When FC Cincinnati walked off their grass practice field for the first time Tuesday morning, the mood was upbeat and smiles were contagious. In his daily interview, Head Coach Alan Koch joked the new grass surface felt like a preseason training session.
This is FCC’s new reality.
Tuesday marked the first time the club practiced on its own grass field in its four-year history. That’s definitely something to smile about.
What comes next for the Orange and Blue isn’t as welcoming – but that’s also the club’s new reality.
Beginning Saturday night, Cincinnati will play three consecutive road matches in the span of eight days. By the time the team returns to Cincinnati on May 5, the team will have seen both oceans and traveled thousands of miles along the way – all in the same trip.
This season, only three MLS clubs have three away matches in eight days. The expansion franchise just happens to be one of them.
“We go one game at a time,” Koch said. “We talk and discuss all the different ways about going through the three-game week, but we’re focused on the first game first. There’s no point planning for the second and third game when you have to see what’s happening in the first game. We’re definitely aware of the travel that’s going to present itself, but we’ll manage that when we get there.”
Cincinnati plays at the New York Red Bulls on Saturday night. From there, the team plays the Philadelphia Union for the second time this season before flying out to California to play the San Jose Earthquakes.
This is the type of road trip that was nonexistent during the USL days. Then, the furthest west FCC traveled for a league match was to St. Louis. As a result, it’s the longest road trip that club many of its players have taken – including international players.
“No, I’ve never had it,” midfielder Kenny Saief said. “I used to play European competitions, so it’s a lot of travel and trying to be focused, trying to eat good, drink good and be to be really focused on the job. That is most important.”
For midfielder Allan Cruz, a few months ago he was playing in his native Costa Rica. For context, the country is slightly smaller than West Virginia.
“It’s more comfortable here because you travel by plane,” Cruz said, via a translator. “You’re calmer. Back in Costa Rica we traveled by bus three hours or four hours. I feel that’s more tiring. The time of rest we have here at the club is different than back home.”
But regardless of distance between matches, it’s worth highlighting what’s at stake.
Through eight regular-season matches, FC Cincinnati have eight points. They’re eighth in the MLS Eastern Conference standings. If the Orange and Blue were to win all three matches, the points would surpass the team’s current total and rocket the expansion side up the Eastern Conference standings.
“There’s a nine-point week ahead of us, so let’s get ourselves ready,” Koch said he told his players. “We know going on this trip is not going to be easy, but we want to embrace it. Hopefully we continue to have more of the good moments and we nullify some of the bad moments.”
Cruz offered similar remarks.
“We have some difficult matches coming up,” he said. “The matches at home have gotten complicated for us. Now we have to retake those nine points that we have lost here in our home. Now retake them out there on the road.”