Medunjanin

OPINION: Soccer is back! Why we should all celebrate

We finally have a confirmation. No more wondering if MLS will resume, or in what month. In fact, we even have a date: July 8.

The league announced the MLS is Back Tournament on Wednesday morning, which is a three-game tournament at minimum, but has serious upside for a team wanting to claim the trophy. There’s money – and a continental spot – on the line.

But more importantly, there’s another FC Cincinnati match to watch.

The league suspended play roughly three months ago. Now, we’re a month away from its return.

Instead of asking when we’ll see FCC play again, we can ask the questions that previously felt minuet: What’s the XI? How is he on the bench? You get the idea…

In no order, here are a handful of the things I’m looking forward to when the club flies to Orlando:

1. What will FCC look like now vs. then?

In theory, this team should be in midseason form right now. In theory, they should also be 15 games into the regular season.

But that’s not reality, and while the campaign started in March, the MLS is Back Tournament is basically a restart for a club that was restarting anyway.

Unlike March when the Orange and Blue kicked off the season, Cincinnati now has a head coach, and hopefully Jaap Stam and new assistant Said Bakkati can arrive in the U.S. soon. While the players wait to meet Stam in person, we’re all waiting to see what tactics he’ll implement.

Photo by Michael Millay | Rooted Media

2. I can’t wait to watch the club in win-now mode again

The MLS is Back Tournament can be viewed as a variety of positives. Maybe it’s a celebration that soccer is back. Maybe it’s a sign that society is slowly returning to the normalcy we left behind in March.

That’s all true, but so is this: FC Cincinnati are a handful of games away from winning their first MLS trophy and earning a spot in Concacaf Champions League. That’s way easier said than done, but it’s the reality.

Yes, maybe Stam will use the time in Orlando to learn more about his roster and see what his options are beyond this tournament. But with no matches currently schedule beyond this competition – although the league indicated that an adjusted schedule will be released to be played in club markets after the tournament ends – there’s a heightened focus on winning.

Since Cincinnati entered MLS, the club has continued its development. Based on what we’ve built so far, let’s see what we’ve got.

3. Position battles, position battles, position battles

With a new coach comes new questions, especially at positions stacked with quality and depth.

Who will Stam prefer in goal?

Greg Garza and Andrew Gutman both split time at left back in the first two games. Will someone play the full 90 there? What will the wings like look? Five options – Yuya Kubo, Kekuta Manneh, Joseph-Claude Gyau, Adrien Regattin and Jimmy McLaughlin – are competing for two starting spots.

But the central midfield has the most fascinating questions.

In the first two matches, we saw Frankie Amaya’s potential as a ball-winning midfielder. Does he play alongside deep-lying playmaker Haris Medunjanin, or is there another strategy? Don’t forget, there’s also Siem de Jong (who arrived three days before the season was abruptly halted and has yet to play a minute with his new squad) and 2019 team MVP Allan Cruz.

4. So, about that loan…

Photo by Michael Millay | Rooted Media

Now that the head coaching vacancy is sorted, there’s still a large question looming around Jürgen Locadia’s loan and when it expires. We’ll have that answer in time.

But this tournament will either show more of the Dutch striker, who scored minutes into his MLS debut, or it’ll be a chance for FCC to see what the team resembles without him.

This isn’t some ultimatum, it’s just reality. Regardless of the outcome, we’ll have a clearer picture in a few weeks. GM Gerard Nijkamp has reiterated that he’s in discussions with Brighton & Hove Albion about the situation.

5. Most of all, we have soccer again

If the pandemic has taught the sports world anything, it’s to appreciate every game and don’t take it for granted.

All of us would rather gather at Nippert Stadium than on our respective couches, but it beats re-watching an old FC Cincinnati match and wondering when we’ll have new games again.

We’re a month away from seeing the Orange and Blue. That feels good to write, and it’ll be fantastic to see.