Friday Funblast: Good Nijkamp and Good Luck
Friday Funblast — August 6, 2021
We're halfway to a fresh start for The FC as the Architect of Dutchness himself, Gerard Nijkamp, was shown the door on Friday. Which is good, because the stuff I had written about these two 0-0 draws was about as interesting as the matches themselves. It's a good day for FCC, you still gotta work though. Onwards to the Funblasting!
GOOD NIJKAMP, AND GOOD LUCK
The majority of the Funblast this week is going to be dedicated to the biggest news story of the season for The FC — the “agreement to mutually part ways” with general manager Gerard Nijkamp. Nijkamp, who came to the club in 2019 after spending the previous 21 years at PEC Zwolle in the Netherlands.
The handwriting was on the wall for this decision the moment the transfer window closed with no major additions to The FC’s roster. With the departure of Jurgen Locadia back to Europe, the club had an open slot for either a DP player or a max-level TAM player (depending how Yuya Kubo, the most interesting import from Japan since "Iron Chef," is classified) — the type of player who can and should be a high-level / impact starter on most teams. When FC Cincinnati declined to fill that spot, there were only two conclusions to be drawn: either they didn’t land any of their targeted players (which would reflect negatively on the GM) or they didn’t authorize that level of spending or long-term contract terms in this window (which would reflect a vote of no confidence in the GM). To put in relationship terms, FC Cincinnati suddenly looked down the couch at their bum of a boyfriend and decided that maybe adopting a kitten wouldn’t be a great idea given the long-term outlook of things (especially since the next person they swipe right on might be allergic to cats).
And, they’ve got good reason to feel that way. Nijkamp’s tenure, to put it mildly, as been an unmitigated fucking disaster of Hidenberg-like proportions. In addition to making the culture at FC Cincinnati more Dutch than a wooden shoe being fucked by a stroopwafel, Nijkamp saddled the team with a reputation as a perpetual laughingstock, incapable of avoiding mistake signings. Seriously, as bad as you think Nijkamp’s record was on player signings was, it’s somehow fucking worse. A browse down the FCC roster reveals the complete futility of Nijkamp’s roster build — Kamohelo Mokotjo on a max-TAM contract and unable to see the field, Allan Cruz being given a huge raise to max-TAM level despite being under contract for less money, Maikel van der Werff doing whatever the fuck he’s been doing besides playing soccer. And these don’t even touch the players who were shipped out after being unable to contribute meaningfully — your Tom Petterssons, Franko Kovacevics and Jurgen Locadias. The horrendous hit-to-miss rate would be bad enough as it stands, but it also came with xAM being wasted on international spots and in other unproductive ways that offered very little benefit to the team. Oh, and did we mention an utter inability to properly value young American talent to fill out the back ends of the roster? While other teams around the league find success starting teenagers or USL lifers, The FC gets routinely spoonfucked starting rosters of majority-international veterans. The result has been an endlessly frustrating product that has been difficult to watch and even more difficult to see a future for.
All of this is also without getting into Nijkamp’s managerial selections. In hindsight, this was a red flag with the image of a smoking gun on it. Nijkamp’s first act at the helm of FC Cincinnati was to launch a search for a new head coach to replace the previously-ousted Alan Koch. After an exhaustive search Nijkamp brought in THE FUCKING DUDE WHO MANAGED FOR HIM AT PEC ZWOLLE. I get wanting to work with someone you know and trust, but this had to be laziest and least inspired coaching choice of all time. And, even worse, it took two fucking months to get it done. If you’re just gonna call your buddy to coach, why didn’t you just bring him to the press conference with you when you got hired? We all know how this story ends — Ron loses the locker room by being about as racially sensitive as your average uncle on Facebook, gets fired, and sets the stage for Jaap Stam to bring his brand of soul-crushing football to Cincinnati. It takes real effort to give a club a black eye for racism and results at the same time, but here we found ourselves.
(An aside: It’s wild that Nijkamp never got blowback for his total ignorance about the racist behavior of Ron. You would think a GM would notice a little thing like a locker room fractured on racial lines — that at the very least someone on the team would’ve gone up and clued him in to how bad things were and how uncomfortable people were with the situation. Instead, everyone went directly to the MLSPA and the investigation started based on the union’s complaints. The obvious implication here was that the players didn’t trust Nijkamp as someone they could speak to without it getting directly back to Ron. Indeed, it remains an open question as to whether or not Nijkamp thought Ron should be fired at all — which is just fucking wild.)
To be clear, I don’t hate Nijkamp as a person. I’m sure he’s is probably a pretty good dude. You don’t last this long in global football and get your name in the mouths of search firms without having at least some aptitude for the job and personal affability. But, every move he made belied a complete and total lack of respect for the difficulty of winning in a league like Major League Soccer. And, I get it — this league objectively fucking sucks. The quality of play is just slightly above “Your Dad on Xbox Live,” and the salary rules read like they were written by some dipshit, coked out D&D nerd with words like “Wizard,” “Gold Pieces” and “EXP” replaced by “Designated Player,” “GAM” and “Homegrown.” But, just because the league is shitty and the rules are dumb doesn’t mean you can just show up having not studied for the test. And, seemingly, that’s exactly what Gerard did. He showed up to work in Cincinnati, Ohio and started running this team like he was building it win the Eredevisie back home. He signed his buddy from PEC Zwolle to manage, built a roster of international talent — and then was apparently shocked (SHOCKED!) to learn that you can’t keep spending freely and signing whoever you want in a salary-capped league.
The results Nijkamp amassed at FC Cincinnati speak for themselves. His first full year at the helm of FC Cincinnati resulted in a wooden spoon finish and a roster full of mis-mashed players that didn’t fit well together. His follow up act was to ignore entire portions of the roster — resulting in Yuya Kubo being forced to play defensive mid, Joe Gyau to play right back, and absolutely no one to play center back until Geoff Cameron arrived on the scene — alienate the top young player (Frankie Amaya) on the team, and bring in a high-priced striker that struggles to find the back of the net. The current roster, which features all players signed to contracts by Nijkamp, sits out of the playoff race and with one of the worst goal-differentials in the league. This might be acceptable if there was some young core being built around, but we’re the fucking Prokaryotes of MLS, and there’s no nucleus at the center of this disaster that we can hope will improve. This is a top-dollar roster built to win right now, with aging veterans all over the pitch. In a league that values Dani Rojas, Nijkamp purchased a roster made mostly of Roy Kents (minus his charmingly blunt personality and awful facial hair). That isn’t gonna play when your team can’t win games and plays a brand of soccer so boring that 4 out of 5 doctors recommend it as a cure for fucking insomnia.
So, where does The FC go from here?
The obvious answer is “Literally anyone with fucking experience in this goddamn league.” The hard lesson learned from Gerard’s failure is that you can’t learn to manage GAM / TAM / WHAM! on the job. The next person in the job needs to come in with knowledge of the conversion rate for Tricky Don Funbucks to Quality Soccer Players. That’s a non-negotiable job qualification this go around, especially considering they don’t make a unit of measurement small enough to describe the level of patience in the fanbase for another rebuild. This cannot be a gut-job — it needs to be a re-tool rebuild that prioritizes winning matches and scoring goals immediately. Ideally, you’d want someone with experience in a non-destination market who understands how to target talent without the benefit of Los Angeles, New York or Miami to recruit off. And, this time, would it kills us to get a motherfucker who will occasionally step in front of a camera or do a radio interview to explain what the fuck is going on with the team? Nijkamp had a microphone allergy no amount of Claratin could fix, and the result was fans guessing as to what was done or why moves were made. That’s not a great thing when you’re begging for patience and offering multiple seasons of shitty football to your paying customers.
Can it happen? Fuck if I know. I don’t know who is available, who wants to relocate to Cincinnati, and if anyone who checks these boxes will actually be able to succeed here. But, thanks to this decision being made now, whoever comes in will have an open DP slot, at least one high-level TAM spot (when Mokotjo’s contract gets cancelled by using the one-time “Ooops, we fucked up” MLS roster provision), and some useful players who probably have some value (Kubo, Acosta, Barreal, Cameron, etc.). The turnaround doesn’t need to take “4-5 Windows” again, but only if the right hire gets made.
Your move, Jeff. This lesson hurts, but they say pain is the best teacher.
The FC hasn’t scored a goal in over 300’ of soccer, but the narrative coming out of the past two matches (both scoreless draws) has been the bizarre substitution patterns from Jaap Stam. Despite the “5 Substitution Rule” being extended for another season, Jaap and the FC seem hell bent to run the same players into the ground with no relief in sight. Wednesday’s match, which was a mere 4 days after the previous fixture, featured just two substitutions despite playing the exact same roster. That previous match? Just 1 substitution. In fact, during the current 7-match winless streak, Jaap has used all 5 of his subs just one time. Combine this with a starting 11 that features less rotation than Venus and you’ve got some genuine concern about the health and well-being of the players.
I have two theories as to what is behind this substitution pattern:
#1 — Jaap is (was?) trying to send a message to Gerard Nijkamp that he needed more players. This one seems less far-fetched than other theories I’ve seen and, to be honest, Jaap might be justified here. The bench has been somewhere between “black hole of awful” and “vortex of terrible” since the start of the year. The only bench player who you’d even rate on most days was Jurgen Locadia, only there by virtue of a minutes limit, and he’s been gone for over a month. By continuing to leave players on the bench, Jaap might have been seeking to show Gerard “you better get some guys in here or 5G Microchips are gonna be the least of Geoff Cameron’s worries.”
#2 — Jaap is attempting to set up his “exit narrative” from FC Cincinnati. If you’ve followed Jaap’s managerial career, the man is positively addicted to spinning situations to make himself look better after he leaves places. If throwing people under the bus was an Olympic sport, Jaap would have enough gold medals to make Michael Phelps look like a YMCA swim instructor. With the writing seemingly on the wall for Jaap’s career in Cincinnati, there is going to be a need to explain why things didn’t work out here — and “the roster I had was shitty” seems to be the likeliest story going forward. What better way to underline that lack of talent with hard evidence than citing how few substitutions you made?
This is an item to keep your eye on — because there’s absolutely no way that players like the aforementioned Geoff Cameron can keep up this usage rate for much longer. And, with the transfer window now closed, the roster is what it is. Either some substitutes start happening soon, or we’re gonna get a firsthand look at what happens when an athlete is literally run to death.
BETTING ON BLACKETT
So, what do we make of these new reinforcements from the transfer window? As I said earlier, Tyler Blackett and Florian Valot are almost certainly here because they don’t materially impact the ability of The Next GM™ to build out a roster for 2022 and beyond. They represent an acknowledgment by The FC’s front office that the bench needed help, but also an unwillingness to let Nijkamp fuck them over with another Mokojoto or VDW contract on the way out the door. The priority here was getting Nijkamp off the elevator before he farted again, and as such, I wouldn’t be expecting anything special or extraordinary from either player.
Florian Valot, who has a name that sounds like a side character from “The Wheel of Time,” (and probably a 75 page back story that is explored, in painstaking detail, instead of the actual main storyline of the fucking book) is probably the best bet to offer real help to the FC this season. He has MLS experience and numerous appearances for NYRB, making him way more of a known commodity here. He’s also, apparently, match-fit and has the ability to give the FC meaningful minutes at wing almost immediately. In terms of reinforcements, this is a guy who has already shown up and is asking which way the fight is.
Tyler Blackett is the more interesting case here. This is a guy who the FC has been kicking the tires of for a while, with his acquisition already previously rumored in 2020. As Jonah pointed out during a Post twitter spaces, he’s currently recovering from surgery to correct a broken dick and has an unknown timetable for recovery. If he’s healthy, he should be an essential piece to give Geoff Cameron much-needed time off down the stretch (remember: Cameron has already played a full season of matches for QPR). But, here’s the thing — don’t we already know this guy is never gonna be healthy this season? The FC’s track record with this sort of “recovering from injury” signing is so disastrous that it’s probably going to appear in a fucking Farmers Insurance commercial at some point. As fans, we know a thing or two because we’ve seen a thing or two, and it’s probably a safer bet to assume Blackett is perpetually “a few weeks away” from being able to play. Consider it Gerard’s parting gift to the club.
In the end, this was the perfect finale for Nijkamp’s time at the FC. He constantly preached that he needed more “windows” to succeed, much to the frustration of the fanbase. His final window here closed with a resounding thud, and he was shown the door immediately after.
The FC hasn’t scored a goal in over 300’ of soccer. They haven’t won a match since June 26th v. Toronto. They haven’t won a home match in front of fans since 2019. None of these are positive numbers if you’re hoping to see three points from the Garys this weekend.
Orlando is the #2 team in the conference, already owning a dominant win over The FC earlier in the season where they scored faster than girl on the rebound at happy hour. They don’t have a great goal differential (only +5), but it doesn’t take much to have the upper hand in this kind of matchup.
This feels like Nashville all over again, and I’m seeing a similar outcome here.
THEY MADE A MOVIE ABOUT THE JAAP’S PLAYER USAGE
It’s called “Die Another Day.”
Alright, what a fucking week right? Stay tuned to the Post, because we'll absolutely start recklessly speculating about new GMs from here on out. In the interim (pun intended), Windows forever, Substitutions never. See you motherfuckers in the Thunderdome!