Friday Funblast: A Not So Magic Kingdom
The Friday Funblast — May 7th, 2021
They say Walt Disney World is the "Happiest Place on Earth." For other MLS teams and fanbases right now, the "Happiest Place on Earth" is whatever field FC Cincinnati is lining up on, because FCC showing up means someone is getting a free three points gifted to them. And let me tell you -- there's nothing fucking magical about that. Anyway, let's get to it:
VISITING THE NOT-SO MAGIC KINGDOM
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but FC Cincinnati lost another match this past weekend in a completely and totally non-competitive fashion. The game was decided within the first minute, as Orlando City scored an opening goal before I’d even poured the beer I’d pulled from the fridge. It didn’t get any better from there, as Orlando City went on to score 2 more goals against a hapless FCC defense. You knew this FC team was going to let in some goals, but what has been totally shocking thus far has been the complete inability to generate any momentum moving forward. Brenner has been completely fucking invisible since earning his PK against Nashville, as has Alvaro Barreal. You’d want to believe that Acosta is the missing piece here, but FCC looked similarly toothless with him on the field for the final 70 minutes against Nashville, so who the fuck knows.
Everything about what’s happening right now with The FC feels shockingly familiar if you go back and read the articles written when Jaap Stam got sacked at Reading. Stam, you may recall, made it two season there and was dismissed following an abysmal run of play that saw The Royals take one win out of 19 straight matches. Right now, dating back to the 2020 season, Jaap Stam has won exactly 2 matches in the past 19 played, taking 9 points out of a possible 57. I also keep going back to a post on reddit from a visiting Reading supporter. He was asked a pretty general question about Jaap Stam as a manager, and fuck if this isn’t absolutely dead-on about what we’ve seen in FC Cincinnati since then:
This is one that I'm going to be less positive on, but at the same time it's been over 2 years since he left us so could be a bit outdated.
There's a good manager in there somewhere. He's usually clear with the system he wants to play, he will give players time to bed in, and he reportedly has had been one of the best managers we've had in a while in regards to how he deals with players and treats them (coming from what players said when he left). His time at us was also in a period of turmoil and the beginning of a disastrous spell behind the scenes, which could have affected him.
In terms of negatives, well, he left us in a period of turmoil and the beginning of a disastrous spell behind the scenes. Despite making the playoff final, I personally wouldn't have said we were all that good - we got to where we were by being consistent, by having an excellent keeper, and Kermorgant banging them in. Stam had no backup plan and was insistent on playing possession football, which to be fair, we did. However, we did absolutely nothing with said possession, and there was a running joke that season amongst the entire league about our possession and passing statistics coming entirely from playing it back and forth between the centre backs. It was drab, lifeless football. Furthermore, poor recruitment (including our then club record signing) left us in the mud a bit, and his refusal to adapt even after the recruitment and poor results put the writing on the wall. Stam blamed a lack of support and investment in the transfer window, passing the blame from the fact he'd signed Sone Aluko for over £4m. Combine that with dwindling attendances (which is saying something, because Reading's not exactly a high attendance team to begin with) and a spat with fans in which he repeatedly tried to pass the club's poor performance on the pitch as not his fault nor that of the players, yet actually the fault of those in the stands attending the games, and I don't think many were too sad to see him go especially after a run of 1 win in 18.
He effectively attempted to paint himself as bigger than the club with his stubbornness, which was ok when we were doing well, turning to arrogance. He failed to remember the fact we were here long before his arrival, and that we would be there long after his departure.
Still think I like him overall though. And honestly, I'm not sure that there's any real resentment left over from our fans like there is towards some other past managers. But how his reign has started with you does remind me of the beginning of his tenure here. I'd just hope he's developed properly in the last two years.
You read what this nameless Reading enthusiast is saying here and you could say the same shit, almost word for word, about FC Cincinnati under Stam’s tenure. No backup plans? Check. Possession that amounts to nothing? Check. Drab, lifeless football? Check. Passing the blame and saying the real issue is a need of better players? Check. It’s like hearing from a time-traveler — except you realize that this was the existing MO of the fucking guy at the time we hired him. Plus, it's not like this is a case of one disgruntled fan making this shit up; if you go back and read the articles / listen to the podcasts from his time at Reading it’s painfully apparent that the Jaap Stam who got himself sacked there is the *exact* *same* *fucking* *dude* who is managing in Cincinnati right now. That hope that he might have "developed properly" in the two years since leaving Reading appears to be just that: unfulfilled hope.
The major problem with this situation is that this team, as assembled by Nijkamp, is currently a collection of mismatched pieces. It’s been discussed ad naseum at this point, but you get the sense that what’s needed at this very second is a manager who is adept at getting the best out of whatever talent is there and playing to the strength of a roster. This is the kind of skill you find a lot in the traditional “caretaker manager” role (the Guus Hiddinks of the world) and the turnaround artist types. The one thing you can take away from the past year at FC Cincinnati is that we don’t have the players to do whatever the fuck it is Jaap wants to do (and, to be fair, it’s an open question as to if “whatever the fuck it is Jaap wants to do” can ever be done, given that his system has failed miserably at just about every stop in his career). What’s needed right now is flexibility, not a rigid obsession with “the system” that would make even the fucking Catholic Church uneasy.
Jaap wasn’t that kinda guy at Reading. He still isn’t that kinda guy. He’s already talking about how the system is fine and placing blame on the players. Trouble is, this isn’t fucking Europe — you can’t just swap the players out like it’s a goddamn line change in hockey. We’re tied up by contracts, salary caps, international roster spots, and designated player rules. In this country, when you ship off a Frankie Amaya or a Kendall Waston, you can’t just go buy the replacement and submit the wage bill to the board for approval. Does Jaap understand this (fuck, does Gerard, for that matter)? Because the way he’s managing and the way he’s speaking suggests he doesn’t; that he’s blameless in this process until he gets “the right guys” in who will follow the Gospel according to Stam.
And that’s a recipe for yet another punted season, as we keep slamming square pegs into fucking round holes while wondering why we suck.
THE GANG MEETS THEIR SEATS
I had a tee time on Sunday (the need to “get away” from soccer for a morning became even more urgent following Saturday’s debacle), so I didn’t get a chance to “Meet my Seat.” Not that it fucking matters, considering I’ve got a pair in the Bailey and A.) There is no seat to sit in and B.) I’m gonna end up standing wherever there’s an opening when I stumble in from off the March. Also, not to brag, but the Chief got a chance to go through The Qniverse a few weeks ago and see it in a mostly-finished state.
My main takeaways from the trip were:
1. This place is like an Inverse-TARDIS — it feels smaller on the inside than it does on the outside. From Central Parkway, the building feels absolutely massive. Walk inside and you suddenly wonder how, exactly, 26,000+ people are going to fit inside. You get the sense that a packed house for a meaningful late-season game is going to be an intense experience for a visiting team (provided, you know, the team stops being fucking awful for a minute).
2. Games are going to be LOUD — Uninsulated, metal Bailey flooring below. A metal roof above. The sound from a packed match is going to be insane. They’re going to instantly regret all the metal as soon as a drunken horde of fans start jumping up and down in unison after a goal.
3. It’s way “Nicer” than I anticipated — I’m used to Cincinnati sports venues being aggressively OK. Paul Brown Stadium is architecturally interesting, but a drab concrete mess on the inside. The Great American Ballpark has gotten better with improvements, but was also pretty bland on construction. The West End Stadium? Home run throughout. In most modern stadium builds the end product is rarely as nice as the renderings. Here? It might actually be fucking better.
Judging from the excited posts online, it seems everyone else had a similar experience. There was one fucking dweeb on reddit who had to post a contrarian take (hey dipshit: just because YOU show up to a match to stand all 90 minutes, take one piss & beer break at half, and then run out the fucking door at the final whistle doesn’t mean everyone consumes the fucking game like you do) but he was downvoted and appropriately mocked for doing so.
It’s pretty fucking rad that we’re opening a soccer specific stadium in Cincinnati. This was always part of the “MLS Dream” that seemed unrealistic when FC Cincinnati announced itself to the world in 2015. We were the city who wrote the book on absolutely dogshit stadium deals, featured and clowned on by the likes of John Oliver for our stupidity two decades ago. We sold the goddamn farm to the Reds and Bengals two decades ago. There was no fucking way we were *ever* going to build another stadium in this town.
An aside — Wanna get mad sometime? Google “Broadway Commons Reds Stadium” and look at the ballpark we could’ve built in Pendleton / OTR-adjacent. Know why that didn’t happen? Marge Schott demanded a new ballpark on the river. She rallied the local business community as way to jump-start the long dormant Banks project. It was opposed by a lot of people who thought the ballpark should be in the up-and-coming Over the Rhine neighborhood and not wasting vital riverfront property on something that sits vacant ~270 days per year. There were already plans to open a brewery in Pendleton (headed by now US Senator John Hickenlooper from Colorado) and you can imagine the area would’ve turned into a Wrigleyville-like setup pretty quickly. We actually fucking voted on this — in 1998, there was countywide “Issue 11” that would’ve forced Hamilton County to build the ballpark at the site now occupied by the Hard Rock (nee Horseshoe, nee JACK) Casino. It got walloped at the ballot box by a nearly 2-1 margin, and we ended up with GABP sitting at the Banks next to fucking Toby Keith’s “I Love This Bar” for all eternity instead.
For that reason, walking into West End Stadium for the first time had a feeling of seeing the impossible become reality. Sure, we’ve been getting spoonfucked by MLS for 2+ years already, but that first view of the grass from the concourse at WES was when it really sunk in for me. We did this. We made this club a success. And we can be assured that it isn’t going anywhere for a long time, even if we stink on ice every goddamn year (fuck you, pro/rel hardos).
BETTING AGAINST THE HOUSE (OR THE SENATE)
An Ohio State Senator (Kirk Schuring, R — Canton, who is the hero of this particular portion of the Funblast but otherwise probably some OANN-watching ghoul in a cheap suit) introduced legislation this week that would finally bring legalized sports wagering to the Buckeye State. For those of you who have been following the Chief for a while, it’s no secret that I’m a huge fucking degenerate when it comes to gambling in general and sports wagering specifically. I have fielded an uncomfortable number of calls from PNC Bank double-checking if I *really* wanted to wire that $500 to some shady fucking bank in the Caymans to reload my account after a rough night of #MACtion. While waiting for a flight home from Vegas a few years ago, I sat in an airport bar sweating out an otherwise-meaningless Knicks / Grizzlies game (Grizzlies +15.5) to complete the final leg of a 5 team parlay. You don’t know fucking anxiety until you’ve sat with money on an NBA game, hoping a team in full-on tank mode can manage to not score a bucket in any of their final three possessions.
To the surprise of absolutely fucking no one, Ohio is miserably behind the times when it comes to sports wagering. You can (and I have, believe me) drive 20 minutes away from downtown Cincinnati and make a sports wager on your phone the instant you cross the Indiana state line. Hell, you have your choice of providers who are willing to offer all manners of straight wagers and exotics for every fucking sport imaginable. Sitting at the bar and suddenly feel the urge to bet on an Aussie-rules match happening tomorrow at the MCG? They got you. Sitting at a family function, deciding that Andy Dalton is gonna ball out on a Thanksgiving NFL game and want to put $100 on him passing for over 195.5 yards? Dumb fucking decision, but they’ll let you do that too. (Note: These are all actual, real wagers I’ve made on the FanDuel Sportsbook app — fuck Collingwood forever). Ohio is bordered by 4 of these states currently. In addition to Indiana, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Michigan will all gladly accept a sports wager from anyone who crosses state lines with no need to even visit a casino. Currently, the only state bordering Ohio *without* legalized gambling is fucking Kentucky, and I will absolutely lose my shit if those illiterate goobers figure this out before we do.
Legalized sports wagering is the biggest of no-brainers out there. It’s literally free money for a state government capturing tax revenue on activity that is already happening right now. Michigan, which just recently legalized sports gambling, saw nearly $400M in wagering happen just this March alone. There’s absolutely no reason to think Ohio, with double the number of professional sports teams, won’t do equally great numbers. And the downside is…what? We’ve had legalized casino gambling in Ohio for most of my adult life and it’s not like the state turned into the hellhole alternate-reality Hill Valley from Back to the Future Part 2 or anything (though, we did elect Biff Tannen as President for a minute).
If you’ve been reading this and nodding along, fucking stop what you’re doing and contact your state-level elected officials. Tell them to get this shit done. Smarter people than I have said the hold up, to this point, has been a pissing match between some fucking suits at the lottery commission and other suits at the casino control commission (because of course we’d have two different groups of people running these two incredibly fucking similar things) over who would control the tax money. If they’ve finally solved this dilemma, it’s time to get this bill over the finish line — because the only thing that’s gonna make this FC Cincinnati season bearable is if I can start putting money on some exotics every match to keep myself watching after they go down 2/3 goals.
A-A RON ASKS OUT OF GREEN BAY
If you’ll permit me a dalliance from the usual soccer focus of this column, I have to give a special bit of time to the current Aaron Rodgers / Green Bay Packers drama. If you don’t follow the NFL (or if you’re one of those too-cool-for-school fuckstick soccer nerds who calls it “handegg” out of some desire to appear funny for all of your horned-rim glasses wearing and shitty facial hair having friends), Aaron Rodgers is demanding to be traded or released from the Green Bay Packers because he’s unhappy with the way he’s being treated. He’s been mad for a while for the team’s almost hilarious unwillingness to get him any kind of help winning a Super Bowl (including wasting a first round pick last season on his eventual replacement instead of, you know, a WR that could’ve helped him beat Tampa Bay & Tom Brady in the NFC title game).
I only bring this up because, and I cannot stress this enough, fuck every fan of the Green Bay Packers.
While the rest of us out there in the sports world have dealt with sadness and adversity to challenge our fandoms, Green Bay Packers fans have been over there quietly enjoying the fact that they’ve had THIRTY GODDAMN YEARS of Hall of Fame play at the quarterback position. Let that fucking sink in for a second. If you’re a Green Bay Packers fan under the age of 35, you have absolutely no recollection of going into a football season without a future or current Hall of Famer lining up under center to start a season. To me, that makes you not a real fan. Real fandom is impossible when your team makes no effort to test your fandom. Real fandom exists when you experience the soul-crushing misery of opening the year with a McCown brother as your starting quarterback for some reason, or when you talk yourself into the idea of some bum draft pick like Akili Smith being the answer to lead your team to the promised land. When you gut out a full fucking season of watching a revolving door that includes Bruce Gradkowski or Gus Frerotte taking starter snaps and still show back up the next year with your jersey on, that’s when you can say you’re actually a fan of whatever fucking team you root for. Hell, even the fucking Dallas Cowboys, patron saint of annoying fanbases everywhere, went through seasons with Chad Hutchinson and Quincy Carter starting games.
If you have a Packers fan in your life (because the odds of a Packers fan reading a fan-run FC Cincinnati news site is probably next to fucking zero), keep your finger on the pulse of this story. When Aaron Rodgers does hopefully leave, pull out your phone and send them a text message: “Welcome to our fucking misery. There’s beer in the fridge.”
And of course, because Packers fans win at fucking everything, that beer is probably Spotted Cow and Jordan Love will have a Hall of Fame career of his own.
BYE WEEK PREDICTIONS
Columbus Hard Hats SC have had, by far, the wackiest stat line in MLS. Two matches played, two draws, 0 goals for, 0 goals against.
Safe money here is that streak ends against DC United. Hopefully it doesn’t, because the only thing keeping me going right now is knowing their season has been more boring than ours thus far.
THEY MADE A MOVIE ABOUT JAAP STAM
It was called “Clueless.”
Alright, that’s all for the Funblast this week. Enjoy your weekend secure in the knowledge that FC Cincinnati can’t ruin it by losing. Pulisic forever. Elbows never. See you motherfuckers in the Thunderdome.