or uniqueness, presented to The Orange and Blue this season is the timeline of events that define their challenges. A short offseason makes it more difficult to adapt to the inevitable changes. With preseason camp opening just over a month after the end of FCC's season, change came hard and fast.
While general manager Chris Albright and the braintrust of decision-makers have made and continue to make adjustments to the roster, including the signing of premier MLS free agents like Miles Robinson from Atlanta United FC and Corey Baird from Houston Dynamo FC, work continues to be done to augment the 2023 MLS Supporters’ Shield champions to compete now and in the future.
In the meantime, with the aforementioned work still being done, opportunity presents itself to the younger players on the roster who remain in the wake of departing mainstays. For example, with players like Brandon Vazquez sold to CF Monterrey in the offseason, Dominique Badji departing for a deal in Turkey, and others like Santiago Arias, Junior Moreno and Ray Gaddis out of contract and not currently part of this year's preseason, there are opportunities to impress the coaching staff with five regular contributors to the matchday lineup out of the picture.
Part of that opportunity is the daily training sessions that FC Cincinnati holds and the instructional meetings they have in their home base in Clearwater, Florida. But the preseason friendlies, of which FCC will play four, are a more direct way to show their skills and try to impress the coaching staff against a opposing club.
Consistent performance in training is likely the best way for younger players to make an impression as it is the more frequent opportunity. Preseason friendlies, of which FCC will play four, are another chance to show their skills and stand out to the coaching staff.
During The Orange and Blue’s first friendly in Tampa Bay last Friday, head coach Pat Noonan and his staff made sure everyone got an opportunity to hit the pitch. All but three members (all of which were held out for either injury or precautions of injury) of the preseason roster played against Austin FC, with a full 11-man line change at the half to roll out a fresh set of players.
Among those who got opportunities were Bret Halsey, Quimi Ordoñez, and Isaiah Foster, all of whom play a position with openings due to the departing players mentioned earlier. Foster played in the first half, whereas Ordoñez and Halsey came in after 45 minutes. all three had chances to make their mark.
"I'm just working on what the coaching staff told me to work on at the end of last year while also honing down on the strengths I have," Halsey said after the friendly with Austin FC. "I'm just trying to do the best I can to bring those out, and shore up some of the things that they're working on with me and told me to do better last year."
"It's good to start building the relationships that we'll need during the season," Ordoñez added. "It's good to look at those connections a little bit early on. It's our first game, but I feel like we need more."
The duo play different positions and came to FCC in various ways. Ordoñez was part of the club's inaugural academy class in 2019. In contrast, Halsey found his way to Cincinnati after injury struggles with Real Salt Lake and a loan to the Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC. Still, the goal of contributing more to the first team stands for both of them.
"I joined FC Cincinnati when I was 17 years old and I feel like I've had those younger stages," Ordoñez said. "So I feel like for me, coming into this season, I'm just trying to be more mature and more of a complete player, and do what the coaches are asking of me."
"Last year, I was in a much different spot than I am now," Halsey reflected. "I was just trying to make the team."
"But this year, knowing where I was last year, knowing how I can use my strengths … it's just intentionality, believing in myself and taking that next step in really believing that I can not only be a field player, but a starter, if I give it everything I have."
It's impossible to know what will transpire over the coming month before FC Cincinnati open competitive play against Cavalier FC of Jamaica in the Concacaf Champions Cup on February 22, then MLS play later that week with a home opener against Toronto FC. But with a congested schedule in 2024, much like 2023, Noonan has already made clear they will expect performances from everyone at some point, and opportunities will emerge.
"Last year, we also had a lot of rotation throughout the year and we played a lot of different lineups," Noonan said before departing for preseason in Clearwater. "But we were still able to win games, and so you kind of figure out who you can trust. Well, now we'll look for those same answers early on to see who's going to help us to start the season in a strong way."
Opportunity is available, regardless of any potential roster moves before opening day or later this summer. It's on FCC's younger players now to make the statement that reinforcements aren't necessary because, maybe, the answers are already in-house.