TUCSON, Ariz. – Haris Medunjanin and Frankie Amaya having side-by side lockers is intentional. Medunjanin sitting beside Rey Ortiz on the flight to Arizona wasn’t. But both instances are examples of why Medunjanin came to FC Cincinnati.
Expect the 34-year-old midfielder to make significant on-field contributions this season, but also expect him to make significant impressions on the younger players, and in turn, FCC’s future.
“They need to build the team up,” Medunjanin said of the club’s younger players. “There are a lot of young guys here at FC Cincinnati and they are the future of this team. In a couple years, maybe the older guys won’t be here but [the younger players] will be.”
This belief in mentoring players is a big reason why Medunjanin was signed. During negotiations with FCC, he said he wanted provide confidence and advice to younger players – something he did with the Philadelphia Union’s academy products for three years. Two weeks into preseason, he’s doing the same with Cincinnati.
“I think it’s good that he wants to do that and the young guys can learn on the pitch,” head coach Ron Jans said. “You can see he’s talking a lot, but he’s also pretty fresh (to the team.) That’s one of the things we expect from him, to share experience, and not only to young players, but to everybody.”
During one drill last week, the deep-lying playmaker had a passing sequence with Frankie Amaya, Rey Ortiz and Andrew Gutman that moved the ball from deep into the team’s territory into open space down the left flank. The move itself wasn’t memorable, but the players involved were. Amaya, 19, is the club’s youngest player. Ortiz and Gutman are two of the younger players on the team at 23.
It’s too early into preseason to predict lineups and roles, but there’s enough time to see how an experienced player can help instill confidence into the club’s younger players.
“It’s pretty nice,” Amaya said of guidance from Medunjanin. “He has a bunch of experience and he’s played the game a while. He knows he has a good understanding of the game, good technique and good vision. It’s good to have a player like him.”
Ortiz offered similar praise.
“We sat on the plane together and he was telling me how he encourages young players to not shy away from some of the pressure that comes from being a rookie,” he said. “(We can) embrace it. If you’re creative, be creative and show what you can do in the final third. Defend first, but then attack.”
So, how did Medunjanin become so involved with helping younger players develop?
Perhaps it’s because the club’s oldest player wants to pass down as much knowledge as he can. But receiving guidance is also part of his backstory.
He came through AZ Alkmaar’s academy, which is arguably the Netherlands’ second-best academy. (Ajax has the best and one of the world’s best.) Coming through the Alkmaar ranks, Medunjanin played for a club that valued youth progression and expression.
Three of the Dutch national team’s future stars – Calvin Stengs, Guus Til and Owen Wijndal – are a few of the latest examples of AZ’s impressive academy.
When Medunjanin was a younger player, he played for the Dutch Under-21 National Team at back-to-back UEFA Championships. The team won both competitions.
“I had a lot of experienced guys talking to me, so that’s why I always said to myself to help the young players,” he said. “The young guys always want to play perfect, but that’s not possible. I always try to help them and tell them it’s not possible to always be perfect. You can only be better every game and from every training.”
And that’s what FCC are working toward currently.
While the Orange and Blue won’t play their first preseason match until Wednesday, the practices to this point are building blocks to progress entering the regular season in March. They’re also a chance to see Medunjanin successfully mentor younger players – an asset he said he’d bring to Cincinnati.
Now, the question how much can the advice make an impact?