FRIDAY FUNBLAST — August 20, 2021

Another week. Another FC Cincinnati 0-0 draw. This is a team stuck at the back of the race and absolutely no blue shell is coming. Is it possible to be too negative about a team that can’t win in front of its home fans and gets held scoreless in half its matches? Let’s discuss…

NEGATIVELY-CHARGED ARTICLES

I get accused a lot of being a negative voice in the FCC Community. In fact, I’m pretty sure that Kevin Wallace and I, collectively, are public enemies #1 and #2 in the FCC front office (just kidding — none of those people know who the fuck we are). And, stepping back, I get it. We’re all a part of this fanbase, allegedly, because sports are fun and we have fun being a part of this fanbase / community. At the same time, I’m genuinely curious what people are looking at right now that makes them want to be positive about this team?

The on-field product right now is worse than bad — it’s dull. Bad can sometimes at least be entertaining. Hell, that William Hung dude became a millionaire because he was so terrible at singing that people paid to hear it. But this FCC team? It’s lifeless. It’s a team that seems to have no offensive gameplan beyond “hope somebody can hit a shot from distance,” and plays a slow brand of soccer where you can literally see people overthinking on the field. The amount of time between first touch and deciding what to do with the ball next can often be measured in “Grateful Dead Solos” length. It’s a team that has been shut out in over half of Jaap Stam’s matches since taking over, meaning it’s basically a coin flip as to whether or not you’re even going to see a single goal at any given match you attend. And, to put the cherry on top, they haven’t won a match in front of their home fans in 776 days. SEVEN. HUNDRED. SEVENTY. FUCKING. SIX. To put this in perspective, “The Mandalorian” didn’t fucking exist the last time this happened. That’s right — every goddamn “Baby Yoda” meme in existence has been created since the last FC Cincinnati victory in front of their home fans.

There’s also no real hope anything is going to get better this season. We’re now over halfway through things, and the team roster, for better or worse, is now set. Other than Tyler Blackett’s impending arrival (and — lets be real, would it shock anyone if he has visa issues that delay his arrival and then we find out his groin/dick is still bad when he gets here?), the reinforcements are not arriving. The end result of this is that every problem you see with the roster right now is probably going to be there when we get to fixture congestion in September and October. If you think that Brenner needs another striker to play off up top, that player isn’t coming until 2022. If you think this team needs a defensive mid to free up Yuya Kubo to play elsewhere, that player isn’t coming until 2022 either. If you think this team needs more speed to bring in off the bench to run at opponents in late games — yup, 2022 there too. This is what we have to see us through for the rest of the season, as we finish off what is looking more and more like a lame-duck campaign for Jaap and his staff.

These things all pale in comparison to what, for me, is the biggest concern about this organization right now — the e-mail we got this week about Season Ticket renewals.

Since the start of FC Cincinnati we’ve been sold on the idea of “something bigger” to get people to sign on as STHs. When things started, it was “be part of building soccer in Cincinnati!” That got a lot of people (the Chief included) to put down a deposit. After the team exploded out of the gates and hosted Don Garber for a manufactured excitement event, the pitch shifted to “help us bring MLS to Cincinnati.” Donny showed up at a Rhinegeist event that was oversold and overheated and announced we were getting in — pitch shifts to “Secure your place in line for MLS tickets and tickets for the BRAND NEW STADIUM!” Well, now we’re here: MLS franchise acquired, Stadium opened. And the team is now fresh out of carrots to dangle in front of our fucking faces. We’re seeing a packed (well, somewhat packed — Wednesday was a little light) TQL Stadium, in large part, because these tickets were bought and paid for by money rolled over from the pandemic year and because there was a brand new stadium to see. And the question I found myself asking, as the full-time whistle sounded following yet another non-win, was this: “How the fuck are they gonna sell tickets to this mess next year?”

This is a concern in soccer that is somewhat unique to the sport because so much of the appeal to “the casuals” is the environment at an FC Cincinnati match. And it’s pretty easy to look around the league and see what happens when that environment starts to falter (or never happened in the first place — ‘sup Colombus?). How many people are going to get that call from their season ticket rep this fall and say “No thanks, let me know when you start winning matches?” What happens when the upper decks start to thin out, or when they Bailey starts sitting at 40-50% capacity on average and the sound of the drums echoes around off empty seats that used to hold clapping (paying fans)? The good will and positive vibes surrounding this club have evaporated since the move to MLS — and there’s absolutely nothing that can be done to fix that besides the one thing this club is fucking incapable of doing: winning soccer matches.

That’s why shit like Wednesday matters. Objectively? Yes — a 0-0 draw is a better result than losing 5-4 (like we did in Montreal earlier) or a 5-0 curb-stomping like we took in New York earlier this season. But did anyone walk out of TQL Stadium excited for the next match? Or excited about the direction of this club? Excited to put down another $1,000 for two seats for the 2022 season? The club needs ~26,000 people out there to want to pay money to watch this team. It needs ~3,000 of them to be in the Bailey and singing / clapping / smoke-bombing enough to create a spectacle to entertain everyone else and provide fodder for their marketing accounts. And no sports team has a birthright to ticket sales — the oldest professional baseball team (which, I’ve never understood how that’s a compliment — doesn’t that really just mean we had to pay people to live / play in Cincinnati while other teams got their players for free) struggles to draw even when the team is decent because so many for so long have been conditioned to think they aren’t worth paying money to see.

I had a DM conversation with known-LouCity terrorist & meme-lord Mike Baldwin prior to the season. He’ll never admit it, but he was secretly rooting for us to do well this year. He was concerned that another bad season would “Kill the territory” (an old ‘rasslin term for when a promotion fucked something up so badly that they’d not be able to make money on shows in the area any longer). Standing in TQL Stadium on Wednesday — where there were visibly empty sections of seats for the first time this year — the idea that it might happen finally began to sink in.

And I fucking hate it. It makes me mad to think such an incredible opportunity might have been squandered here, and it makes me angry that no one seems to care to do anything about it.

THE RED LIGHT DISTRICT

Apparently The Teak’s lights turn red whenever a red card gets shown. Pretty fucking swag. I’d suggest doing the same thing on the LED fins outside, but given the history of the West End, bright blue or red lights might send the wrong message and reinforce some stereotypes the fanbase in Mason and West Chester already have. This is one instance where, maybe, it’s best to stick to Tide and Charmin ads.

Speaking of Red Cards — someone on reddit did a breakdown of The FC’s performance while up a man this season. It’s…uh, not fucking pretty:

Basically, FCC has played the equivalent of a full game up a man with a -2 goal differential on zero (0) goals scored. It’s an unfathomable record of futility and arguably the worst use of being at a man advantage since the Darth Maul fight in Episode 1 (seriously — 2 on 1 and you let Qui-Gon Jinn get punked out like that). Part of the problem is that The FC’s lack of offensive identity carries forward up a man — if you don’t have a fucking plan to score goals 11 v. 11, going to 11 v. 10 isn’t gonna change much. But, an additional problem is that Jaap Stam simply refuses to substitute in fresh legs to take advantage of the natural fatigue that comes from chasing the ball and defending down a man. With the five substitute rules still in place, an opposing team can negate a large part of your advantage if they can do a hockey-style line change while your team is fatigued with the same people on the field the entire time. This is what you saw firsthand in the Montreal match — a lot of jogging / walking from a tired FCC team that was able to be held in check while the match was killed off.

There are many reasons why Gerard Nijkamp is currently out of work, but his inability to build a decent bench has to rank highly among them. It’s an unavoidable byproduct of overspending a foreign talent (necessitating using Tricky Don Funbucks to buy international slots) and making risky signings on players coming back from injury. More than anything else, this is something that cannot continue with the next GM. FCC has proven adept at drawing fouls and red cards; but when it comes time to push the accelerator, there’s no “next gear” to shift into. The season would look a lot different right now if FCC would’ve been able to capture Ws on these 3 matches up a man — 23 points (4 from the playoff line) and 3 home victories would have the city feeling a hell of a lot different and make this column a hell of a lot more fun to write.

MEDIA MATTERS

Another side-effect of the endless parade of sadness that The FC has become is that “FCC Twitter Post Game” has become an entity unto itself. As a fanbase, we could probably best be described as “uncomfortable online,” and there’s nothing that brings us together quite like getting together on social media to create a new controversy or fight out of absolutely nothing at all. We’ve already had #PodcastWarz at one point this season, and it was simply inevitable that the proverbial Eye of Sauron would turn its gaze elsewhere within the FCC community if the morale didn’t improve. In the wake of yet another scoreless effort, the latest target became the media. Specifically, the target became the media’s demeanor towards the club and the club’s gaffer Jaap Stam.

To be completely transparent, I’ve been known to be occasionally critical of FCC media. However, I think anyone complaining that “tough questions” aren’t being asked of Jaap Stam are profoundly ignorant of how the job of a beat writer works. For starters, grilling a coach or player after a game is journalistically irresponsible, bordering on unprofessional, for a local beat writer. A post-game scrum isn’t the place for those kinds of questions, especially for reporters who will be back interviewing the subject of said scrum week after week. You want these people to at least view you as “fair” so that you can continue to get quotes / material to provide your readers. Secondly, most athletes and coaches will simply dodge questions in these settings anyway — this isn’t a fucking deposition, and they aren’t obligated to tell the truth or answer a question they don’t want to. So, in most cases, asking a highly critical or pointed question is just going to get you dodging / weaving  or non-answers that are useless for writing a story and, possibly, results in a pissed off coach or player. A lose-lose scenario if there ever was one.

If there’s a problem with the FCC media landscape currently it’s that most of the local scribes lack a columnist or analyst to take the stories / quotes the beat writers grab and frame them in a more critical eye about what the club is doing. Historically, that’s how great sports journalism has worked. Most of your great writers — people like Tony Kornheiser, Mike Lupica or Bob Ryan — were people who turned all the quotes and stories of the week into larger takes that made you think / feel about the sport or team. They were people who didn’t have to care about going to a locker room and getting fallout from their work; they could write untethered from the fear of being told to fuck off if someone didn’t like what had seen inches on a Sunday. We don’t have that in Cincinnati. You can blame the death of local journalism and the fact that the one sports columnist left in town is too busy making tennis headlines to bother knowing anything about soccer. So, instead, we end up with the local media trying to serve both masters — and, frustratingly, wearing whatever hat suits their need for clicks in a given second. One second a reporter, the next second a critic. It doesn’t work, but that isn’t the fault of anyone but society for not valuing good journalism enough to pay for multiple people to fill these roles.

Maybe someday The Post can fill that void and actually pay someone to write things that make sense, instead of trusting a weekly column to a guy who hasn’t proofread their own writing since college.

Just kidding. This website is gonna be free and thoroughly mediocre for all time.

THE CULT OF PERSONALITY RETURNS

It wasn’t all bad news this week, though. CM Punk is back in AEW. And listen to this fucking ovation:

Full disclosure: Chief grew up in the Attitude Era and never really lost the bug ’Rasslin. This almost certainly comes from spending a lifetime wishing I could script the teams I like in real sports to win games like they can in the world of pro wrestling. In wrestling, your favorite guy can just be written to win the title. In the real world, your favorite soccer team is the MLS equivalent of fucking Norman Smiley. I know which world I’d rather live in right now.

Word of advice to everyone out there: AEW is coming to 5/3 Arena next month, and if you don’t have tickets yet I’d consider getting them immediately.

REVOLUTIONARY ROAD

New England is the best team in MLS. FC Cincinnati can’t score up a man. This has disaster written all over it.

NE 4 - FC 0.

THEY MADE A MOVIE ABOUT FCC’S HOME CROWD NON-WIN STREAK:

It’s called “The Never-ending Story.”

All right, that’s it for this week. Can we hope for more exciting things to talk about in the future than media nonsense? No? Alright. Fair enough. Ice Cream Bars Forever. Red Cards Never. See you motherfuckers in the Thunderdome.