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Scouting Report: FC Cincinnati

How do the Loons match up against the “Queen City”

October 3, 2020 - Saint Paul, Minnesota, United States - Minnesota United forward Kei Kamara (16) brushes FC Cincinnati defender Kendall Waston (2) aside to take a penalty kick during the match against FC Cincinnati at Allianz Field.
(Photo by Seth Steffenhagen/Steffenhagen Photography)

*Note* - This is not what coaches actual scouting reports look like, but are my thoughts on how the two match up on and off of the field... you’ve been warned FC Cincinnati readers

So we meet again little sibling... I feel for you FCC fans as you are few years behind, even according to your General Manager. You’ll have a new stadium the next time but your roster seems a “few transfer windows behind”.

Minnesota United faced FC Cincy 3 weeks ago at Allianz when they won 2-0, with goals from Kei Kamara (16’ - PK) and Kevin Molino (69’ - counter attack down the left side). The Loons have never lost to FCC in MLS.

FCC Weaknesses

Quality Depth

In the words of FCC GM Gerard Nijkamp, they are in the “middle of a process” which certainly sounds similar to a “three year plan”. You can see the lack of quality depth, especially with the fixture congestion this year, as well as top talent to break open games. Nijkamp has talked about bringing players in the short term to evaluate whether they will be around for the future. This means everyone, from the star striker Jürgen Locadia to new signing Franko Kovačević, both coming in on loans to see if they are the right fits for the culture in the locker room and the system of play.

Positions of Weakness

Given the injuries they’ve sustained, outside back is a huge hole for FCC going into this match. Left back would have been a position of strength if fully healthy, but the players haven’t seemed to work out yet. Greg Garza has not looked the same since being acquired from Atlanta, a position change might benefit him, given FCC wants to play with aggressive overlapping outside backs and he seems to have lost a step. The back up is Andrew Gutman who was highly touted out of the Chicago Fire Academy who then refused to sign with the first team and signed for Celtic out of college, before being loaned back to the United States. Gutman loves to get forward but far too often tries to beat players off the dribble when he should circulate possession and gets dispossessed. If you’re going to dribble at someone you have to beat them. Garza played against MNUFC three weeks ago, and will most likely be out on Saturday.

An even bigger current weakness for Cincy is right back given the amount of injuries sustained. The starting right back Mathieu Deplagne, who previously played in Ligue 1, had one of his best games of the season against the Loons three weeks ago. He also left a lot of space to counter into on the Loons second goal, and can be seen struggling to track back.

FCC are wishing that was there only problem at right back currently. Back up Saad Abdul-Salaam had what looked to be a hamstring injury in their previous game against DC United. When this happened Jaap Stam took winger Joe Gyau and played him as an attacking right back. Assuming Saad is unable to play on Saturday, which seems very likely given the severity and location of the injury, FCC will either be playing someone out of their natural position, changing tactics, or playing an unproven youngster in Zico Bailey.

Cincinnati fans this is the last one I promise... Goalkeeper will continue to be an issue given the absence of Przemysław Tytoń, who hasn’t been as good as expected anyway. However this from Bobby Edwards was much, much worse.

If I’m Stam I realize I don’t have a clear choice in net. Do you give Edwards a chance to redeem himself, or do you give Spencer Richey another chance?

System of Play

FCC has gone away from the “1-5-3-2” they played for a majority of MLS is Back, and have gone to a more aggressive “1-4-3-3”. I doubt given the point in the season, and where FCC is positioned we will see Jaap Stam revert back to the “1-5-3-2” unless it is needed based on not being able to field a team due to injuries.

For those who have read from me before you know I hate formations when it is used to describe. I’d much rather describe the fundamentals that a team plays with. In Cincy’s case they want to create width and 1v1s out wide with their attacking minded outside backs. They also need a central based playmaker to create opportunities in the crowded middle (which they lack currently, and no Frankie Amaya is not that). They rely on a midfield to work up and down, and try to protect the center backs, when they commit the outside backs forward.

Last time we met

Last game against MNUFC, Cincy tried to create and exploit the half space between Métanire and the center backs.

MLS - Opta Data

The Loons killed Cincy on the counter, with both goals coming against the run of play in terms of possession. The game plan was simple, let them get the outside backs forward and draw their central players into 1v1s with the Loons superior attacking players in those situations.

MLS - Opta Data

Cincy’s Strengths

Cincinnati has great depth at center back and in the midfield. Kendall Waston is likely to return to the starting lineup, as well as less likely possibility of Maikel van der Werff. If for some reason they were not able to go Tom Pettersson and ‘Cincy’s own’ Nick Hagglund have both played well this year and are capable MLS center backs. Regardless of who plays, FCC will have good players who can give anyone the Loons put up top a challenge.

In the center of midfield, Cincy has a variety of choices at their disposal, but have struggled to find the right mix of players. They have a deep lying playmaker in Haris Medunjanin who is able to switch the point of attack from deeper in the midfield, and is imperative to how FCC create their chances. Frankie Amaya generally pairs well in this midfield, but Cincy struggles to find balance in attacking and defending, with neither Medunjanin or Amaya being great “two-way players”.

New signing Kamohelo Mokotjo was brought in to do just that, and has looked promising in recent minutes. Kamohelo has been increasing the minutes and match readiness as of late, and could go 90’ against the Loons. Siem de Jong was brought in to be an important part of the midfield this season, and has struggled to make the desired impact in Cincinnati.

If Cincy were to upset the Loons at Nippert Stadium, they will need this part of the spine of the team to all of a sudden gel as the group, they are intending them to be.

Cincinnati’s Attack

Earlier I hinted at the star signing of Jürgen Locadia, who was brought in over the winter on loan to see if he could be the guy in Cincinnati. Locadia, is they type of player I’ve been hoping the Loons would get as a “$10 million striker” to compete seriously for trophies. Luckily Cincy has had him on loan so far, because he has not been as dominant as they have hoped. However he is still a threat, and long term Locadia could be the main striker or he could not the jury is still out on that. Backing up they have another promising player from a different MLS team in Brandon Vazquez, who previously played in Atlanta and played well in his start against DC last week. On paper striker should be a strength of this team, but I’m not about to call an attack who has only scored 11 goals a strength.

Out wide they have a variety of players. The style seems to be similar though, create 1v1s and look to beat players off of the dribble. Previously mentioned Joe Gyau excels in trying to unbalance defenders with his dribbling, and filled in some minutes at outside back last week. Designated Player Yuya Kubo has been one of the more reliable goal scorers with uhm 3 goals... but missed the last match due to injury.

One promising player seems to be Alvaro Barreal, Nijkamp seemed impressed with how Alvaro has looked so far with the way he dribbles forward and looks to create in the final phase, however stated that he still has time to show more and needs to add more end product.

Match Ups

FCC attacking the Loons

Cincy will look to commit numbers forward in the hopes of creating as many one on ones as possible across the field. As long as the Loons keep a solid defensive and midfield block and the wingers track back when they are supposed to in front of DSC, I don’t see any issue defending FCC. Expectation for the Loons is a clean sheet, unless FCC pulls out a wonder goal.

FCC defending the Loons

I do not see how FCC stop the Loons from attacking them in transition if they want to score a goal, unless they play for a 0-0 draw or score the first goal. Molino or Reynoso starting centrally and drifting into the left half space to combine and draw a FCC center back out will be the pattern of play I expect to see a lot of on Saturday.

Midfield in transition

The Loons shouldn’t need to commit numbers forward out of the midfield in order to break down Cincy. I tend not to worry about the Loons defending transitions as long as Ozzie is on the field. Yes losing Dotson is unfortunate, but there is depth at the 8 as long as Ozzie is healthy. I will be completely comfortable with Hayes starting, even if Gregus is cleared to play after mandated quarantine after international duty.

MNUFC will look to slow the opposition down the same as they always do when they lose the ball and allow the outside backs and wingers to track back.

X-Factor

Turf... Nippert Stadium isn’t awful for soccer, but it certainly isn’t great

Overall Thoughts

Cincinnati seem like an interesting project for a lot of reasons. I don’t expect a “MNUFC like” rise in quality of play for year three next year with their new stadium, but long term this project is interesting for different reasons. Nijkamp admits that this will take several transfer windows to improve the roster to get to the point where they’d like it to be. This is normal front office talk for a recent expansion team, and is a cautionary tale of why you need to get your first hires right in this league or it can set you back several seasons. I give Cincinnati credit for having the courage when it was going wrong, to go in a different direction, but we will see how patient there fan base is.

When you look at the Expected Goals (xG) and compare to the previous season, there has not been an improvement in creating chances, however they have gotten better at defending.

Cincinnati xG

Season xGF xGA xGF/Game xGA/Game
Season xGF xGA xGF/Game xGA/Game
2020 16.63 25.05 0.875 1.318
2019 32.8 56.8 0.965 1.671
American Soccer Analysis

Nijkamp hinted at that they were creating more chances, I just don’t see it in the data. They should be farther along when it comes to creating chances, especially given the types of attackers they have brought in. Whether they stick with those players or not, will be interesting decisions for the front office this offseason.

Comparisons to MNUFC

Nijkamp was asked this directly, and was hesitant to compare FCC to MNUFC, and rightly so given the turnover they have had during the first few seasons compared to MNUFC relative stability. Cincy needs time and transfer windows to build up the roster, and they did put some money down on facilities to attract prospective players in the future. There are similarities that make this comparison accurate including the way they want to spend money after having the foundations in place to allow that spending to be effective.

MNUFC is an okay recent comparison, but they seem to be building more like Philadelphia and wanting to bring future first team players through their academy. This will be the major philosophical differences between the Loons and Cincy going forward, and honestly might be the place where Cincy can get an advantage over the Loons. Ohio has some players who can play, and having a development pipeline similar to Philadelphia can only be good for the league.

Summary

If I’m giving an actual scouting report to Heath it would be that the Loons should be able to stick to their normal game plan, and look to exploit Cincinnati’s weakness in defending in wide areas. Whether it is Reynoso or Molino starting centrally and drifting out to the left to combine with each other or Lod will be something I’m watching for, but don’t neglect Finlay running into the space Gutman leaves behind. Be aware that their center backs are capable, and that they have a midfield who can provide a decent match up, especially when they look to find the two playmakers (Amaya and Medunjanin) in possession. They try to defend as a group, but leave space to counter into when they commit numbers forward in possession.

It can be best summed up in three points, but thank you for reading all of it.

  1. Defend as a group
  2. Exploit the half spaces on counters
  3. Test the goalkeeper