Two road wins in four days is a great accomplishment for any team, let alone for the formerly last place FC Cincinnati. The Garys not only beat the other cellar dwellers in the Eastern Conference, they looked really good doing it. There’s a lot to be positive about with this team right now. There’s also plenty of room for caution. So let’s play a little good cop, bad cop with The FC right now to try to sort out how we feel about this team. 

Good Cop

You can totally see the vision coming together with this team. A solid defense led by new arrivals Geoff Cameron and Gustavo Vallecilla have been able to keep back-to-back clean sheets. This defense has been able to look competent with four at the back, something that was not happening earlier this year or all of last year. A solidified defense takes the pressure off not just the backline, but the defensive responsibilities of Cruz and Kubo. In the last two matches Kubo in particular has been better about fouling to break up counter-attacks before they can build momentum. Cruz has been able to play to his strengths and is starting to look the 2019 team MVP this team has been missing. And in front of this midfield is an attacking four that has been given free-reign to do whatever they want on attack. Individual moments of brilliance from Acosta, Atanga, and Barreal were just too much to handle for opposing defenses. The 4-3-3, with Acosta pushing way up the from the midfield, isn’t leaking goals and is producing a ton of shots. This is the vision, it’s coming together. 

Bad Cop

While all of the above is true, that doesn’t mean it has the foundations to continue. Relying on individual moments of brilliance in the attack was a Koch-era hallmark of a Cincinnati team. You’ll remember how that ended. Cruz and Kubo are really good together, but this team is about to go a month without Cruz. That’s not really Stam’s fault, but it sure is Nijkamp’s, since there doesn’t seem to be an adequate replacement for what Cruz does on this roster. Mokotjo and Medunjanin don’t seem like the players for this system, and yet Mokotjo was brought in during the middle of last year to be a part of Stam’s system. It’s possible Stanko is given a run in the midfield, but this whole setup feels like an unforced error on the roster builders.

Which speaking of, Brenner is not looking good in this setup. He shows flashes, but the way this team is playing would do well to replace him with a more dynamic striker. But that’s not a thing you should be able to say about a league record signing! You’re left to wonder if Vazquez couldn’t be more productive up top instead of Brenner, and that thought at least passes the smell test right now. It should’t. 

Good Cop 

Yes, Cruz and Matarrita’s absences here are going to hurt, but that’s exactly why Castillo was brought in. And, you’ll have noticed, Castillo didn’t look terrible against Colorado. Ok yes a lot of counter attacks from Colorado were down the wings, punishing FCC with their fullbacks, but that happens to lots of teams, that’s why Colorado were looking like title contenders early in the season.

Speaking of the roster builders, they have a transfer window and some room to make some moves. Consider the following: 

  • Locadia’s loan ending frees up an international roster spot and a DP spot
  • Kovacevic’s loan ending (please?) will free up an international roster spot and senior roster spot
  • Harris’s injury opens up an international roster spot 
  • Van der Werff and Mokotjo could potentially be transferred out
  • Vermeer has looked good enough to potentially shop Tyton around

Replace Locadia with a DP midfielder, replace van Der Werff with a domestic centerback, and you have a little room to make a solid depth signing on the backline or, and I cannot believe I’m seriously suggesting this, bring in another young attacker. The opportunity is there to not only move out some bad contracts, but to provide this team with the reinforcements needed to push for the playoffs. Locadia was a fan favorite and hustled, but he wasn’t terribly effective. Replace him with an effective starting midfielder and this team can really hum. 

Bad Cop 

Sure, those moves look good on paper, but let’s remember who signed those bad contracts in the first place. And let’s remember who signed Locadia and Brenner and their woeful goal tallies. I don’t want to be the one worrying about Carl and Meg’s pocketbooks, but they’re going to stop giving Nijkamp a blank check if he can’t sign an attacker who can produce goals. Acosta, given his nutmegging-above-all-else style of play, has been a good DP. And that might be the only decent DP signing The FC has made in MLS. That’s not good at all. 

This probably should have been said much earlier, but this momentum is coming off the back of beat two of the worst teams in MLS. Yes, it’s good to know there are teams worse than FCC out there, but we were a disallowed offside goal away from this entire fanbase calling for Stam’s head. Let’s not pretend like this is a great team until they can beat at least an average team. Even Nijkamp was’t sure this was a playoff caliber roster a week ago.

Good Cop

Yes, Toronto and Chicago aren't great teams, though Chicago did just draw with Philly, but you can only play who’s on the schedule and they did exactly what was asked of them. Stam made smart tactical decisions and saw out wins that have been hard to come by up until now. There’s an identity forming with this team and the blueprint looks like it can be successful. A good midfield signing and Cincinnati could very well go out there and out-talent teams in MLS. And isn’t that how it’s done in Europe and the rest of the world? Spend money, bring in talent, beat other teams with talented players. Salary caps make you spend in weird ways, but these last two matches really made it look like FCC was getting some bang for their buck in the talent department. 

As for recruiting more talent? Nijkamp might not have hit it out of the park with some of his singings but let’s not pretend he can’t scout. Barreal and Vallecilla have been revelations. Kubo has been a real workhorse for this team. Atanga seems to have found his footing and looking more and more dangerous. For all the critics of Nijkamp saying he can’t navigate MLS’s weird rules, he managed to bring back Acosta to the league and that has looked like a bargain of a deal. Beating the two worst teams in the league might not be that big of deal for a team with hopes of making the playoffs, but it is necessary. And the groundwork was laid during these matches for a successful game plan going forward. Lord help this league if/when Brenner finds his form.