Much, Much Better
FC Cincinnati was finally able to dig their heels in and grind out a result on Thursday morning as they beat Atlanta United 1-0. Yes, Atlanta had a man sent off in the 23rd minute. Yes, it wasn't the prettiest soccer you've ever seen. And yes, 1-0 isn't astonishing. But this performance is exactly what was needed.
Somewhere between Charlie Hatch saying this was a coaching masterclass (it wasn't) and Laurel Pfahler saying the FC Cincinnati plan was to lull Atlanta asleep (it wasn't) is a decent description of how FC Cincinnati was able to pull off this must needed win.
I was very critical of the team for essentially giving up against Columbus. No matter how may times Stam and Njikamp want to say they're in preseason mode, this isn't the preseason. In a tournament that also counts as your regular season, grinding out results is what is important. Losing in style is still losing. And FC Cincinnati finally stopped losing on Thursday.
Much has been made about the struggle between system and substance. And I am firmly on team substance. It is better to win with the players you have than it is to lose playing an aspirational system you hope to one day have the players for. T
But what Stam put out on Thursday is not as divorced from the so-called "Dutch System" as many might believe. In hiring a dutch general manager and now manager, FC Cincinnati has entered into a decades long discussion and debate about footballing systems in the Netherlands. Is 5 at the back anti-Dutch football? Well Dutch coaching legend Louis van Gaal used 5 at the back when managing the Dutch national team in the 2014 World Cup. Is that not Dutch? Now, it wasn't without debate, but the 5-3-2 is essentially a more defensive version of the 4-3-3. And guess what FC Cincinnati needed? A more defensive shape.
Laurel isn't wrong to say FC Cincinnati played a fairly boring game against Atlanta, I can 100% grant her that. But I do think it is what was needed. Even being a man down, Atlanta had some fantastic attacking pieces on the field. And in the few times Cincinnati did try and counter, Atlanta was able to quickly attack the space created in the Cincinnati half. The boring, slow, methodical approach worked.
And while I am praising the coaching decision to focus more on defense when the team is bad at defense, it was not a Masterclass as Charlie "Pravda" Hatch put it. van der Werff gave up a penalty when Barco ran at him, only for a pinky toe to be ruled offside. And Amaya gave away another late foul outside of the box that Cincinnati's opponents yet another shot at an amazing free kick scoring opportunity. The defense held, but it wasn't without fault.
What is exciting about this newfound defensive shape is that it is easy to imagine this being lethal when Cruz and Locadia come back into the lineup. Yes, you'd never know from listening to Taylor Twellman commentate on a nationally broadcasted game, but FC Cincinnati's two best players were hurt and unavailable for the Thursday morning match. Cruz in for Stanko and Locadia in for Reggatin and this could have easily been 3-0 for Cincinnati.
And this same match gave us a moment of brilliance that was Frankie Amaya's first MLS goal. He's quickly becoming the fan-favorite on this team and certainly someone FC Cincinnati can build around for the future or sell off for a hefty profit to further fuel this rebuild. Any match that keeps FC Cincinnati's tournamnet hopes alive, keeps a clean sheet, and gives us a Frankie Amaya goal is a good match.
While it may not be the free-flowing Cruyff era Barcelona we all convinced ourselves we would see, it is a Dutch system that is grounded in the players we have and the needs of the moment. A defense team that is deadly on the counter is a recipe for tournament success. And van Gaal's 5 at the back Dutch national team in 2014? They went on to finish third in the tournament, beating their Brazilian hosts. I think every single one of us would take a third place finish in this tournament.