We might be over halfway through January but we are quickly approaching FC Cincinnati’s 2022 season. Officially players are supposed to have reported to the team this week but really, January 24th looks to be the real start of the preseason for The Gary’s. 

Which means it’s fair game to start judging where this roster is right now, where there is still work to be done, and what we should expect over the next few weeks before the season kicks off on February 26th in Austin, Texas. 

Based on the players who are signed right now, the guys on the roster and not the guys we expect to leave or are rumored to be coming in, here is where I think the roster stands:  

Shouts to the Build Lineup App. Best one out there.

Formation: 4-4-2 diamond 

This is the system Philly has run for years, and it’s the formation that Albright instructed interim manager Tyrone Marshall to play at the end of last year no matter what. It’s not impossible that they’ll roll out a different look to start the season, but this is the formation the new regime would like to play. So we’ll evaluate the roster based on it. 

Goalkeeper: Alec Kann

Vermeer may be the highest paid player in this position, but the starting job is Kann’s. And we know this because the club told us as much when he was signed. Vermeer is the first alternate at this point, but if there is any opportunity to ship Vermeer out, they’re probably going to take it. Generation Adidas goalkeeper Roman Celentano is the third string keeper at this point while Beckham Sunderland sits in 4th. No surprises here, Kann is statistically one of the best MLS goalkeepers over the last few years, the issue is he didn’t get to play very often. We’ll soon learn how good he is with a much larger sample size. 

Right Back: Alvas Powell

It’s amazing that a player from the miserable 2019 team is back, is probably the starter, and it’s good news. That’s how bad FC Cincinnati has been in MLS. Powell is a perfectly fine veteran outside back who did well in Philadelphia last year and Miami before that. He’s a Jamaican international and still just 27 years old. I know, you know, he didn’t have a good game against Seattle in the inaugural MLS match for FCC. But remember Eric Alexander was playing as the winger in front of him that match. 

And while I think you'd give Powell the start here, you could also make an argument for Zico Bailey and Ray Gaddis to be the starter. Bailey is still young but my goodness is he good going forward. Sure, he’s small and was stiff armed by Nani. So, go ahead put him on the list of defenders who have been made to look silly by Nani, he'll be fine. With better coaching and a slightly better roster around him, Bailey can be a real threat going forward from the right back spot. Gaddis has been dragged out of retirement to play for his old buddies from his Philadelphia years. He’s a reliable veteran who, despite having taken a year off, has been trusted with a new, multi-year, contract. He was a starter when he left the game in 2020, he’ll probably be in good enough shape to be the starter in 2022. He doesn’t offer much going forward, but would not be a liability on defense. Which for this team is a huge improvement. 

Center Backs: Geoff Cameron and Gustavo Vallecilla

It’s probably really dumb to to look at the center backs from the last place team in the league and think “Yeah, this will do” but here we are. I do think these are good players and I don’t think they were the main issue last year on defense. They could really, really use a competent keeper behind them and a good midfield in front of them. Or even just a midfield that is able to possess the ball. Or even just an above average defensive midfielder who can break up attacks before they get to the defense. I’m not asking for much, but I am asking for something else to help these two. Could you make the argument for Tyler Blackett to be the starting left center back? Absolutely, and it was really a coin flip between him and Vallecilla when writing this. Hagglund is the clear 4th choice and we’ll see if the club decides to sign 1st round draft pick Ian Murphy to round out the depth. 

Left back: Ronald Mataritta

This is only going to come as a surprise if you’re one of those people convinced Mata is going to be a midfielder this year. Not out of the question, but I’m going to assume that is not the case for the time being. Mata is one of the better left backs in MLS. A Costa Rican international who can pass, shoot, and defend is pretty much everything you could ask for. Mata, Acosta, and Brenner are the first three names on the team sheet and the makings of a good team identity. Behind Mata we have Ray Gaddis who will be covering on both sides of the field, and John Nelson. Nelson came from FC Dallas, has a handful of MLS appearances, and is probably the third or even fourth choice here when includingTyler Blackett. Who, I should mention, would probably be the first choice left back if Mata did go into the midfield. 

Defensive Midfielder: Alan Cruz

With Kamohelo Mokotjo officially out of the picture, this is Alan Cruz’s spot for now. And I say for now because I don’t think anyone, including Cruz, actually wants Cruz starting in this position. But right now, he’s the best option FCC has on the roster. “Tico Kante” (remember that nickname?) is normally more of a central midfielder and in 2019 was the best player on a bad FCC team. He’ll likely be further up the diamond if he doesn't see a transfer out this season, but until then, he’s the best choice under contract. If it’s not Cruz it could very well be Haris Medunjanin who was just re-signed. Haris is not a defensive midfielder. He’s not a defensive anything on the field to be honest. But playing at the base of the diamond is where a deep-lying playmaker like him would be positioned. Behind him? Well, it’s Yuya Kubo. But are we really going to ask our DP striker with Champion’s League and Europa League experience to play defensive midfielder, again? Maybe! This is the position that is most in need for FCC and filling this role will, in my opinion, determines how far this team can go. 

Central Midfielders: Issac Atanga and Alvaro Barreal 

If you have a better argument than these two, I’d love to hear it. I mean really, I would. Because this is a very boom-bust midfield. They are two of the more expensive players on the roster, have experience in these positions, and there really isn’t anyone else to take their place without moving people wildly out of position. They're also young and have been explosive going forward. Wingers-turned-centralcmidfielders isn’t a great plan, but it’s the plan right now until reinforcements show up. Like I said, the alternative is putting Haris Medunjanin at the base of the diamond and Cruz and Kubo as the shuttlers. Other alternative options to Barreal and Atanga would include Calvin Harris, another winger, Kyle Scott, who isn’t in the plans, and Arquimides Ordonez, who I’m pretty sure the last regime signed for the publicity and might not actually be ready. Which incidedntly leaves you Ben Mines to be the third or fourth choice central midfielder. Mines had a successful season in USL on loan last year to Orange County, and by telling Scott to look for a new team, it’s clear who Albright and Noonan like more between Mines and Scott. 

Attacking Midfielder: Luciano Acosta

As goes Acosta so goes Cincinnati. The playmaking DP is the engine that drives this team. He was very good last year statistically and stuck on a very bad team. A better midfield around him (which, TBD on that front) and he should be even better. With Brenner having one season under his belt in the US and better striker depth up top, there’s no reason to expect Acosta to do worse this season. Backing him up is probably Kubo because Kubo is literally everyone's backup. Then some combination of Barreal, Harris,  Scott, and Ordonez after Kubo. Acosta is the star of this team, and people who complain about turnovers are unserious people that can be ignored. He’s the one trying things out there, he’s going to turn the ball over. But he’s also going to rack up assists. Let him work, it’ll be ok. 

Strikers: Brenner and Yuya Kubo 

Hell yes. Brenner is very very very young in MLS. He scored 8 goals which, isn’t great, but also had Jaap “I literally don’t have a gameplan” Stam has a manager. He had little to no help and was forced to play a style that dose’t fit his profile. Brenner is a "smash it home from the 6 yard box" striker. He needs others to help create messes in the box for him to clean up. Giving his a smart strike partner with experience creating his own chances and someone who can shoot outside the box will give him more opportunities to bang in goals. Kubo is the perfect strike partner for Brenner. A shadow striker who can link up with Acosta, he can drift wide, and he can run at defenders. Two DPs up top with Acosta feeding them the ball? Gimme. 

Alternatives: 

Without too much explanation, here’s a few alternative looks for The FC given the current roster. 

On one hand, a 4-4-2 formation is boring. On the other hand, this lineup doesn't plan on playing defense. It's going to win games 7-5.

I call this one "What would 2021 have been like with proper outside backs, Mata given a chance to play on offense more, and FCC had a better coach?" Probably still a bad team, but a better team. Swap Medunjanin for Cruz if you want someone who can run and play defense (you sicko).

What formation would you want to see The FC roll out in 2022?