Chris Albright continued his offseason retool of the FC Cincinnati roster by making a splash at the midfield position, bringing in a player with experience winning championships and playing in big games.
FC Cincinnati acquired midfielder Pavel Bucha from Czech Republic side FC Viktoria Plzeň for an undisclosed fee, the club announced Wednesday, bringing him to MLS in the middle of the Czech First League (aka the Fortuna Liga) season to join The Orange and Blue in their pursuit of defending the Supporters Shield crown and winning even more trophies in 2024. Bucha, 25, signed a multiyear contract that runs through 2026 with an option for 2027.
"We're thrilled to welcome Pavel to the club," said Chris Albright, FC Cincinnati general manager, in a press release. "His understanding of the game, ability to cover ground, and experience at the top levels of European soccer make him a valuable addition. He's also an exceptional teammate who will fit seamlessly into the culture of the group."
In 2022, Bucha helped lead FC Viktoria Plzeň to a Czech First League title while also qualifying for the UEFA Champions League for just the fifth time in club history, starting all six matches in qualification and five group stage matches where the Plzeň, Czech Republic based side was matched up in the group of death and took on Inter Milan, Bayern Munich and Barcelona. Viktoria Plzeň is currently sitting third in the league table and is awaiting its Round of 16 matches in the 2024 Europe Conference League, where Bucha started in all six of the club's group-stage matches. In total, Bucha has made 33 career continental competition appearances.
Bucha was raised near the capital city of Prague in a suburb called Mělník and has played all of his professional soccer in Czechia, the preferred name of the country by its citizens but known as the Czech Republic, more commonly in the United States. As a youngster, he grew up in the academy of SK Slavia Prague (one of two major clubs in Prague), where he would eventually make his professional debut before being sold to Plazen, which is located about 45 miles southwest of the capital city near the German border. Before the sale, he spent a brief time on loan with FK Mladá Boleslav.
A box-to-box midfielder, Bucha is known for his ability to drive play through all sectors of the field, being able to play defensively while having the engine to turn upfield for runs, and serving as a threatening goal scorer when given the opportunity. Instant reaction to viewing his game films shows Bucha's speed, passing, and creativity. Through 30 matches across all competitions this season, Bucha has six goals and his highlight tapes are littered with big strikes from great distances that can't help but fuel the imagination of what could happen at TQL Stadium.
Positional versatility is also a strength for the 25-year-old now in his prime. While at Viktoria Plazn, he was asked to change positions twice, according to Czech-based journalist Jonáš Bartoš of ISportz, due to coaching changes at the club. However, he ultimately settled in his role as a center mid. But what he gained along the way was a familiarity across the field, particularly on the right side, as a winger when needed.
Off the pitch, FCC is acquiring a fan favorite from his previous club and a national team darling by his countrymen. Well known for his friendly smile underneath the competitive exterior, fans regularly mention Bucha as the national team as a player they want to see selected more often. As a youth player, he made 17 appearances for his national team and was called up to the senior squad in 2021 as part of FIFA World Cup qualifying but never saw the field. With the 2024 EUROS approaching and the 2026 World Cup nearing, his move to FCC provides an excellent stage for promoting his talents.
"I am proud to finally be part of this team," said Bucha in his introductory press release. "I feel great and very welcome here, and I am excited about working with this group of players and coaches. I cannot wait to get this season started."
According to reports, part of the draw to FC Cincinnati for the player was the opportunity to play abroad, having only ever played in his home nation. The chance to test himself in a larger league and grow his profile also appealed to Bucha, with FC Cincinnati representing not only a competitive club as Supporters Shield champions but also one that has developed and supported major stars through their player welfare system.
Czechia has recently grown as a soccer nation, particularly with the First League gaining more continental prominence. The national team has always been a presence in Europe, earning qualification into the Euros every cycle since 1996, when they formally split from Czechoslovakia and qualified for the World Cup in 2006. But the growth has come in the domestic league, which has rocketed up the UEFA coefficient from the 17th ranked league in Europe to the 11th ranked in the last 10 years, contextually that places the league in the same conversation competitively as Belgium, Scotland, Turkey, Switzerland and Austria, with Czechia ranking directly in the middle of those five nations top flight leagues.
With so many competitive fixtures this season for FC Cincinnati, including the start of a cup competition new to FC Cincinnati starting later this month in the Concacaf Champions Cup, the central midfielder provides not only depth to the position group but also a high-end contributor who has experience not only in playing in important games but also winning trophies.
While Bucha has already played 30 games across all competitions in his current season, that will have to be factored in as the year progresses. He starts what effectively will be a second full season without an offseason break. Still, FC Cincinnati is getting a player in excellent form as they open the 2024 campaign.
By getting him now, FCC is better poised to open the season strong and compete for all the trophies they hope to bring home along the way.