FRIDAY FUNBLAST — AUGUST 27, 2021

A loss always hits harder when the guy beating you is someone you just want to punch in the face. This makes the recent loss to New England and Bruce Arena, officially, the hardest hitting loss in FCC history. Anyway, let’s Funblast:

THE MAN IN THE (BRUCE) ARENA

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but FC Cincinnati lost a soccer match this past week to the now-unstoppable New England Revolution. It was one of those games that you usually see in college sports, with FC Cincinnati looking every bit the part of a Sun Belt team taking a six-figure payday to get the everliving shit beat out of them by an SEC opponent. The only thing missing here was some dipshit with an Alabama-drawl calling into The Paul Finebaum Show on Monday to complain “FC CINCINNATAH DON’T COUNT — THE REVS AIN’T PLAYED NO ONE YET, PAWL!” The FC was clearly outclassed in every facet of the match, with the Revs a step faster from first kick to full-time whistle. Even when Brenner scored his goal to bring the game back to a two-goal advantage, you got the sense that the Revs could’ve put their foot back on the gas and put in another 9 at any time. You could measure the gap between these two teams in exponentials.

It’s hard to fathom that FC Cincinnati dominated this same New England club in a 2-1 win just two seasons ago. That match was played 887 days ago — or, roughly 100 days longer ago than FC Cincinnati’s last victory in front of home fans — but an eternity of difference has happened for these two clubs since then. Weeks after that game, New England and FC Cincinnati would both hire general managers, Bruce Arena for the Revs and Gerard Nijkamp for The FC. We all know how that has worked out for both teams.

Good feelings -- it's been a while.

[AN ASIDE: There’s a pervasive narrative out there on the internet that “FC Cincinnati could have hired Bruce Arena but Jeff Berding wouldn’t give up GM control to him,” and I think it deserves a mention as one of the dumbest fucking takes out there in the FCC Cinematic Universe. Think about this for one second — Jeff Berding hired Gerard Nijkamp 16 days after New England hired Bruce Arena. The idea that Jeff Berding was hoarding control over his crumbling FC Empire and came to the conclusion that his team needed a GM only after telling Bruce Arena “No thanks, I got this,” is moronic. Did FC Cincinnati reject Arena? I find that hard to believe as well. In fact, I think it’s probably more likely that Arena hit The FC with the ol’ TBNT. We were an expansion team that had already blown throw all our extra GAM, fucked up our expansion draft, and hadn’t yet demonstrated that ownership was willing to spend to win. Our academy system was non-existent, our training facility still a hole in the ground INNNNNN Milford. Does this really sound like the situation Bruce Arena would walk into if he also had another, existing MLS club on the phone? I don’t think so.)

It demonstrates, in stark scoreboard fashion, the value of hiring people who understand how this stupid league works. I wrote about a few weeks ago in my obit for Gerard Nijkamp — MLS has a set of salary and roster rules that read like it was written by a coked-out Dungeons & Dragons nerd. You can either accept this and hire someone who understands them, or you can keep running through foreigners and hope one of them is really fucking good at rolling critical hits. You look at the two teams leading their respective conferences and the path to success is fairly obvious: Bruce Arena (the quintessential creature of American soccer) for NE and Garth Largerwey (ex-MLS player, MLS GM for 2 teams since 2007) in Seattle. You go down to second place and you find longtime-MLS fixture Peter Vermes at SKC as their manager / de-facto GM and Luis Muzzi (formerly of the NASL 2.0 & FC Dallas) in Orlando. It’s painfully obvious what it takes to win in this league, and it’s something that Jaap Stam and Gerard Nijkamp had exactly 0 years of prior to joining FC Cincinnati.

Fortunately for The FC, the job is a “She’s All That” level of more attractive now than it was at the start of the story. The facilities are all in place, the staff and front office is completely built out, and the fan support is still (for the moment) there. Plus, with the team having hit rock bottom after being spoonfucked for 3 years by the league, expectations aren’t nearly what they seemed to be after Alan Koch was panic-fired in 2019. If FC Cincinnati is interested in hiring from within MLS, I expect they’ll have plenty of takers eager to see what happens in this city if the team finally gets good. Hopefully they make the right pick.

HELL IS OHIO SOCCER

When you follow professional sports rivalries in the state of Ohio, you get used to things being pretty bleak. Baseball has the “Ohio Cup,” a thoroughly-meaningless and corporate trophy contested between the Cincinnati Reds and the Cleveland Indians — two franchises who have combined for 1 World Series win in the last 40 years. There’s no name for the two annual contests between the Cleveland Browns and the Cincinnati Bengals (though, most years, you’ll find some variation of “The Toilet Bowl” or the “…is now on the clock Bowl” as suggested names), two teams which have never won a title in the Super Bowl era of the NFL. And while Hard Hat FC’s recent MLS cup victory will probably keep “Hell is Real” from entering this sad conversation for a while, this year’s version of the contest isn’t exactly coming at the top of the rollercoaster for either side.

 Move over, Lord Stanley

Columbus is entering this match having lost 6 straight matches. They’ve fallen out of the playoffs, seen their goal-differential go underwater, and now (shockingly) actually have more losses on the season than the FC. They’re playing some genuinely terrible soccer and, to make matters worse, lost midfielder Kevin Molino to ACL surgery this week. I don’t need to remind everyone how bad it is down the highway, but in case you’ve forgotten, The FC haven’t won a match in almost 2 months and are sitting just 2 points clear of a mind-boggling third consecutive wooden spoon in only three years of play in MLS. You get the sense that ESPN might prefer to air a test pattern or 90 minutes of Stephen A. Smith just shouting incoherently at a camera (both equally as informative / entertaining) as opposed to this match. I mean, the Nordecke isn’t even bothering to do a tifo for the derby this year, opting instead for a “Card Stunt” — the lame cousin of a tifo usually reserved for college kids who can’t afford to buy paint (or, Ivy League nerds looking to pull off epic pranks). #TIFOSWEAT apparently ran out of Degree for this one.

Given all of this, it got me to wondering if some of the shine is off this “Derby” already in just year 3. Admittedly, it feels like an eternity since the last match where their dick-knuckle of a head coach shushed TQL Stadium after battling back for a fucking tie down a man. And maybe I’d have felt differently if you posed this to me a few weeks ago. But now? This feels very much like “just another game” (that we’re probably going to lose or draw). I put the question out to twitter and the results were, like Max Ellerbe, decidedly mixed. A whopping 42% of the votes came in as being OK with losing this match if it guaranteed at least one (1) home victory this season. I think the rivalry will turn the corner when that kind of poll produces closer to 100% of the people saying “Don’t care about anything else; fuck the Crew.” That’s gonna be hard as long as these two clubs are in such vastly different places competitively. Right now where very much like when I was in college, where our “rivalry” was with a school that had long since moved on to a bigger conference and gave very little of a shit about us. Winning that game became secondary to a lot of other things; we’d be happy to beat them (if we could), but in the grand scheme of things it took a back seat to the simple act of “just fucking win for a change.”

Having said all that: Fuck the Crew. Win the game.

HEY MR. SCOTT!

The longest “will they / won’t they” since Fox Mulder and Dana Scully came to a conclusion this week when Kyle Scott *finally* signed a deal to play with The FC. Scott, a midfielder who was aging out of the Newcastle U23 system, had been on trial with FCC earlier in the season but was unable to agree on terms of a contract. Scott will, presumably, fill the important role of “jogging on the sidelines in a training bib, but never actually subbed in” that was vacated when the team sent Ben Mines out on loan to god knows where in the USL. There isn’t a lot to say about this signing, mostly because I have no fucking clue if His Baldness will actually put this guy into matches. If history is any indication, we’ll know fairly quickly — if Jaap is gonna use a guy, they get used almost immediately upon arrival (see: Geoff Cameron and Florian “French Montana Ave.” Valot). For me, the interesting part of this signing is that it’s officially the first signing made in the post-Nijkamp era. Now, to be fair, this was a guy brought in and scouted originally under Nijkamp, but now The Anonymous Raw GM has made his/her/Berding’s first move. Will the haters give credit if it works out?

A BANNER DAY IN MILFORD

The Bailey Associated Supporters Incline Cheering Section made a trip out to Milford (presumably to buy some kind of narcotics from a guy driving a high-mileage Pontiac Aztec) and dropped some banners off while they were there. It was offered as a gesture of support for a, presumably, beleaguered FCC squad on the eve of their biggest match of the season. It made for a great visual along the fence line, and an even better social media moment with a picture of Lucho Acosta taking a picture of his own face on a banner (or Trogdor the Orange and Blue Burninantor, depending on how closely you looked at the photo). But, it also got me to thinking — as cool as this is for Brenner (or Yuya Kubo, Alan Cruz, etc.), wouldn’t it fucking suck to be a player and come outside only to find the supporters didn’t give enough of a shit to make a banner for you? I can only imagine it would be like being the person who everyone forgot to add to the Secret Santa drawing at work — everyone coming in to find little packages on their desk except Jennifer from Marketing (who no one likes anyway because she constantly needs time off work because her kid has this practice or that place to be). They pass it off like they’re OK and how everyone was probably just busy and forgot, but deep down, you know they’re hurting on the inside.

I get it from the supporters POV too. As someone who has participated in painting said player banners and a few of the tifos, it’s a fucking chore. And that’s just the painting — it sucks, but anyone can throw paint on a banner; it’s the coming up with interesting / cool player-specific artwork in the first place that’s really hard. Every one of these banners represents hours of volunteer time on Illustrator, in front of a projector tracing, and then on your hands and knees painting somewhere. As such, you can really split the FCC roster into two separate categories: “Banner Worthy” and “Non-Banner Worthy” (apologies to Elaine from Seinfeld). Are the fans getting this right? Let’s look.

Current Players with Banners:

- Lucho Acosta: Of all the players added to the roster in 2021, he’s one of the few who has absolutely performed to expectations. VERDICT: BANNER WORTHY

- Brenner: He’s making huge money and going to be here for a while. May as well have a banner in year 1 and get it over with. VERDICT: BANNER WORTHY

- Yuya Kubo: Things weren’t good for Kubo at the start of the year, when he looked like the most disappointing thing to come from Japan since the PlayStation Move, but now that he’s shown his value in the midfield in addition to being a winger? VERDICT: BANNER WORTHY

- Alan Cruz (Bay-Bay): I want to like Cruz, but he’s been way too average for a guy making his kind of money. VERDICT: NOT BANNER WORTHY

- Joe Gyau: You have to love the hustle, and I know its not his fault that he’s playing out of position. But, the product here isn’t good. Is running hard worth a banner? Going to need a ruling from Jimmy McLaughlin here. VERDICT: TOSS-UP

- Przemysław Tytoń: He had a really great game against Nashville. And he’s got a green card, which means he isn’t annoying me by taking an international spot up. This feels like another toss up, but leaning to “not worthy.”  VERDICT: NOT BANNER WORTHY

Not a great hit-miss ratio, TBH. I’d like my chances in a game of battleship here. Looking up and down the roster, there are some obvious misses on players who deserve a banner right now. Geoff Cameron feels like the most obvious omission from the banner lineup, and given his stance on all things COVID and vaccinations, there’s a great opportunity here to do a crossover with the popular TV show “Loki” and give him the nickname of “THE VARIANT.” He’s been, arguably, the biggest difference maker this team has signed in its short existence and absolutely deserves a banner. Alvaro Barreal, given his incredible play and look that appears to have been copped directly from Slim Shady c1999, also seems like he needs a banner at this point. I’m also gonna go out on a limb here and suggest Nick Hagglund probably deserves a banner now. Sure, we overspent on Tricky Don Funbucks to bring him in originally, but he’s given the team great minutes this season and he’s a Cincinnati guy. If we aren’t honoring “our own” here, what the fuck are doing?

So, TL;DR: Get back to work, Bailey art nerds. Our team isn’t good enough to overcome a lack of talent AND hurt feelings because our banner-game lacks meritocracy.

BETTING THE DERBY

I was pretty confident The FC was going to get curb-stomped last week by New England and, sure enough…

This game feels harder to predict. Both teams are desperate for a win, and it’s hard to ignore that Columbus looked like a superior team even down a man the last time the two sides matched up.

This feels like another match where the wheels fall off late, so 2-0 Columbus.

THEY MADE A MOVIE ABOUT NEW FCC SIGNEE CHRIS DUVALL

It’s called “Heavyweights.”

Alright, that’s it for this week. Drive safe to Columbus and make sure you annoy the shit out of everyone when you’re up there. Banners forever. Revolutions never. Until then, see you motherfuckers in the Thunderdome.