In his first interview last week, Yoann Damet promised the local media that he’d tinker with FC Cincinnati’s previous lineups and tactics.
So, it shouldn’t have been a big surprise Saturday afternoon when five players were changed from the previous starting lineup. What was a surprise to many, though, was who played center back alongside captain Kendall Waston.
For the first time since 2017, Justin Hoyte played center back for Cincinnati, and despite the positional change, he delivered an impressive performance that helped the club get back to winning ways. Generally, he’s played as an outside back.
“Physically, it was a lot easier for me because I don’t have to run up and down as much,” Hoyte said before laughing. “It was good to play alongside Kendall with his experience in MLS. It was also a great feeling to get out there on the field.”
Damet’s decision to play Hoyte in the middle derived from two reasons.
“Justin helps us building up from the back and he brings some experience,” the coach said. “His abilities and tactical knowledge helped us doing it. He has the confidence. We went for an experienced backline and I think he did well. I was happy with that.”
Adding the Englishman to the lineup meant adding experience and a player who often thinks like a coach (Hoyte has considered becoming one after he retires from playing). If FC Cincinnati is looking to play a possession-based style, Hoyte is a strong candidate. He’s solid on the ball and delivers solid performances.
Saturday was another reminder of that.
Against Montreal, he finished with a team-high 91.3% passing accuracy from 69 passes. He also gained possession four times, while making two clearances and an interception.
“I’ve trained there quite a lot since I’ve been here, so, yeah, it was nice to play and nice to play center back,” Hoyte said.
Hoyte’s played center back for Cincinnati previously in 2019, but those performances were all in preseason. Since the MLS regular season began, his appearances have been as a fullback on both the right and left.
In fact, the last time Hoyte played in the middle for the Orange and Blue was during the 2017 season – his first year at Cincinnati. During that campaign, he also played as a fullback, but he was often deployed as a center back when the club used a back three.
What Saturday proved – and what Hoyte is proving this season – is how versatile he is as a defender across the backline: in four matches for the Orange and Blue, he’s played in three different positions.
The win against Montreal was the first win Hoyte’s been a part of this year. It was also a chance to reiterate how comfortable the Englishman is on the ball in possession, which could be critical for Damet’s plans moving forward if FC Cincinnati continues building from the back.