BRADENTON, Fla. — Before Wednesday night’s game, FC Cincinnati Head Coach Alan Koch said now is the time for mistakes. After all, the first preseason friendly arrived eight days after the expansion club’s first practice, where some players met each other for the first time.
And to start the match against the Montreal Impact, it showed.
FCC spent the opening minutes hunkered down defensively and endured a spell that included three-consecutive corners conceded. By the 11th minute, the team trailed.
But what followed in the friendly’s remaining minutes was Cincinnati adjusting, adapting and, at times, orchestrating the tempo of the eventual 1-1 draw.
“Just yesterday was our first day playing 11-on-11 and we only did that for maybe 10 minutes,” Emery Welshman said. “I’m still getting to know more than half of the team that was out there.”
Welshman started and was one of only three first-half participants on FCC’s roster last season — Welshman, Blake Smith and Fanendo Adi.
“It’s going to take us a little while to gel, get to know the ins and outs of what certain players like to do with and without the ball,” Welshman added. “That’s what preseason is all about and that’s what a new club is all about.”
FC Cincinnati is still learning about itself. That process should and will likely extend well into its first Major League Soccer season. But if Wednesday night revealed anything, it proved players might still be learning names, but they’re also learning how to connect as a successful team with good talent individually.
Trailing 1-0 at halftime, Koch deployed a different set of outfield players in the second half — Przemysław Tytoń played the full match in goal — and saw the same mixed results from those players as the ones who played from the initial kickoff. The big difference, of course, was Darren Mattocks equalizing off a Forrest Lasso long ball in the 49th minute to finish the scoring.
“Tonight, I thought there were long spells of the game where it showed our group haven’t played together before, but we haven’t played together before,” Koch said. “That was expected.
“There were also good positives in both 45 minutes. There were some good moments in the first 45 minutes and then there were some very good moments in the second 45 minutes. A very, very useful exercise.”
The draw showed progression. While Lasso’s ball to Mattocks showed FC Cincinnati’s abilities to leapfrog an opponents’ midfield to create a goal-scoring opportunity, other moments showed quick passes and dribbles that limited the Impact. Perhaps Cincinnati’s climax offensively in the first half came from Welshman dribbling past two defenders and finding Adi to score. The goal was ruled offside.
But as Koch and the players said before the game, the result didn’t matter as long as there was cohesion and moments to build upon.
Wednesday was FCC’s first preseason game. There are six more, with the next scheduled one Saturday morning against the Colorado Rapids. If the Montreal match was about players getting comfortable with each other and building relationships, the last preseason game against Columbus Crew SC should replicate how FCC wants to play come March 2 in the season opener against Seattle Sounders FC.
For example of preseason learning: Lasso played alongside Hassan Ndam and Justin Hoyte against the Impact. While Lasso and Hoyte were teammates last year, they usually had a teammate between them. (Hoyte played left back against Montreal.) While Ndam also played in FC Cincinnati’s last game, he played for the opponent.
“It’s great,” Lasso said. “I can speak for the guys from last year. We’ve been waiting since we lost to [New York Red Bulls II], so it’s nice to have a competitive game again. It was only 45’s and you could tell everyone was over-anxious to keep playing…but it’s preseason, so there’s more games to be played and minutes to be earned.”