Maikel van der Werff wanted change.
Having played exclusively in the Netherlands in his career, he was out of contract and had an offer to play across the world in the U.S.
FC Cincinnati had just hired Gerard Nijkamp as their general manager, and van der Werff was going to be Nijkamp’s first signing – and not for the first time.
When Nijkamp first arrived at PEC Zwolle in 2013 – where he was technical director until he joined FCC – van der Werff was his first signing there, too.
As Nijkamp began building the new Orange and Blue and spoke about having a distinct identity and playing style, the van der Werff reinforced that position. After all, the Dutch are considered the pioneers of modern, possession-based soccer, and the defender is a disciple of that.
Signed in July as a free agent, van der Werff cemented his place as a starting center back and is exemplifies the style of play FC Cincinnati want from defenders moving forward: an athletic player who’s comfortable on the ball while building from the back.
Available for 12 games after his arrival, the Dutchman played in 11. Van der Werff’s only absence was the 5-1 loss to Toronto FC – the team’s worst home loss of the year and also a turning point late in the season – which he missed with a hamstring concern.
“Everything was new to me (in MLS), of course,” he said of his move. “It was a great experience and I’m really happy I chose this step in my career. I have a good feeling from the last few weeks because we had some good results. That makes me happy.”
As FCC closed the 2019 season with a greater focus on defensive-first tactics, van der Werff, Kendall Waston and Nick Hagglund were the bedrock of that. In the last five matches, Cincinnati went 1-1-3, only lost once and produced four clean sheets. A big turnaround for a club that ultimately that conceded more goals in 2019 than any team in league history.
And the late surge in defensive play is what FC Cincinnati want to build on as they enter 2020. While there’s a long offseason – which is a new concept to van der Werff – now there is familiarity with his teammates and coach Ron Jans, whom he also played under at PEC Zwolle.
There’s also more time, which is something that had been absent for van der Werff since his July arrival.
“For me, it’s over too quick,” he said of the season. “I was just getting warm and have to wait two or three months. I think the first game will be in March, so that’s weird for me. But that’s how it is.”