In his first interview following Kenny Saief’s arrival to FC Cincinnati, Head Coach Alan Koch said Saief will be one of the club’s top players once he’s fully healthy.
Saief only needed 94 minutes to prove that.
Following the 2-0 road win at New England Revolution on Sunday afternoon – FCC’s first MLS road win – the club jumped to second in the Eastern Conference standings. That rise can be credited to multiple reasons, including Saief.
In his debut, the 1-1 draw at Atlanta United FC, the U.S. international only played 17 minutes, but helped produced the match highlight with a scintillating through ball to Roland Lamah, who equalized the scoreline.
Against the Revolution, Saief made his first MLS start and produced another assist, in addition to a goal.
“He continues to get better and better,” Koch said of the midfielder. “You can see his moments of class. He’s very, very comfortable on the ball. Already for us, he’s had some quality moments.”
During the first half in New England, Saief assisted FC Cincinnati’s first goal when he found space on the left-hand side, collected a pass from Kekuta Manneh and then delivered the ball back into the box to either Manneh or Emmanuel Ledesma.
Manneh scored in the 44th minute to give the Orange and Blue the lead.
“I saw two guys just a bit behind, so I thought I just needed to put a ball in hard,” Saief said. “I’m happy Kekuta was there to put it in.”
The duo connected again in the 65th minute to double the lead.
After the Revs failed to clear a corner, Manneh played a pass to Saief, who finished a point-blank goal.
“I just saw a space – Kekuta was going to just put the ball in the box and I’m happy I was in the right place at the right moment,” Saief said. “It wasn’t a big goal, but it was an important goal.”
With the 2-0 win, FC Cincinnati have seven points from their first four matches, which ties the club’s all-time best start.
As FCC continue to find their MLS identity, it’s becoming increasingly clear Saief will play a crucial role going forward.
Out of possession, he can win the ball back and create space for teammates. His 12 possessions gained against New England led the team.
In possession, he makes effective runs with or without the ball and has already proven his ability to deliver a lethal final pass to create a scoring opportunity.
"I know know this guy from back in (U.S. Men's National Team) camp," Manneh said of Saief. Amazing guy; amazing player. His quality, his technical ability to see the pass, the final pass, I think that's what has impressed me the most, and I've known him for awhile. So there are no surprises there for me ... There's more to come from that. He's going to be a special player for us, so he'll be good for us going forward."
As far as starts go, it can’t get much better for the U.S. international, who’s on loan through June from Belgian side RSC Anderlecht.
“In the moment, it feels good,” Saief said of his adjustment to MLS. “I still need more time to connect with the guys. It’s a completely new group – it’s not only me, but also the other guys. For the moment, we’re doing well. Hopefully we’re going to keep going that way and we’re already looking forward to the next game.”
Saief joined FC Cincinnati following the 4-1 season-opening loss at Seattle Sounders FC. Since his arrival, he’s looked more and more confident. The same can be said for his new club, too.