Friday Funblast — June 25, 2021

Midweek winning and it feels so good! The FC got back in the 3 point business on Wednesday with a win against the Chicago Fire, but the morning after brought questions: “Just who, exactly, is this team?” It’s a question we’ll dive into right now…

CHICAGO HOPE…?

As previously reported on The Post™ and elsewhere, the FC defeated Chicago Fire FC (who joined Columbus Crew SC this month as the entrant into the “Do a shitty rebrand, offer up a public mea culpa, and then ride the wave of good feelings a new march sales with the rebranded rebrand” club) by a score of 1-0. Alvaro “The Real Slim Shady” Barreal played the hero, curling an absurdly good free kick past the Fire goalkeeper in the 50’ of the match. Following the goal, it turned into a somewhat traditional FCC “hang on for dear life” scramble that included an overturned VAR goal in second half stoppage time. I actually cannot overstate how fucking absurd the final 5-7 minutes of this match was considering it included: a game tying goal, a VAR overturn, Tommy G declaring the match over because of a long whistle, and the match continuing for Chicago to attempt one final push all while the fucking score bug said “FINAL” in the corner of the screen.

Three points don’t come often around these parts (excluding the bizarre “Hashtag MLS is Back” tournament, this was only the 10th regular season win for FC Cincinnati since joining MLS), so I don’t want to be the guy that comes in and tells you not to celebrate this. However, the win does come with some context, given that it was against a terrible Chicago Fire side that now falls to last place itself (and a team that remains tied with The FC for worst goal differential in the league at -10). The morning after the win, I took the keys to the mothership Pigs twitter account and posed a question to the masses: What was this win?

I got a lot of interesting responses. One of my favorites was from long-time friend-of-the-SG @Heisenhaus, who described the win as “reminiscent of Kochball…”

This was a favorite topic for Jonah (Mr. Knife himself) during the USL run for FC Cincinnati — the idea that, despite his winning record, Alan Koch might not actually be that good of a manager. It was one of those takes that seems kind of absurd until you really thought about what you were watching with FC Cincinnati. It wasn’t a team that curb-stomped opponents or wowed with tactical or technical brilliance. It was a team that spent way more money and won games because, eventually, even the worst gameplan in the world gets overcome by raw talent on the field or individual moments of brilliance (as the Atlanta Falcons found out during the Michael Vick era, where the gameplay was “everyone stand around and wait for Vick to break 10 tackles and run for a touchdown”). And, there was a lot about Wednesday’s match that felt that way — the offense, despite generating a lot of shots, never seemed to be doing so from great runs, through balls, crosses, etc. And, the one goal was indeed a sheer moment of brilliance (fucking incredible brilliance, if we’re being honest).

On the other hand, there was this:

There were a few different variations of this tweet, suggesting the idea that Jaap is doing his job of getting the players in position to score and the issue is more one of execution. It’s a comforting thought, in much the same way that it’s really nice to believe Santa Claus is up there toiling away at the North Pole making toys for all the children of the world (though, it’s crazy to think that kids now believe Santa is basically running a Foxconn facility making fucking PS5s and Xboxes as opposed to the dumb wooden toys you see in the old movies). The trouble is, poor execution is still a function of poor coaching. And, there’s clearly something going on with the offensive gameplan of this side when they’ve only managed to net two (2) goals from open play all season. Fucking. Two. And when you think of the “near misses” for this team, the majority of them have come from the aforementioned “moments of brilliance” that didn’t have the final needed touch (think Loca’s latest miss in this past game). There aren’t a lot of instances you can think of where there was good build up play, followed by a good run, a good touch and then a shot just wide or a pass just an inch off. Both of FCC’s wins this year have resulted from the opposition missing absolute sitters / tap-ins in front of empty nets. There’ve been no such opportunities for the good guys this year. That’s somewhat troubling for the narrative of “THE OFFENSE IS PRODUCING GREAT OPPORTUNITIES!”

So where are we?

The answer is probably somewhere between these two takes. Facts are facts — we needed a “Goal of the Week” free kick from Barreal to beat the worst team in MLS and the xG for the match suggests it should probably have been a draw. We couldn’t dent the net from open play yet again, and we still needed a bailout from the VAR to claim the points in this contest. But, we did win. And, on eyeball test alone, we did look the better team for long stretches of the match while on the road. Based on where FC Cincinnati has been since 2019, that’s undeniably a good thing. But, is that enough? This is a highly-priced roster with a full complement of DPs and multiple TAM players who were bought down from DP contracts. If you believe there’s talent on this team, you should be aspiring to do better than clinging to a 1-0 lead against a terrible team. I’d offer that the only way you can see this situation as a positive is if you believe “The goals will come.” And that’s exactly what that is: a belief. Because, to this point, the goals haven’t come for Jaap’s system. They didn’t come last year either. You know the last time FC Cincinnati scored more than 2 goals in a match? That’d be July 6, 2019 against the Houston Dynamo under Interim Manager for Life Yoann Damet. You read that right — Yoann Damet was the last manager to coax 3 goals out of this side. Ron couldn’t. Jaap hasn’t to this point.

We’ve got another shitty opponent this weekend and another opportunity to evaluate how the Jaap Way is building with FC Cincinnati. Another win would boost FCC’s points-per-match total to above 1, inching ever closer to the magic 1.29 points-per-match pathway that usually results in a playoff spot. It’s another referendum on Jaap, who needs to be on the hot seat in every match until this team shows it can do more than what it has shown to this point.

TOWN HOLLERS

With the extended FCC break prior to this week, I took an off-day from the Funblast last Friday. However, I still wanted to chime in on the Supporters Town Hall that Jaap and Gerard held.

Both Jaap and Gerard are Neo-from-the-Matrix-good when it comes to ju jitsu’ing your way out of answering simple fucking questions. With Jaap especially, you just have to marvel at his ability to say absolutely nothing over the course of a 5 minute answer, all while looking like he’s thinking about the best way to kill whoever is asking the question. Knowing that going in, I didn’t expect to get much information from this exercise. And, to a point, it was fascinating to hear them dodge and dive their way through the proceedings. It was entertaining to hear Kevin Wallace finally get a chance to ask a question to the targets of his online ire (though, I was disappointed the question wasn’t “Can you both get on the next fucking flight to Europe and never come back?”). We got Jaap snapping at the moderators when the subject of Yuya Kubo (now the most puzzling use of a Japanese asset by the Dutch since “The Faces of Evil” and “The Wand of Gamelon”). Even in their non-answers, though, there were a number of fascinating takeaways that I think were relevant to the narrative surrounding this squad.

1.) Both of them think they’re going to be here for a while — This was the biggest of the takeaways from this meeting. It could not have been more apparent that neither one of these guys is feeling the slightest amount of heat over the state of the club or the results that have been posted to date. Hell, these two might as well be on fucking Hoth riding tauntauns to work to hear them talk. There was zero hedging on talk of plans to continue constructing this team in both the upcoming summer window AND the winter window this January (which, based on available reporting, would be after both their contracts expire). Jaap and Gerard both see themselves as being the people making the decisions, acquiring the players, and (presumably) running the squad that emerges forth for the 2022 season. Where that level of confidence comes from is, obviously, an open-question. If they’ve been given assurances by Berding and/or Lindner that they’re going to get the full run of their contracts (or even an extension), that would certainly be something — especially given that this club was still mired in last place at the time of the Halling.

2.) Neither one of them thinks this team is very good — The duo were asked, point blank, if they thought this team was going to make the playoffs and neither one offered such a promise. Making the playoffs in MLS isn’t that hard. Half of the conference makes the playoffs each year, and (as previously stated) you likely only need to be on a 1.29 point per match pace in order to do it. It was shocking to hear the two of them dance around the issue considering how much money has been handed to them in order to build the roster. We aren’t talking about the fucking Pittsburgh Pirates, where ownership basically gives the GM a couple used cars to sell and says “turn this into an MLB roster!” This is one of the top spending outfits in all of MLS — if they can’t win this year, spending this much money, how exactly do they expect to win any year? If I were an owner, my next question after hearing this would’ve been “Then what the fuck did we spend all that money on Brenner for?”

3.) Gerard still doesn’t understand MLS — This part was lurking under a lot of the answers. There was an amusing exchange about international players and rostering that seemed to indicate he didn’t really consider it when signing players (which — fucking incredible). There was also his excitement at announcing (although it had already come out in an Enquirer article) that the club had hired an MLS capologist — which, also fucking incredible. The idea that absolutely no one inside the front office has a single clue about how to use TAM / GAM / XAM etc. is absolutely fucking hilarious to contemplate and would explain so much about some of the decisions that have been made. Why is Mokotjo making nearly $1M to sit the bench and be too slow to play in this league? Why did they randomly decide to give Alan Cruz a massive pay raise and then not play him for a full season? Maybe it’s all because they thought there some other type of xAM money it was coming from and that none of these numbers were real. I now have this incredible mental image of this capologist coming in to FC Cincinnati like Gene Wilder in “The Producers” only to discover this nightmarish financial situation that makes absolutely no sense and is going to result in some massive fraud investigation down the road. I don’t know that I’m that far off from reality here (other than the fact that I can’t really picture either Jaap or Gerard fucking old women for money like Max Bialystock— maybe Gerard).

The final, general take-away I had was that it was good of the club to force these two jokers to stand up to a little scrutiny. Both Gerard and Jaap have been completely free from any real accounting for the absolute horse-shit results these teams have produced. They’re mostly insulated from the local media and, when they have been made available, the questions have rarely been as blunt (since, unlike the media, fans don’t need to worry about pissing anyone off and wrecking valuable relationships). So, props to Berding et. al. and good on Jaap and Gerard for sitting through it. I know they didn’t want to, but it’s healthy for the fanbase to have this kind of access and insight into the process.

BYE LOCA

We also got official confirmation from Gerard Nijkamp that the Jurgen Locadia experiment was officially coming to an end, with The FC declining to pick up his purchase option. We’ll get one more match from Jurgen tomorrow in Toronto and then it’s back to Europe for FCC’s would-be goal scorer. It’s a sad end to things for a guy whose signing was heralded as as a major coup for MLS by national media outlets. What I loved, though, was seeing Loca out there on Wednesday still hustling like he had everything in the world to prove. Here is a guy who has had, quite literally, everything that could go wrong go wrong for this transfer. He scored a goal in his first match only to have the season shut down by a global pandemic. He got hurt in training shortly after the resumption and was never fully “back” last year. He then comes into this season on a severe minutes restriction and doesn’t see much of the pitch. Still, despite that, he was out there chasing down balls and looking dangerous with every movement — even if the end result was the same as it has always been with Loca (an inch short, a foot wide, etc.).

In the words of KLR — you gotta respect that.

PREDICTIONS

I had the Chicago Fire match as a 1-1 tie. You’ll have to take my word for that, though, because I didn’t produce a column last week. My bad.

This weekend, to me, was the more likely of the spots for FCC to take 3 points. Toronto is absolutely terrible, and they (like their Canadian brethren) are currently trapped in Florida playing neutral-site matches while the Canadian border remains locked to anyone not playing hockey (Go Habs?). All the ingredients are there for an FC Cincinnati victory, including the insanely-elusive “momentum” with the win at Chicago.

Predicting a winning streak? I must be out of my fucking skull. 1-0 Cincinnati.

THEY MADE A TV SHOW ABOUT KENNETH VERMEER'S GOALKEEPING:

It’s called “Adventure Time.”

Alright, that’s all for the week. We’ll know a lot more about this team after this weekend. Maybe we’ll even be able to have some confidence going into Hell is Real? Anyway, free kicks forever. Open play never. See you motherfuckers in the Thunderdome.