Longing For A Season That Matters
I've been writing about FC Cincinnati since their founding. I've written about the ups and downs of the team, on the field performances and off the field controversies, and I've even written about playoff games if you can remember those. It's not impressive, the team isn't even finished with its 5th season, but a half decade of writing about this team continues to have a familiar theme.
Does this season matter?
It's a question that has come up now for three seasons in a row. And I'm tired of it.
It came up in 2018. The MLS bid was secured in May of that year which meant a majority of the USL season was played knowing the team would be moving on to bigger and better things. Players knew they wouldn't be around for too much longer and the opponents didn't feel as important. Signing Fatai Alashe and Fenando Adi were much more important than the result against the Tampa Bay Rowdies or Pittsburgh Riverhounds.
Then there was 2019, where the theme was absolutely "Happy to be here", this season doesn't matter. There was even a Das Harkes song with the same name. Alexi Lalas complained that we the fans didn't care about the season and were just happy to have been "promoted". FCC started off well enough last year, then put together one of the worst performances MLS has ever seen. The manager was fired, a new GM brought in, Adi and Alashe were now irrelevant. A gut-punch to what was up until that point a model fan-base. The only thing that mattered was being in MLS; hooray I guess.
So 2020 was the start of a season that was supposed to be meaningful. A roster overhaul, a manager that showed promise towards the end of 2019, a Premier League striker, things were looking good! Until Matchday 3 when the entire world went into a lock-down and sports were put on a four month hiatus. Oh, and that new manager from 2019 didn't make it to 2020 because of a number of racist incidents.
This was the season that was supposed to matter, even if it was going to be rough after Ron Jans was allowed to walk, and now with the pandemic it matters even less than the previous two.
It's very difficult to get excited for the team when fans aren't allowed to be a part of the game. The schedules are extremely unbalanced and rolled out in little nugget sized pieces so you can't really be sure when the next match is. Broadcasters are super-imposing ads where there are supposed to be fans and ads where grass is supposed to be. The playoffs are expanded and we're not even sure when they will played. Do 1,500 fans make matches matter? If we play New York Red Bulls any more this season I'm going to be sick.
Throw in there the fact that FCC is struggling. And I mean painfully long goalless streaks, everyone mad at every player, desperate for any and all transfer rumors struggling. The faith in the General Manager to put together a competitive roster is fading fast.
If you're having fun, you're alone.
This half-joke of a season would be difficult to argue in favor of mattering for any team in MLS. But to me, that stings extra hard as an FCC fan.
FC Cincinnati's last season that really mattered, one where you lived and died by the weekly results, was 2017. That feels like a lifetime and a half ago. The Open Cup run was the closest I've been in my life to witnessing a championship win in Cincinnati. The playoffs were heart-breaking. Every result mattered, Louisville was a proper rival, Djiby was banging in goals, it was so, much, fun.
I might need to re-watch "Non-Stop Flight" when it shows up on Netflix or whatever they're doing with it.
But it hits different when we're on our third season in a row where the results don't matter. Maybe next year doesn't matter either since it'll be in the new stadium and we'll have to suffer takes like "It'll take this team time to get used to playing on grass" or some such nonsense. I want next year to matter. And if the results aren't there, it's on the fans to force a change at General Manager. Truly, Njikamp should be on a very hot seat from here on out.
And I'll take this moment to point out, because nobody can stop me, that a system of Promotion and Relegation would really help here. Give me the existential dread that comes with having to go back to USL. Make these matches matter. I want to have a reason to watch San Jose or Miami play so I can root for their demise and not Cincinnati's. I would watch more USL to see who the good teams are that could be joining the following season.
Instead we're stuck with sucking for no reason. Defeats without a purpose. We've already traded away our allocation spot for next year, and if you think the draft will come to our rescue you're following the wrong sport. Being bad doesn't get you a natural rebuild like other sports in the US. Give me relegation or give me apathy. This fan-base doesn't deserve this.
This is a fan-base that deserves a season that matters. A losing season, but one that matters would be an improvement. Which is sad. But that's what it's come to.
But I'll tune in to the next match, tweeting along with everyone else. Like Jonah said on KLR Basement News, blood in - blood out.