Friday Funblast — Friday, July 2 2021

A match was won. A loan was ended. A loan was extended. Doesn't it feel awesome to follow a team that's doing actual soccer things instead of being an endless factory of sadness? Hell yeah it does. Onward to the fun:

IT’S CALLED A “WINNING STREAK.” IT HAS HAPPENED BEFORE.

The FC made it two in a row with a win against Toronto FC (of Orlando) this past weekend. I said last week in the Funblast that every match, going forward, was a referendum on what The Nijkamp-Stam Administration is doing here in Cincinnati — so, consider this match yet another test passed. The team also, for the first time in as long as I can remember, scored two goals from the run of play. What is life, even?! And sure, there were long stretches where the game seemed to be getting away from the O&B; and yes, there were more moments of last-ditch defending where Toronto FC (of Orlando) seemed sure to score. They didn’t, though. The FC kept a clean sheet, clawed two goals back from their league-worst goal differential, and departed “Toronto” with all three of the points.

It’ll shock you to know I’ve been labeled negative about this team in the past. Kevin Wallace and I are public enemies number one and two among the Jaap Stans and “UP THE LADS NO MATTER HOW FUCKING SHITTY THEY ARE!” crowd online. I think it’s important to note: I want this team to be fucking good. I hate that we’ve been awful for the past 2+ years since joining MLS. Specifically, I *want* Jaap Stam and Gerard Nijkamp to turn this ship around. I don’t give a fuck if every one of these columns is RT’d and tagged with @OldTakesExposed if it means this team is winning and competing for silverware. I would love nothing more than to be able to go online and shove it right back in the face of all these asshole MLS pundits that Jeff Berding & The Dutchmen brought winning football to Cincinnati, Ohio while they all laughed. Slap a NSFW label on the entire thought and upload it to PornHub.

So am I happy about a winning streak? Fuck yeah I am.

But, it’s a winning streak with some big caveats. These two wins came against two of the three teams in the Eastern Conference currently below us on the table. Both teams were missing pieces from their starting lineups due to injury and fixture congestion. And, going by xG and advanced stats, we probably should’ve drawn both matches. It’s also hard to ignore that this is pretty much the same MO Jaap Stam teams had when he managed at Reading — when he won, he won ugly; when he lost, he lost frequently. These were both ugly wins, but they were wins nevertheless. You don’t get 4 points for winning with style (just typing this gives me ugly flashbacks from my dumb fuck 5th grade basketball coach yelling at us “YOU DON’T GET EXTRA POINTS FOR A SWISH — USE THE BACKBOARD!”).

Every match is a test. Every match is a referendum. Houston and Columbus are on deck, and both teams currently sit in playoff position in their respective conferences. We’re gonna find out pretty fucking quick if this team is on the upswing, next stop respectability, or if they’re just slightly better than the worst teams in the league. Stay tuned, I suppose.

JURGEN MISS HIM WHEN HE’S GONE?

As had been speculated for quite some time, The FC announced following Saturday’s match that Jurgen Locadia would be departing the club due to his loan period expiring without a purchase or extension. It closes the book on FC Cincinnati’s first true “splash” signing since joining Major League Soccer (as nice as the other bits of business they’ve done were, they didn’t draw fawning headlines on NBC Sports). It’ll take some time to put the Locadia-era of FC Cincinnati into proper context — and part of what that hinges on is how Gerard Nijkamp moves forward from it. If the turnaround in Cincinnati continues and Nijkamp eventually builds a championship contending side, we’ll look at Locadia as a misfire that (perhaps) taught lessons about player acquisition in MLS. If things crash out from here, Locadia becomes an early warning sign that we should’ve heeded about Nijkamp being a dipshit who can’t evaluate of high dollar talent.

If you had to ask me right now, though? Zero problem with Jurgen Locadia the person or player, and zero problem with the decision to bring him here. It wasn’t just Gerard Nijkamp who saw Loca as a star — Brighton had made him a record transfer for the club just a few years prior. The shine had worn off a little bit, but that’s kind of a requirement to acquire players for MLS in the first place. Otherwise — stay with me here — they’re being acquired by fucking Brighton for a record fucking transfer fee. You have to take swings on guys like Locadia if you want to be successful in MLS, and (spoiler alert) you have to be OK with the idea that you might whiff on one here or there. That’s life — if you aren’t fucking up a signing every now and then, you aren’t reaching high enough or trying for the home run shot often enough. MLS isn’t a big enough league with big enough budgets to buy sure things all the time. If you want to win, you’ve gotta take some risks on guys like Loca and hope they rebound up to the level they were previously being traded.

It was a shitty situation Loca came into that no one could’ve foreseen. Lockdowns. League shutdowns. Being away from his teammates for months. The dumb-fuck manager who recruited you getting fired for having problematic taste in karaoke music. One minute you’re scoring bangers in New York, the next you’re having q-tips shoved up your fucking nose in the middle of Disney World while playing soccer in front of green screens. I can’t imagine a more fucked up time to uproot yourself from Europe and try to settle in a new country, especially considering his family and friends were half a world away. That he managed at all to maintain some semblance of a normal life is to be commended in this scenario.

Honestly, Loca seems like the kind of guy this city would have fallen in love with if he had been a bit more successful here. How many athletes have the humility to go onto Instagram and fucking APOLOGIZE to the city for not performing to the level they felt they should have? Fucking Ken Griffey Jr. is still cashing checks from the Cincinnati Reds (and will be through 2025), and I don’t think that dude has had a single kind word to say about his time here in the city. Loca? He’s still unironically wearing that Homage Skyline Chili t-shirt he was given for his mandatory photo-op in Ludlow after his plane landed. Additionally, during his time here, it was always apparent that Locadia wanted to be successful. Even this past weekend against Toronto, in the limited minutes necessitated by his loan structure, it was obvious that he wanted to score. He could’ve been playing out the string, taking it slow to avoid hurting himself on the way out the door, but that isn’t how Loca does things. It’s never how he’s done things, even when playing on a going-nowhere team in the middle of a goddamn global pandemic last year.

I know he’ll never read this — but if he does, allow me to say: Good luck and good fortune on the rest of your career. It didn’t work here. No hard feelings. I can’t say I’m going to follow your career (because I’ve seen from Kerala Blasters twitter what happens when fans can’t let go of former players and it’s not fucking pretty), but I hope you do cool shit that ends up on my twitter timeline in the future. You’ll always be one of us, whether you like it or not.

CAN FRANKO PLAY QUIDDITCH?

This week, The FC announced that they had come to an agreement with TSG Hoffenheim to extend the loan of 21 year old forward Franko Kovacevic. Franko, who was hurt to start the season, has appeared in a grand total of 1 match and logged 8 minutes thus far in the 2021 campaign. This comes on the heels of appearing in just 1 match in 2020 as well (a start and 90’ run in the season finale against Miami). Nothing about this situation makes an ounce of fucking sense. Don’t get me wrong, as a Cincinnati sports fan, I’ve had the “Why the fuck is this bum on the roster?!” about any number of players over the years (‘sup Jason Romano). But, in terms of strange roster decisions, the Franko Kovacevic situation is uniquely confounding.

Per spotrac, Kovacevic is making $282,000 to sit the bench for FC Cincinnati. That’s more money than Joe Gyau is getting ($273,000) to start at right back and only a couple thousand less than what Alvaro Barreal is being paid to be a goal scoring threat. Kovacevic is also utilizing an international roster spot — which, if you’ll recall, Cincinnati paid $225,000 in TAM to acquire from Portland prior to the start of the season. This is a fucking insane amount of money to pay for a guy who, again, has played 8 total minutes this season. I’ve been to concerts where the goddamn bassist got to play a longer solo than that (it might actually have been longer, but I was enjoying some recreational substances and desperately searching for a short beer line at the time). You could find any number of domestic players to fill this role at a fraction of the cost and not cause the rostering issues Franko does.

Even if you set all that aside (which you shouldn’t, because this kind of shit is why The FC’s roster build is four kinds of fucked up), how does any of this make sense for Hoffenheim? Franko is a young player; theoretically, teams like Hoffenheim loan young players to get them development opportunities. Franko was playing Hoffenheim’s 4th Division squad when we acquired him on loan, and it made sense if the idea was that we were going to help Franko develop in a superior league to the German 4th Division. But, if that’s the case, why are they OK with him staying here and not playing? He’s not gonna do much development from the bench, and there’s been zero indication from Stam or Nijkamp that we’re going to insert him into the lineup just to get him playing time (as well there shouldn’t be — the goal for FCC is to win fucking matches, not evaluate talent). If the goal for Franko is to develop him as a prospect, this is the worst fucking place for him to be.

So, why is Franko here? I have a few theories…

1.) FRANKO IS A CIA OPERATIVE / ASSET — If you’ve read one bit of news over the last five years, you’d know that Russia is big-time back as an antagonist to American interests around the globe. It’s honestly a little bit comforting, reminding the Chief of his childhood in the late-80s / early-90s watching “Red Dawn” and “The Hunt for Red October” on TBS while home from school. Life was simple — America was good, the Commies were bad. The threat now is less “paratroopers dropping in during 4th period English” and more “utilizing a vast array of bots and shitty memes to undermine confidence in institutions of democracy,” but it’s still very much a Russia v. USA world. And, if I’ve learned anything by kinda paying attention while Mrs. Chief watches “Madam Secretary” on Netflix, it’s that virtually everyone in Eastern Europe works for the CIA to do spying shit on the Russians. Franko checks a lot of boxes for a potential CIA operative. Young? Check. Physically fit enough to fight his way out of a sticky situation? Check. Able to travel globally without questions due to his status a professional athlete? Check. Speaks Russian? Not sure on that, but gonna say check anyway due to Croatia being formerly a part of communist Yugoslavia (everyone knows all communists can speak Russian).

So, if Franko was a CIA operative, why would he be back in America? Simple: He got made. If you’ve seen any spy movie or spy TV show you know that the first step when an operative gets made is to bring them back to the US for safety and debriefing. We’ll obviously never know if this is the case, given that the CIA is notorious about the whole secrecy thing. But, it should make you think twice about criticizing Franko or the club for keeping him around — after all, he could be a giant fucking patriot on the run from KGB hit men.

2.) FRANKO IS THE SON OF A MOB BOSS — Right out of the gate, this one feels right. Franko is an all-time great mobster name. Say it out loud right now. Now say it with in a movie-henchman Eastern European accent: “Hey, Franko — let’s go! Truck of cigarettes not going to hijack self!”

We know from movies like “John Wick” that even the most evil motherfuckers running crime families still have a soft spot for their kids. We also know that rich people can, and have, bought their kids roster spots on soccer teams. There was the story that went viral a few months ago about the owner of that Chinese team who made them play his kid in a match. Was it true? I’m going to choose to believe it was for the purposes of this theory. We’ve previously documented the unique ownership structure of Hoffenheim — one that would make them uniquely suited to an owner getting in deep with the wrong crowd and ending up in an arrangement where he was forced to buy & roster someone’s untalented kid. Imagine this — Dietmar has a few too many during a high-stakes meeting and promises big investment returns on laundered money, ends up losing several billion he can’t cover to a mob boss. Tries to win it all back in poker game vs. James Bond in Montenegro. Suddenly he’s in a room surrounded by goons and a middle-aged man with an uncomfortable amount of gold jewelry is telling him “You will sign my son and make sure he plays professional soccer!” And, if that’s the case, maybe we’re doing them a bigger favor by taking said kid off their hands than we will even know.

3.) FRANKO IS AN ACTUAL WIZARD — Not in the “He’s an absolute wizard on the pitch” sense, but rather in the “casts spells, does magic” sense. Now, I know what you’re saying: “Hey, asshole — everyone knows only English people can be wizards!” Really? Did you just forget everything that happened in “The Goblet of Fire?” There’s a fucking Quidditch World Cup — it’d be a boring fucking tournament if only England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland were allowed to play. And we know that’s not the case because, just like the real World Cup, England wasn’t even in the finals. The best player in the tournament, Viktor Krum, was from fucking Bulgaria. So no, you don’t have to be English to be a wizard.

Franko being a wizard makes a bit of sense because the first rule of the Wizarding World is to hide your abilities from regular people (aka us, the fans). If he looks *too* good, it would blow his cover and potentially out him as a magical being. What better way to blend in than playing the role of a very below-average soccer play on a double-spoon-winning shitty American club? We also know that wizards frequently get hidden away in order to evade dark wizards looking to kill them. Could it be that Hoffenheim sent Franko to America in order to keep him safe from some asshole evil wizard? Is Jaap Stam, himself a wizard, being tasked with keeping a watchful eye on young Franko and aiding him in his training when the time is right? Are there uniquely protective circumstances in Milford that keep him safe from Dark Magic?

(Note: You can just substitute “Jedi” for “wizard” in that last paragraph, because J.K. Rowling is a fucking hack who robbed George Lucas blind in her original concept for Harry Potter’s origin story — which makes it even more galling that the final scene where Obi Wan drops Luke off on Tatooine in “Revenge of the Sith” is referred to as the fucking “Harry Potter” scene.)

We may never know the official reason why Franko continues to make a quarter million dollars to ride the bench and take up an international spot. I actually kinda like the mystery aspect of it — you know you’ve officially made it as an international soccer club when there’s something happening on the team that seems nefarious but you can’t quite put your finger on the reason why.

THE DYNAMO OF PREDICTION

I had The FC as a 1-0 winner this past weekend and, wouldn’t you know it, they did me 1 fucking better by winning 2-0. It was their third straight road victory and the start of that rarest of rare things in Cincinnati soccer history: A winning streak.

As noted above, it is a winning streak with caveats (both these two teams suck something fierce), and Houston should provide an actual litmus test on where The Great FC Rebuild stands.

My head says this is going to be a struggle for FCC, with two starters being out on Gold Cup duty. I still think they manage a point here, so I’m going to say a 1-1 draw. Progress? We’ll see.

THEY MADE A MOVIE ABOUT BRENNER…

It’s called “The Invisible Man.”

Alright, that’s it for this week with the Funblast. If you’re local in Cincinnati, check your local SG and find out how you can help paint this fucking tifo for next week. The War Pigs have voted to dip into the war chest and buy some liquid refreshment for people who show up. Be part of something cool. Until next time, see you motherfuckers in the Thunderdome.