FC Cincinnati Head Coach Pat Noonan spoke to the media Wednesday afternoon following his first season on the job with the Orange and Blue.
While fielding questions from local and national writers, Noonan discussed his takeaways from the season, his points of emphasis for the offseason, how the team can improve in 2023 and more.
Read the full transcript of today's press conference below:
FC Cincinnati Head Coach Pat Noonan on the season
"I think looking back at the season as a whole, you could take a lot of positives from the year that we had. I think the most important aspect of it was the fact that this group was competing in the playoffs this year. Because if you look back and you say, you know, there were a lot of areas where we made progress, if we're not a playoff team, it's still another year without that. So I was really pleased that this group got to experience some playoff soccer and win on the road and see what that looks like. And then go and really push Philly in a very difficult atmosphere for the conference semifinals, I think that's important that we got to this point, and to be able to take those experiences and hopefully start 2023 strong, is a good thing.
"But what I've also said is now we're not surprising anybody in 2023. It's only going to get more difficult, which is a good thing. But I think 2022 was a good year for FCC, and I probably haven't done it enough, but there's a lot of people that put in a lot of work that deserve some recognition, from the coaching staff that put in tireless hours to help the product on the field to you know, the medical staff [Director of Sports Medicine / Head Athletic Trainer Aaron Powell] and his crew and the Sports Science Department, Gary Walker and his crew. I know, there's a lot of names that I'll leave off, but you know, [Senior Manager of First Team Equipment] Teddy [Kerr] and the equipment staff, and the comms department. You know, our broadcast team, Tommy G [Gelehrter] and Kevin [McCloskey] and Alex [Stec] haven't been recognized enough by me. They did a fantastic job, and were really a lot of fun to work with this year. You know, the game day ops. I'm sure I'm leaving some people out here. But a lot of people put in a lot of work and helped to make this a better year than the previous. So I'm very thankful for all the people that put in a lot of time and effort."
Noonan on the team's outlook of the season
"I imagine a lot of teams will look back at the year and think they dropped points in different ways to not allow them to be in a better position than they were. For us, I think fifth was probably fair, you know, we did drop a lot of points from winning positions. But I think those experiences are what allowed us to have some success towards the end. Having a better understanding of how to close out games or how to deal with challenging moments and adversity. Certainly you want to be finishing better than you did when you when you're talking about how we got to fifth place. Because there were plenty of points that we dropped in tough fashion. But if you would've said at the beginning of the year, 'Okay, you can be a playoff team, you can finish in fifth place and be you know, competing in the playoffs,' a lot of people would have taken that. Internally, our conversations were always based around progress, playing in meaningful games, being a playoff team. And those goals were achieved. So now, how do you build on that going into next year? And that's finding ways to get those playoff games at home in front of our home fans and in a very good home environment. But I think overall, you know, fifth is fair and the way the season ended, you know, we probably can gain some experiences from why it ended. Going on the road and not being able to finish off some plays and the small details that go into the success or failure in a playoff game."
Noonan on the offseason points of emphasis
"Starting point is the exit meetings and just now conversations that are ongoing in how we move on. From some players, who's going to be returning and so what are some of the holes that we're going to need to fill. So you know, that's the short term conversations, a lot of the prep work now to how we can start 2023 strong. Everything's not new, which is a good thing, because now we have a better understanding of what it looks like to begin the year, so how do we find ways to improve on in a lot of different areas to make sure that we can improve in ways where it's not just the on field success, but the club as a whole in the different departments and how we connect things and how we continue to improve our connection with the community, with the fan base so that we look at the big picture, not just wins and losses, and how we can improve the club. So a lot of those conversations are ongoing. And this is the time period now that you get to work on some of those things and have those conversations. You know, and as far as the on-field stuff, I think it's more reasonable this coming year, more specific goals. 2022 was about culture, identity, ways to progress the team to be competitive, and we got there. Now we need to improve on that and have some specific things that we're going to target. From the very beginning."
Noonan on concerns of fending off or fielding requests for core pieces of the team
"I wouldn't say it's concerns. But anytime you have success, individually or collectively, people take notice of that and you become a wanted commodity. And so I think it's great that our players are being recognized from their performances this year. And from that, opportunities will arise. So, you know, I guess we'll cross that bridge when we get there. But we are preparing for certain conversations in terms of potential player movement, and what's the plan if players have bigger and better opportunities, same as the staff. But those are good things when you have potential player movement because of the performances on the field. And the same with the coaching staff. That's a good thing. And I think we're prepared for some more than others, there's always surprises in terms of opportunities that come about or reasons why players or staff members move on. But if that's the case, it's because they're doing a good job. And we have no interest and I have no interest in losing any member of our staff this year. They know I don't want them going anywhere. But they also know that if something presents itself that I'll be the first to advocate for them having an opportunity to do something bigger and better. But we'll see with players what that looks like in the coming weeks. Hopefully there's clarity in that sooner than later so that you're not surprised late in the game. And so we'll make sure that the conversations and the dialogue around potential movement is preparing us for filling some holes, if that's a reality."
Noonan on what can be identified to improve the team
*"Yeah, good question. I think in a couple weeks time when some of these player ... once the clarity comes about as far as who we're moving on from and who's returning, you know, then I'll get into more specific detail about the holes that we're going to need to fill. But I still think defensively, you look at the goals that we conceded this year, we need to be better defensively, in terms of not conceding as many goals. I think that's still an area that despite seeing progress and improvements with as the year finished out, we can be better there. So we'll look at some ways in which we can improve that. I think certainly on the attacking side, the goal production was there but it was also, we were relying on the same players for a long stretch. So how do we find more balance in that and be able to produce the same types of numbers of goals, but being able to do that with more players contributing, I think having that will push players from the very beginning, in terms of not having players that you lean on over and over. And if they're having a tough day, or if our front three wasn't producing, then, you know, what does that look like? And I think we talked about early on not having a goal off of the bench for I don't know how long it was until we got that? Was it Yuya [Kubo's] goal [vs. San Jose Earthquakes], yeah Yuya, okay, so one. We need to be better in how we produce goals with our depth pieces, you know, whoever's not starting. I'd say those are some areas that kind of jump out in terms of the on-field production and the ways that we can improve on both sides of the ball. Set pieces, it was a real struggle early on. I think it got better and better. I know [Director of Goalkeeping] Paul Rogers works tirelessly to help get that right. And our conversations there are just finding ways to get the best players in the best positions to help us defend set pieces, so we can be more stable, more consistent there as well. And if we're able to make improvements in those three areas, I think certainly the success will be there in terms of wins and losses."
Noonan how the staff prevents 2022 from being a 'one-hit wonder'
"I think it helps that we're going to have some consistency in the staff. We'll have some core players now that you see that we've brought in with Obi [Nwobodo], with Matt [Miazga] coming in to join with the Lucho [Acosta's] and the Brandon [Vazquez's]. And I'm leaving names out there right now. But we have some core pieces that we're going to be able to build around and look to strengthen our group. So I think the consistency of who's coming back and the success that we've experienced this year will at least position us to have success in 2023. But like I said, I've been around this league long enough to know that year in and year out is very difficult to maintain success. It's only going to get more difficult. But if we continue on the path that we that we've been on this year where the expectations internally are high, and the standards are high with the talent that we have, with the character that we have in this group, I think we're in a position to experience similar success and hopefully improve on this year and in 2023"
Noonan on what the talks were like with Philadelphia Head Coach Jim Curtin following the Eastern Conference Semifinals
“Just a lot of respect for each other and, you know, from my side, the work that he's done that I've witnessed firsthand and was fortunate enough to experience with him is pretty impressive. He's found a way to improve that group every single year for four or five years to have them competing for a Supporters' Shield, and now in the in the [Eastern] Conference Final. So I have a lot of respect for Jim and the job that he has done with that group and the consistency that they've had, in terms of success. And, you know, quite frankly, it's what we're trying to achieve here. It was tough on our end, because, you know, the season's over. But, you know, we sat and had a conversation and a beer just to kind of quickly analyze the game. And it was a playoff game, you know, it was intense. The atmosphere was great, the first 45 minutes wasn't perfect by any means on either side, but they've created an environment there that is real, and it was good for our group to experience that. And I thought they embraced it and in a lot of ways did some good things that positioned us to win a game. You know, we weren't able to find the goal against the team that defends well and against a very, very good goalkeeper. It was cool that we got to square off against each other in a meaningful game. And hopefully, we can take that experience as a group, staff, players, all of us, and if we're in a position to next year, in a playoff game, hopefully we can use this experience to find success the next go around. But a lot of respect for Jim and the job he's done."
Noonan on shifting the team's formation
"If you just look at the group returning, if nothing were to change, I think with who's produced, this [year's system] is probably the best system for our group. But we will look at ways to potentially have a shift in how we start games and what the formation looks like, based on the personnel that we have. You know, those conversations we're having all the time of what we'd like to get to, but the reality is, the success I think we had this year was because the group of players that were on the field and producing, this was the best setup for us. I wouldn't say that's a certainty going into 2023, but we'll see over the coming months with player movement, with the conversations that we're having, if it makes sense to switch some things around as we begin preseason. But I do think this year, myself personally and our staff having not worked in a formation like that prior has helped us have some versatility in how we position the team to go out and have success. But it's about putting your players in the best positions possible. And so I guess that's to be determined, but it gives us a good starting point."
Noonan on the pieces needed to play in a 4-4-2
*"I think if we were to go into a four [back], the speed along the back line. I think if we were to go with wingers, what the depth pieces would look like there to not have to constantly change formations in-game if your top options weren't available. Because certainly there's some ... we'll use Álvaro [Barreal] as an example, he's most comfortable as a winger. But say that wasn't an option, what does the depth look like to maintain a certain formation? I think those are some of the reasons that we were in the shape that we were in. But in keeping the same shape, you kind of have to have all of the right depth pieces. And I think that in a lot of ways, when we look to shift things around, and look at different ideas, maybe a piece or two off in maintaining a back four on a more consistent basis."
Noonan on the relationship with Brenner heading into 2023
"Nothing changed, you know, from our exit meeting, conversations. It's here's our recap of the year, here's what we need to look for in ways to improve and ways to maintain success going into 2023. The expectation is that he is back and helping us from the very beginning of 2023, which he wasn't a part of for preseason last year. So different ways to approach this offseason for him personally to be ready to come back even stronger in 2023. Again, his production and his age and his ceiling, the conversations in the coming months will certainly revolve around, is there a potential move? We understand that, but we're approaching it as he's going to be back to start the year and how can we get him to be even a better version of himself than we saw in 2022? And even that second half of the season when he was producing for us?"
Noonan on the rumored new future playoff format
"I like the format currently. I think it's working just fine. And I understand that there's conversations about finding different ways to bring more recognition, more important games to the table, is always going to be there. You're always looking for ways to improve. But having change every year, you know which I get COVID kind of forced you into some changes, I would like to see some consistency in what it's going to look like at the end of the year with that format. But I like the way it is right now."
Noonan on Brandon Vazquez's future
"It looks bright. I would say if he continues on this path, he's going to be gone. That's my guess. Do we want to lose him? No. If he continues the way in the form that he is in, he can produce for us for a long time and that's what we want. But the reality is with his age and with this particular position, the goal scorer, he's going to be a hot commodity. I don't expect that he is going to be a part of this group if the production continues at the rate that it did in 2022. For FCC, is that a good thing? You know, no, when you talk about production and what he means to our group. But for Brandon, the person and the player, if other opportunities come about and he's able to go on to something bigger and better, I think that's fantastic. I think it is a sign of players being able to be a part of our staff and this club, being in position to develop to play at a higher level, wherever that is, whatever that means. Again, we want Brandon here for a long time. But when you score goals, others are going to take notice of that and he is going to be sought after. So again, we'll cross that bridge if and when it happens, but we're really proud of Brandon and happy that we get to work with him and his character on a day to day."