FC Cincinnati's lack of depth was really brought to the fore in the 5-4 loss to the Montreal Impact a few weeks ago. This was somewhat understandable, as both Allan Cruz and Ronald Matarrita were away on international duty, while Geoff Cameron, Caleb Stanko, Kamohelo Mokotjo, and Cody Cropper were unable to travel due to quarantine rules in Canada. With these absences, Stam was limited in what he could do tactically.

But then on Saturday, Jaap Stam decided to make just one, single substitution in a 0-0 game where DC was playing down a man essentially the entire second half.

In the matches since the thriller in Montreal, FC Cincinnati's depth, or lack thereof, has been constantly exposed. There are few, if any, players who seem to be able to come off the bench and change a match. Other players have been on the bench all year and have yet to be given a chance to play at all. A lopsided roster build, along with recent departures, has exposed a lack of defensive options and a plethora of ineffective attacking options.

But disregarding absences, are there more reasons for FCC's poor depth?

Yes. One of the big causes of this is because FCC neither fill up, nor utilize players who are on the supplemental and reserve rosters unless they absolutely must. Players on these rosters are typically from a teams' academy, the college superdraft, were waived from another team, or are a fringe player than can be given the MLS minimum. 

These players, if given a chance to contribute to the first team, provide immense value as they have zero cap hit, allowing a club to redistribute its cap space elsewhere. 

Minnesota United are a great example of this. They have Dayne St. Clair, Chase Gasper and before he received a new contract, Hassani Dotson on the reserve roster. This means that they have three players who usually start, are costing nothing, which allowed them to splurge this winter and bring in high TAM players like Franco Fragapane and Ramón Ábila, who would likely be DPs for most other teams.

Almost all younger players who come into the reserve and supplemental roster are not the finished products. Instead, they need to be given a chance to develop, with the idea that if they can become meaningful squad players, then they are able to provide significant value and flexibility to a squad, allowing more maneuverability within spots 1-20.

FCC's lack of usage of these spots is partly down to their academy just starting. Other teams who have the benefit of an established academy are able produce players and place them into these reserve spots.

But what is frustrating is how FCC have been bad the past two years yet still have been unwilling to try and give younger, low-cost options significant first team minutes. Instead, they continuously play and sign older internationals with no long-term future at the club, which creates roster turnover and stymies long-term growth (To be fair, the signings recently have had better age profiles).

To compensate for this, FCC must find more value out of the SuperDraft. They could also trade for other teams' homegrowns and reserve/supplemental players, who likely have no path into the first team. Not filling these spots is negligent, especially considering how spots 1-20 are completely full right now, yet the depth is still so poor.

Too many high TAM Players

FCC currently have too many players on high salaries who are not contributing enough. This has ramifications for the rest of the roster build, as there are holes that need fixing but there is not the squad or cap space to fix the issues. 

Below is a list of contracts that can be stated as unequivocally bad based off their production and performances for the team (Not saying the player is bad, could be down to the club)

Kamohelo Mokotjo: 1,000,008 (intl' spot)

Allan Cruz: 1,134,000

Haris Medunjanin: 625,000 (intl' spot)

These are not just bad contracts, but they are also bad contracts that are expensive. The club has to more careful in the future to ensure that a signing fits the ideal system, is compatible with the other personnel, and is not being overpaid for relative to other MLS players.

Other questionable contracts are/were:

Tom Pettersson at 368,000 (intl' spot)*

Franko Kovacevic at 282,000 (intl' spot)*

Maikel Van Der Werff at 435,000

Vermeer (Supplemental but taking up an intl' spot)

*Pettersson and Kovacevic have been transferred out of the club, but their contracts previously prevented flexibility in signing new players.

When signing an intl' player at a high contract, you must be sure that he is compatible with the other players in the squad, fits the club ethos, and is on a contract that is equitable to their projected contributions.

Also, when you spend so much on the first seven players in your 1-20 senior roster, it also means that less will be left over for the remaining slots. This has ramifications for the spots around 12-20, where there is less money to spend and therefore the quality of player theoretically goes down, especially compared to other teams whose their spend is more equitable.

Signings of course do not always work out and there is no way to ever be sure. It is also hard to judge individual players when a team has been systematically bad for a few years. But there are still factors that you can control for to prevent continuously overpaying for players. 

Strategies to provide better depth:

One strategy is to trade TAM for another teams’ depth players. This may limit a team’s resources in the short term, but it can help provide depth at a low salary cost in the long-term. 

A great example of this is the Montreal Impact. Recently they have traded for Mason Toye, Kamal Miller, and Djordje Mihailovic for a significant amount of TAM, although all are on relatively low contracts. 

Utilizing TAM to trade for young depth players on low contracts, is a much better strategy compared to using TAM to trade for an intl’ spot, especially when that said intl’ spot is being wasted on an older international who is not a key member of the starting eleven. A player is a permanent asset, while an intl’ slot is not.

It is also a great strategy for a club who is not going to compete for silverware in the short-term, as the loss of resources will not stymie immediate results and will instead result in building a roster that is geared towards the long-term.

Montreal is once again a great example of this. While they likely will not win anything this year, they have created a cost-effective core to their squad that can be the foundation of their roster build for years to come. 

Part of the issue with FCC’s roster build, is the fact that it is not representative of a club who are planning for the long-term. There have been too many signings and roster moves’ that hinder roster maneuverability, take away prized assets like intl’ spots, and create continuous roster turnover that is a barrier to cohesivity within the squad. Think of all the older intl’ signings, like Mokotjo, Haris, VDW, Pettersson, Vermeer. Successful MLS clubs do not make these kinds of signings until they have their domestic core settled.

Also think about how wasteful it is to use TAM to buy down expensive contracts on underperforming players, when that money could instead be used to purchase domestic depth options from other teams. Convert your TAM into permanent assets as much as possible.

There is also a point where FCC must give their domestic depth more of a chance. Players like Brandon Vazquez, Ben Mines, and Avionne Flanagan are all on contracts that incentivize them getting playing time. If Dejuan Jones, or Tajon Buchanan were drafted by FCC, would they ever have been given a chance?

FCC’s roster issues come down to Nijkamp’s’ inability to learn how to build a domestic core. This is not necessarily his fault. Almost no foreign GM who comes into the league has been able to do this. Even Ernst Tanner does not ever sign other MLS players, he instead uses the homegrowns as the depth pieces to complement the Union’s mostly international starters.

This could simply be confirmation bias, but there is a common theme relating to the success of clubs who do not value the domestic market. Think of Inter Miami, the Chicago Fire, or the San Jose Earthquakes, who just fired their GM Jesse Fioranelli. None of these teams lack spend, but instead seem to ignore the blueprint set out by successful MLS clubs like the Crew and the Sounders relating to salary cap management and creating a domestic core.

As FCC fans, we want to see the growth in the development of the domestic core.

But there have been a few moved made. Franko and Pettersson leaving the club free up international spots and salary to make some moves. And there could always be more departures. But the transfer window is closing soon, August 5th in fact, so if reinforcements are coming they need to show up soon. Or else this top heavy roster will be left to see out the season.