Down The Hatch

Down The Hatch: June 25

Hell is real, soccer is back and FC Cincinnati are days away from flying to Florida for the MLS is Back Tournament.

Welcome to this week’s edition of my mailbag, which has transitioned from questions about even playing again, who to expect stepping up on July 11 against Columbus Crew SC when the team restarts.

Just like always, there are plenty of questions. I hope this is a source of answers. Questions can be submitted here or by tweeting at me. Thanks!

Gracin: What positions are the Orange and Blue planning on improving on?

General Manager Gerard Nijkamp might have positions he wants to improve, but FCC will have to trade players before they can add them.

During a conference call with reporters last Friday, Nijkamp said there are “no possibilities” to sign a player currently. He said Hassan Ndam is listed on the FCC roster, even though he’s on loan at The Miami FC in the USL Championship.

Basically, Cincinnati has a center back on its roster that’s across the country, which Nijkamp said is a “complication.”

That doesn’t mean FCC might stay quiet in the transfer market, though. The team currently has the second spot in the league’s allocation ranking order.

“Something is happening, but it is not something special,” Nijkamp said.

One thing to mention: MLS teams traveling to Orlando for at least a month means every player, every coach and GM will be in the same location for the first time. With plenty of downtime between games, it’s not hard to envision technical directors grabbing drinks and swapping players while teams are all together.

(Remember when LAFC tried to dramatically trade for FCC’s No. 1. pick in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft? Maybe teams pull similar moves in the hotel lobbies and coffee shops where teams will be holed up in Orlando.)

Scott: Which player do you expect to take on more of a leadership role, Siem de Jong or Haris Medunjanin?

Good question and there’s no obvious answer. Medunjanin has been a leader since preseason began and has prioritized helping young players develop into professionals. When the team was in Tucson, he revealed his locker would be alongside Frankie Amaya’s in 2020. That’s by design – FCC’s oldest, experienced midfielder working with the youngest one who’s in his second professional season.

As for de Jong, he’s spent less time with the team, but has been a leader wherever he’s played.

The spine of FC Cincinnati’s squad is actually filled with players who’ve either captained the side previously (Kendall Waston, Michael van der Werff and Nick Hagglund) or have been captain at another club earlier in their career (de Jong). Greg Garza has also captained FCC.

Carmel: How are players reacting to the new coach?

Everyone player who’s spoken about head coach Jaap Stam has praised his arrival at Mercy Health Training Center. Sessions have been long but informative – for both players and staff. Both have cited the intensity of the sessions, and have spoken to how players are quickly adapting to the new tactical ideologies Stam is implementing.

This quote from Caleb Stanko sums it up:

“I mean, the man has played in Champions League finals, has won Champions League, has played everywhere. Every time I’m able to step on the field and learn from him is a great opportunity.”

Nance: What do you think of playing Columbus at 10:30. What a terrible time. What do you do all day?

Full transparency, I hate the kickoff time as well. I think Western Conference teams should play the late matches, while Eastern Conference teams play at 9 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Why put a rivalry match at 10:30 p.m., which will end well past midnight?

Well, I spoke with someone and it’s most likely all about TV numbers based on available matchups. Ratings tend to be higher on the other side of the country, and the #HellIsReal Derby will be primetime in the Pacific time zone. With teams guaranteed at least five days off between matches, there are only so many potential matchups to choose from. Highlighting a brand-new, intense rivalry that’s already one of the league’s top derbies after a single league season makes a lot of sense, especially when there will be a lot of sport-starved eyes watching at that hour. Maybe it’ll be a late fireworks show for fans tuning in!

As for players, you basically rest and relax – and hopefully sleep in before that game. A few years ago, I spoke with some former FCC players and staff about games starting really late at night to stay out of the heat. The highlighted country was Israel, but sounds like it’ll be the same in Orlando.