‘There’s excitement to get away from this season’

Nick Hagglund pointed at the ceiling and smiled.

“This is where we were and next year we’ll be in a bigger, better facility,” Hagglund said. “I have the same feelings as the team and organization that we’ll continue to move forward and grow.”

Last Friday was Hagglund’s last trip to FC Cincinnati’s temporary training facility in Milford. On Wednesday, the $35-million Mercy Health Training Center formally opens and will be the Orange and Blue’s permanent headquarters. The previous home, where Hagglund was standing, will be reduced to rubble – set to be demolished in mid-November.

In a sense, think of FC Cincinnati’s offseason following suit.

Last Thursday marked the final time FCC players trained in 2019. While the season ended Oct. 6, players had a week off before returning for three weeks of offseason training sessions. For players and coaches alike, the practices strengthened chemistry among the group that will be the club’s core entering 2020. 

“There’s excitement to get away from this season, to put it behind us, and excitement to come back and continue to grow upon some of the things we did in the last couple games,” Hagglund said.

When players report for preseason in January, there’s no more temporary training center. The roster will also look different from the 2019 edition that finished last in MLS and conceded more goals than any team previously.

“All the downs that we did have, (there were) not very many ups,” Greg Garza said. “You’re usually used to a rollercoaster season on any other team to where you have these ups and downs. That’s MLS from what I’ve seen. But we didn’t really have a lot of ups this year.”

When Garza left the training facility, his belongings were in small trash bags, similar to every other player. Metaphorically-speaking – or literally – there wasn’t much most the of the players wanted to carry with them from 2019 and into 2020.

Consider the Mercy Health Training Center’s grand opening on Wednesday morning as the first steps toward 2020. Moving forward, the new facility will be the home of every FCC player and coach.

One year ago, FCC had not re-signed – or actually signed – any players for its MLS roster outside those acquired via loan from MLS teams midseason.

GM Gerard Nijkamp, who joined in late May, didn’t move to Cincinnati until late July and now has his first offseason to shape the squad.

Ron Jans, who became the team’s third head coach of 2019 in early August, enters 2020 with a fresh start, rather than joining the club when Cincinnati was virtually eliminated from the postseason upon his arrival.

These aren’t little details. These are opportunities that weren’t available a year ago. That reason alone should offer hope.

“When you put a bunch of pieces together, it’s a lot easier to know you have a couple pieces missing or there are things you want to change rather than trying to put the whole puzzle together at one time,” Hagglund said. “So, in terms of that, hopefully it makes things better for next year.”