de Jong

Squaring the midfield triangle

Siem de Jong’s arrival poised a question that Yoann Damet never had to answer.

After de Jong’s first training session in March, the former interim head coach and now assistant was asked how the midfielder would impact the team. Damet smiled, then simply said: “He’s available, so that’s another player that we have at this position for this weekend.”

MLS suspending the regular season two days before the home opener meant we never saw de Jong’s debut, and Damet never needed to answer how the Dutchman will alter the FC Cincinnati midfield.

Unlike Damet, new head coach Jaap Stam will have to answer that question.

When the Orange and Blue face Columbus Crew SC on Saturday night, it’ll be the first glimpse of Stam’s FCC. It’ll also reveal how de Jong impacts the central midfield.

Known as an attacking player, he can sit atop the midfield – or just below the forward – and play balls into space for his teammates. It’s a role that earned him six caps with the Dutch national team and multiple trophies with his previous club, AFC Ajax.

But if he’s the center attacking mid, does he play alongside someone? Will FCC have a single defensive pivot – maybe Haris Medunjanin – or two – Medunjanin and Frankie Amaya? If this is the trio, what does that mean for Costa Rican international Allan Cruz, who was the team’s MVP and leading scorer in 2019? What about Fatai Alashe, Caleb Stanko and Tommy McCabe?

Basically, the Orange and Blue have midfield options and players who can play a variety of different roles. Whether it’s a more defensive approach, multiple players in a box-to-box role or pushed higher up the field, there are personnel to match the tactics.

That’s essential if Cincinnati wants to produce positive results in the long term, but even more vital given the swampy playing conditions in Orlando.

Just as there are multiple options on the wings, the same can be said for center midfielders.

“I think the competition’s pretty good,” Amaya said Tuesday during a conference call. “There’s a bunch of players in the midfield. I think that with the new coach, everybody’s pushing each other and working to see who’s in the starting XI at the end of the day with our first game against Columbus. We’ll see what happens.”

All three of FCC’s Group E matches in the MLS is Back Tournament present a variety of difficult options. Columbus have a reshaped midfield with Darlington Nagbe and Lucas Zelarayán, while Atlanta United FC and the New York Red Bulls provided challenges in the opening matches of the 2020 regular season. 

One thing that’s crucial to note, however, is just as we haven’t seen what the midfield will resemble under Stam, Amaya highlighted that other teams haven’t, either.

Photo by Michael Millay

“We have a benefit because we’re going to have a different team, a different mindset going into the game,” the teenager said. “I don’t think they’ve got any new players … that can change the game that they didn’t already have. We’ve got new players to the team and new additions that we’ll obviously benefit from.”

FC Cincinnati having a new head coach and a new No. 10 (although de Jong wears No. 11) can certainly lead to benefits – and more competition quality in the midfield.

“We have a lot of good players there in the midfield,” Allan Cruz said, via a translator. “We have a healthy competition, so now it’s up to the coach to choose during the game.”

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