In their first match in four months – and first under head coach Jaap Stam – FC Cincinnati lost, 4-0, to Columbus Crew SC in their MLS is Back Tournament opener.
Here are the takeaways from the latest edition of the #HellisReal Derby:
“A lot of downs and not enough ups”
After a lively start to the match that saw Cincinnati dictating the rhythm and momentum, the Orange and Blue failed to translate that into converting the chances they created.
So, what began as a great opening 20 minutes became irrelevant when the Crew scored in the 27th minute, then again in the 30th. FCC went from bullying the match to arriving second to duels.
“In a way, I can understand that there’s disappointment, but we need to find that switch that even when there’s disappointment, we can turn that around and we were willing to go for that,” Stam said. “We need to stay positive if there’s a disappointment.”
Any chance of a second-half recovery drifted away when Gyasi Zardes scored his second and Youness Mokhtar added Columbus’ fourth on the hour mark.
“Well, it’s a tough match,” Siem de Jong said. “For the first game to end like this doesn’t feel good.”
“We’re still learning.”
Regardless of Saturday night’s outcome, how FC Cincinnati arrived entering the match is hardly ideal.
For Stam, he’s had four weeks training of trying to implement a new playing style and identity. In the days leading up to the match, he said coaches usually want friendlies and a full preseason to assess their squad.
That wasn’t an option.
The derby was the first time we’ve seen the Orange and Blue play in the way Stam wants. The opening moments showed a lot of growth and progress. FCC looked different from how it entered the pandemic. The problem, of course, is what followed.
“The start has just begun,” Stam said. “The players need to get fit. We need to learn to play in a certain way, (and) we need to defend in a certain way as well. That takes time. Hopefully we can. Improve very quickly.”
Ironically, while there was plenty of time between the match and FCC’s last game in March, there weren’t enough full-team training sessions for the group to completely rebuild chemistry. That’ll be the key storyline to watch from the side throughout the remainder of this competition.
“It’s always tough,” Saad Abdul-Salaam said. “Especially going in after a long period of time, coming into the bubble, getting used to situations, circumstances … at the end of the day, we’re still getting used to each other. We are still trying; we are still learning.
“I’ll go back again and say it’s a learning experience. We have to build on it. We have to learn, and move forward. We are going to do better each game.”
Building a foundation
What transpired Saturday night/Sunday morning wasn’t ideal, but it’s the reality that Cincinnati needs to build upon.
If the team can progress from its start to the match, when the side comfortably played between the lines and looked confident, goal-scoring opportunities will come. When they do, they need to be seized.
Trying to form a playing style and identity with a World Cup-style tournament as the starting point is hardly ideal – and the situation is compounded when the team’s opener was against its biggest rival.
“Sometimes you don’t get the result,” Abdul-Salaam said. “But as teams, you have to stick together and continue moving forward.”
What comes next
The Orange and Blue will face Atlanta United FC on Thursday at 9 a.m. The match will be the club’s second of three games during the MLS is Back Tournament group stage.
Cincinnati last played Atlanta on March 7, falling 2-1 inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The league suspended the regular season days after that match.
After four months between games, FCC now have four days before they play Atlanta United.
As a reminder, the group stage matches count toward the 2020 regular season standings.