During contract negotiations with FC Cincinnati to sign an MLS contract, Forrest Lasso learned the team was playing in the Carolina Challenge Cup and got excited.
“Spending three years down there, to be able to go back and be able to play on familiar turf and a familiar surface, it’s going to be nice,” Lasso said.
When the Orange and Blue practiced at MUSC Health Stadium on Friday morning in Charleston, S.C., Lasso was back on his old field. Saturday night, he plays against his old team.
Before joining Cincinnati last season and becoming the 2018 USL Defender of the Year, Lasso spent three years with the Charleston Battery. They offered him his first professional contract out of college and he developed into a top USL defender.
His first games as a pro were in the Carolina Challenge Cup. Now, he’s back as an MLS defender.
So much has happened in between.
Lasso’s mantra has always been club-first. Whatever helps the team is the priority. Initially, that meant his first appearances in Charleston were as a forward — as an attacking aerial threat — not at his natural center back position. Eventually, he earned his spot in the back, became the best defender in the country’s second division and is now fighting for first-team minutes with an MLS expansion club.
Now approaching his first MLS regular season, the 25-year-old said the team has come a long way from the start of preseason. Players are gelling and chemistry is growing. But speaking about the team downplays how far Lasso has come, too. That’s what makes his return to Charleston — his self-titled “second home” — so special.
Coming home to Charleston
FC Cincinnati landed in Charleston on Thursday and leave next Sunday. By then, the club is a week away from its inaugural MLS game. That leaves limited time for FCC to finalize their first travelling squad to Seattle Sounders FC on March 2.
Three matches in the round-robin CCC offer a chance to play more games for match fitness and chemistry. However, another trip outside of Cincinnati means another chance for the club to explore a different location.
When FCC practiced for two weeks at IMG Academy in Florida earlier this month, one session included jogging on Bradenton Beach just before sunset. Perhaps there’s another chance for a beach run in Charleston. But there’s also time for coaches and players to explore, and in the case of Lasso, that means visit his old home.
“I still have some buddies that I lived with or grew up with and went to school with that are in Charleston now,” Lasso said. “Hopefully I’ll be able to see them, whether it’s a day off, at a game or just briefly for coffee in the lobby.”
If he’s lucky, maybe he can return to Darling Oyster Bar on King St., too.
“I grew up on the coast a little bit so I have a soft spot for oysters,” he said.
Essentially, Lasso is FC Cincinnati’s unofficial tour guide in Charleston, a city he said he knows like the back of his hand. Once the team has time off, it’s expected teammates will ask him for good places to eat or get coffee. That’s common for athletes on professional teams.
For example, goalkeeper Spencer Richey and midfielder Tommy McCabe both attended IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. So, when the team visited, they knew the area, even if the facility itself changed. The same can be expected from Lasso in Carolina or another player anywhere else.
“When I go to Seattle, Spencer is from Seattle,” the defender said. “While I’ll ask him for advice, one of the neat things is venturing on your own and exploring on your own. …I’ll guide them (in Charleston), but I’m not going to tell them exactly how to find all the secret spots.”
“Going to be special”
This isn’t Lasso’s first trip to Charleston since he left the Battery. Last March, FCC beat Charleston 1-0 at MUSC Health Stadium to start the 2018 USL season. All three of Cincinnati’s USL campaigns began at that stadium.
On Saturday, that’s where FCC’s first preseason tournament as an MLS franchise kicks off. Including these two clubs, the other participants are the Chicago Fire and Columbus Crew SC. For Cincinnati, playing those MLS opponents means comparing the club at this point in preseason. That’s important. But for Lasso, playing Charleston will be the match that stands out.
“Playing against some of the guys I was playing with down there is going to be special,” he said. “Those are relationships you build once and they last a lifetime.”