If You're Going Through Hell, Keep Going
With the loss on Friday in Hell is Real, you get the feeling that the FC Cincinnati season is over at the end of August. For the third season in a row. Now fans are forced to watch a metaphorical car wreck through their fingers while hoping to avoid the worst. Oof.
Just because the team’s position in the league is looking more and more nailed on, that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to pin your hopes on.
Here’s what I’m investing my energy into for the rest of the season.
The GM search
Is it an exaggeration to say this is the most important hire in FC Cincinnati history? No, no it is not. The next General Manager will be expected to turn around a young franchise that went from being a juggernaut in the lower divisions to being a laughing stock in the majors. The reputation renovation needed is second only to the need to turn around the product on the field.
But there are some really good pieces on this team to build around. Brenner, Mataritta, Vallecilla, Barreal, Cameron, and Acosta make up the core of a team that can play fluid, entertaining soccer next year. For the first time in The FC’s history there’s a decent amount of depth in the lower reaches of your favorite salary tracker. If the new GM is able to dispose of a few bad contracts, this team could be turned around quickly. A new manager will also be helpful in turning this franchise around.
So what do I want in a GM? Here’s some criteria I’d like to see:
- MLS experience at a non-glamour market
- Has experience bringing in talent from abroad, specifically Latin America
- Has experience with an MLS team that had a productive academy
So with this in mind, let’s look at some of the names floating around MLS that could be General Managers on the move:
So first off, Will Kuntz doesn’t strike me as a fantastic choice. Yes, when you hear LAFC you might think “oh they’re a great team we gotta get that guy!” But let’s dig into that history a bit. LAFC is a new team and does not have a proven history with their academy. LAFC recently purchased/partnered with the Las Vegas Lights to make them something of a hybrid 2 team. But that wasn’t their intention to start which suggests they changed strategies part way through. They also don’t have an established way of introducing academy products into the first team. That lack of experience is worrying.
The other worrying part is LAFC’s transfer business has been pretty bad since joining the league. Yes, before the league they brought in Diego Rossi and Carlos Vela, brilliant. They also Brough in Mark Anthony Kaye from USL which looks like a galaxy brain (no offense intended LAFC) move. But they also are the team that signed Vermeer to that absurd contract that forced them to cut him this year. They also sold Walker Zimmerman to Nashville in what looks like one of the worst moves in recent MLS history. And despite having a reputation for being a team that is willing to spend big on South American talent, they’ve pretty well missed on every new acquisition. To the point now where it’s expected that LAFC is going to blow up their whole roster this offseason. Bob Bradley is in the last year of his contract and doesn’t look like he’s going to sign an extension. That whole franchise looks to be about to blow up, largely because the initial roster has been so poorly managed since they started playing. I’d rather not.
However, Craig Waibel is a name that does check every box. He was the GM of Real Salt Lake before leaving in 2019. In his four years RSL made the playoffs three times and helped develop the academy pipeline to the first team. In fact Homegrown players logged over 10,000 minutes in 2018 and 2019 under Waibel. This is with a franchise that is not known for spending and known for having had one of the worst owners in the league. Let him build what he built in Salt Lake City, but then give him an unlimited budget for 6 players (DPs and U22s) and let’s see how far his vision can go. After leaving Salt Lake he’s spent most of this year in the Seattle front office, and I’m forced to assume he’s learned a trick or two from easily the best run team in the league. Unless Seattle is planning a major shakeup of their front office in the near future and Craig has been promised a promotion, he ought to be within reach for The Orange and Blue.
A very similar profile, but not on that list, is Brian Bliss. Bliss has plenty of experience in the MLS midwest having stints at Columbus and Chicago, including time as Chicago’s interim manager, before heading to Kansas City. For SKC he was brought in to be their Director of Player Personnel and help oversee the “2” team’s development. In 2019 he was promoted to Technical Director and Vice President of Player Personnel. From the SKC website:
“A World Cup and Olympic veteran on the United States Men’s National Team, Bliss oversees Sporting KC player personnel matters while assisting in domestic and international scouting. He also shares a player assessment role for Sporting KC II and the Sporting KC Academy, reporting to Manager and Sporting Director Peter Vermes”.
And there you go. Peter Vermes is the end-all-be-all in SKC. He manages the first team, transfers, and serves as general manager. In other words, Bliss can’t go any higher in the organization unless they ditch Vermes which is extremely unlikely.
SKC is the model organization for an MLS team in the midwest, especially on the field. They have a productive academy, have a history of selling players in Europe, and have spent money on impactful DPs from Latin America. Being able to recruit someone who helped build up that organization is exactly the profile of the ideal candidate for The Gary’s.
The Young Core
If we look at this team, there’s a solid core of players who are 23 years old or younger that are worth getting excited for or we should want to see more out of in order to sort out our roster for next year:
Sunderland, Lundt, Flanagan, Mines, Vallecilla, Bailey, Harris, Barreal, Brenner, Vazquez, Atanga, Scott, and Ordonez.
A few of these names, particularly Flanagan and Mines, will have to show what they got on loan in USL. Beckham Sunderland is also not likely to get a chance to play this year. But the rest of these players should get enough playing time to evaluate them properly. For example, is Zico Bailey so terrible in training that the team has been willing to play three players out of position (Gyau, Hagglund, and Stanko) and bring in a free agent (Duvall) to play his position instead of letting him get a chance? Surely we can at least sub him in for a half to see what he can do?
Now believe me, I’m not in favor of playing the kids just because we should play the kids. But as Grayson pointed out, fresh legs in MLS can be game changers, even if you don’t rate the player as one of the best in the world. With the matches coming hot and fast in October, surely we’ll see more of these players and we can begin to evaluate what we have for 2022.
The Development of Brenner Specifically
Yeah I mentioned Brenner in the last section but he deserves a specific call-out here. Brenner’s continued development and success is a huge factor in determining the future of FC Cincinnati. If he goes on to be a bust, the experience might make FCC ownership gun-shy next time it comes to drop loot on a high ceiling, high floor designated player. But if he’s a hit? Well if he begins to approach his ceiling he’s a $30 million transfer to Europe and FC Cincinnati has enough money to sustain the academy for a decade.
And for the love of all that is good, don’t be a troll about Brenner.
Brenner is 21 years old. He has getting called up for the Brazilian u-17 team. He scored 13 goals in 32 appearances as a teenage for Sao Paulo. What was Brian White doing at 21? Trying to break into the NYRBII team. Yes, he hasn’t scored a whole lot. He won’t be the last striker to have their goal tally held back by playing for a bad team.
FC Cincinnati has Brenner under contract for 5 years. He looks to be finding his form. A 21 year old who has only played for one club in his life left to go to a country where he doesn’t speak the language (but the team does in fact have an interpreter for him specifically, much to Reddit’s chagrin), and during an off-again-on-again pandemic where travel for family might be difficult? Surely we can imagine why he’d have a slow start to the season.
Here's some helpful perspective: Brenner has more MLS goals at 21 than Chris Wondolowski had at 26, and Wondo is the MLS all-time leading goalscorer.
Getting Brenner back on the field and banging in goals is what all of our hopes and dreams should be in right now.