Position Breakdown: Midfielder

With the inaugural season in MLS complete, FC Cincinnati can turn their attention toward 2020. Keeping that mentality, here’s a glance at which players will return next season, based on their 2019 respective campaigns:

To read about the goalkeepers, click here.

To read about the defenders, click here.

Fatai Alashe

MLS appearances: 11

MLS starts: 4

Minutes played this season: 434

This past season was a frustrating one for Alashe, who was loaned to FC Cincinnati in 2018 – and then his trade was completed on Jan. 1, 2019 – to help lead the club’s transition from USL into MLS. Yet, when the MLS season started, the center midfielder didn’t make his 2019 debut until April 19, and that lasted 13 minutes as a substitute.

His first start, on May 4 at San Jose (his former club) was at right midfield. Later in the summer, he started at right back before a hamstring injury kept him sidelined until Aug. 31. The point is, Alashe spent the opening months of the season either not playing or in a limited capacity. But once Yoann Damet became interim coach, he offered Alashe more opportunities, and it paid off. Among them, Alashe scored the game-winning goal in Damet’s first match on May 11.

As the season progressed, Alashe’s role with the team increased and, ultimately, the mid played in five of the team’s last six games. During that time, he showed his ability to win the ball defensively and assist in building possessions. He’s a smart player, and if Alashe remains healthy, he could be a strong option in 2020.

Frankie Amaya

MLS appearances: 19

MLS starts: 15

Minutes played this season: 1,241

Drafted first overall in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft, Amaya joined FC Cincinnati hoping for an opportunity. He ended the season as one of the club’s most important players – and one GM Gerard Nijkamp admitted the club wants to build around. He also finished fourth in 2019 MLS Rookie of the Year voting. Sounds like he grasped his opportunity. 

But that doesn’t mean Amaya’s 2019 was picture perfect. While his first appearance was in late March and first start in early May, he was loaned to Orange County SC for more playing time and a chance to make the U.S. Under-20 National Team for the FIFA World Cup. He wasn’t selected, and U.S. U-20 coach Tab Ramos noted he was one of the last ones left off the squad as he hadn’t been playing regularly.

In truth, had Amaya been given the opportunity to gain regular playing time earlier in the season, he probably would’ve earned a spot at the U20 World Cup with the national team. But, ironically, because he remained in Cincinnati and didn’t travel to Poland, he flourished with the Orange and Blue and instantly became a fan favorite and one of the team’s best players. 

Maybe this season wasn’t perfect, but in the end it turned out pretty well.

Leo Bertone

MLS appearances: 25

MLS starts: 22

Minutes played this season: 2,055

This time last season, Bertone was playing in the UEFA Champions League. Throughout 2019, he showed why.

Since his arrival from Switzerland, Bertone was an integral part of Cincinnati’s midfield. In the season opener, he needed just 13minutes to score FCC’s first MLS goal – and the goal of the season. 

He also moved around the midfield quite a bit in 2019, playing both higher up as an “8” with some traditional “10” responsibilities, and then closed the season playing deeper as a “6” and picking up more defensive and pivot duties.

At just 25 years old, Bertone is a solid player who’s entering the prime of his career. With the Orange and Blue’s central midfield saturated with players last season, fewer bodies there in 2020 should mean a greater role for Bertone. We’ve seen his talent. Now, FCC just need more of it. 

Allan Cruz

MLS appearances: 22

MLS starts: 21

Minutes played this season: 1,743

It’s worth noting FC Cincinnati’s eventual team MVP wasn’t even in the first match day squad when the club opened its MLS campaign in Seattle. But then two games later, when Cruz scored via a backheel against the Portland Timbers in the club’s first-ever MLS home game, the talent level of FCC’s Young DP signing became clear.

By the end of the season, Cruz finished with a team-high seven goals and added an assist. That all came in just 22 appearances as he missed time while he represented Costa Rica during a pair of FIFA competition windows plus the the 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup. And when he returned, he moved from right wing to his natural center midfielder role. During the year, he also picked up an ankle injury and a concussion to even further limit his time.

For Cruz, 2020 means a second year playing in a new country and league, so there should be greater familiarity and that could result in an even better season. Potentially reuniting next to Amaya, two of the most talented players on the roster should bolster the FC Cincinnati midfield.

Caleb Stanko

MLS appearances: 23

MLS starts: 16

Minutes played this season: 1,438

After playing the final four minutes of the season opener at right back, and then future appearances as a late sub, Stanko finally started on April 13 at LAFC and showed his capabilities as an enforcer in the FCC midfield as he bossed the play and helped limit one of MLS’ most prolific attacks in league history.

As Stanko became a regular in the lineup, he became a strong option as a holding midfielder in the traditional “6” spot. Unafraid to mix it up in the midfield and go hard on tackles, Stanko provided a unique bite to the Orange and Blue’s midfield.

With potentially fewer people playing in the position entering 2020, that could lead to increased minutes for the player who left Germany for MLS. With a grit and physical style of play unlike any other player in the midfield currently, Stanko can be a piece of the FCC puzzle moving forward.

Tommy McCabe

MLS appearances: 6

MLS starts: 2

Minutes played this season: 244

The rookie spent the first half of 2019 on loan at North Carolina FC. But when he was was recalled in June, he showed he’s a promising player for Cincinnati’s future.

While chances were limited, the 21-year-old midfielder improved as the season progressed and impressed coach Ron Jans. By Sept. 7 against Toronto, McCabe started his first match, and on Sept. 21 against Chicago, he was arguably the best player on the field for Cincinnati that night. 

As the team prepares for 2020, McCabe has a role that could increase with more minutes and opportunities in his second professional season.