5 storylines at MLS is Back Tournament

Now that FC Cincinnati are safely nestled into the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, questions have transitioned from who will be the coach and will the team play again in 2020, to who might start for Jaap Stam?

There’s a lot to watch – and play for. These are the biggest storylines for the Orange and Blue as they await the MLS is Back Tournament.

How will Stam coach the team in Orlando?

The Dutchman has only had two full weeks of leading practice sessions with his players. With limited time and a lot to accomplish – building relationships, implementing tactics and reshaping the club identity – how much can Stam accomplish that will help the team beyond the MLS is Back Tournament?

That will be the overarching theme throughout the club’s time competing in the new competition.

Remember: the three group stage matches also count as regular season games. There’s a lot on the line, not to mention financial incentives and a Concacaf Champions League spot.

Greg Garza described Group E as the toughest in the competition. So, does Stam alter tactics to win matches in the short term at all costs, or does he use Orlando as a setting to build FCC moving forward? It’ll likely be a combination of the two.

 Who’s the odd man out in the midfield?

FCC used the same three midfielders in the first two games of 2020: Haris Medunjanin, Allan Cruz and Frankie Amaya.

The latter showed signs of defensive quality and is developing into a solid center midfielder. Cruz led the team in scoring last season and scored in the season opener, while Medunjanin played every game for the Philadelphia Union in 2019 and is a deep-lying creator.

Will Stam stick with those three, or does Siem de Jong’s availability shake up the starting XI? Don’t forget that Fatai Alashe and Caleb Stanko were included in both matchday squads earlier in the season and teams can now make five substitutions during the tournament.

FCC have one of the league’s better midfield groups, and other clubs – and the media – are asking this same question.

What will an in-form Jürgen Locadia resemble?

Finally, most of the questions around Locadia are answered. Time for the soccer ones.

We wondered if he’d make the FCC season opener, and then he did and scored minutes into his MLS debut – despite a trans-Atlantic flight just before.

When MLS suspended the season, everyone wondered if we’d see the Dutchman in an Orange and Blue shirt again. We now know his loan has been extended through next June.

Locadia legitimately has MVP-caliber potential, and it can’t be understated how influential he can be for a club that bottomed MLS in scoring during the 2019 season.

He’s only played 116 minutes through two FCC games so far, but he has created goal-scoring opportunities that, honestly, we haven’t seen from Cincinnati since the club joined MLS.

Can the potential become reality?

Who are the starting center backs?

This might sound strange at first. After all, Kendall Waston is the captain and Maikel van der Werff has essentially played in every game since he arrived last July. 

But Tom Pettersson joined the club in the offseason as a veteran who’s used to building out of the back. Will he replace someone, or does Stam tinker with the formation to have three center backs? Similar to the center midfield, there are multiple options to use at center back.

Don’t forget: Nick Hagglund didn’t play in the first two matches, but he’s looked increasingly comfortable playing in a system that values tackling as much as ball movement.

Is this when FCC becomes a team known for their offensive firepower?

The Orange and Blue are a lot different in the final third now than from a year ago.

In addition to Locadia’s arrival, Brandon Vazquez is in his fourth MLS season as a forward and appeared in the club’s first two games in 2020.

We’ve already seen Yuya Kubo, Adrien Regattin and Joseph-Claude Gyau on the wings this season, and don’t forget about Kekuta Manneh’s attacking quality.

Mix these players together – and de Jong from the midfield – and the front four players in the club’s formation all have the potential to create a goal-scoring opportunities individually or collectively.

FCC supporters spent large chunks of 2019 wondering if or when they’d see their side score. That’s a much different scenario than “How many can they score in today’s match.”