Life as a soccer fan has been nothing short of unprecedented. 

With the MLS suspending all soccer related activities around the league for the foreseeable future, we find ourselves in a precarious position. What do we talk about? What are we going to spend our time away from soccer doing and watching? Many questions to ask, however I’ll knock over the first domino for FC Cincinnati supporters to sip on and debate.

Is Kendall Waston the biggest problem for FCC’s backline?

Allow me to preface a couple things right off the bat. Yes, I know there is more than just one problem in the defense. Yes, I know we can’t just replace our captain with another CB and all of our problems will go away. Finally, I am not solely blaming Waston for our lackluster defense that has reared its ugly head from last year in the early stages of the 2020 season.

When looking over film from the opening two games, you can undoubtedly point fingers at anyone along the back four. Garza is staying too high up. Van der Werff has looked pedestrian in vital moments. Deplange isn’t fast enough to play as a wingback all the time.

However, if FC Cincinnati were to replace someone from the backline and see the most change, even if it’s not much, it’s Kendall Waston.

Waston is easily the least technical of the bunch to start. He’s mastered the art of putting in a crunching tackle and clearing the lines, but that can only go so far. 

To be successful in the system that Nijkamp is implementing into the team, the center backs are crucial to building up play out of the back. This means making accurate passes to connect the deep-lying midfielder and/or wingers, staying composed when being pressured in the back, and positioning themselves to cover the fullbacks that are most likely sitting high up the field aiding the attack. 

Something we can all agree on is that Waston is not an efficient passer of the ball. Far too many times have we seen a sloppy pass from Waston out of the back coming from a result of the ball being caught under his foot after being pressured or a scuffed clearance out of bounds when there was time to knock the ball around the back or progress forward with a positive pass. These inconsistencies in his play were relevant last season and haven’t been improved on much this year.

One point that I will concede is that Waston being on the left side of the defense with Greg Garza is exposing him more in 1v1 situations. However, in these situations, Waston has never given out a sense of being comfortable or exuding confidence when found in similar scenarios.

In the season opener against NYRB, Waston was isolated and exposed on a couple occasions. The first of these instances was directly after the Kyle Duncan opener. Van der Werff attempted a pass to the feet of Amaya that was intercepted. The NYRB midfielder slotted a through ball to Royer who put it wide after a sliding shot attempt.

The picture above was seconds after the ball was turned over in the middle of the pitch. If you look at the top of the screen, you’ll see Waston almost in the LB position while Garza is higher up the field.

I 100% agree that a strong argument can be made for Garza’s poor positioning. There is no reason Garza should already be that high up the field when van der Werff had the ball right above the 18-yard box seconds earlier. At the same time, Waston should not be that far out on the left side to fill Garza’s positioning when the ball is still home in the defensive third. Waston’s extended position forces van der Werff to cover both NYRB attackers. In this situation, van der Werff leaned his focus towards Waston’s side, knowing Deplange had some help on the other side. Luckily, the shot was put wide.

10 minutes later in the game, Waston again made a decision that made me scratch my head. This time it actually led to Kaku’s 27th minute doubler. 

Fabian Valot was coming down the left side after NYRB won a Spencer Richey clearance that put Valot through. Waston, being the first defender in this situation, decided against stepping up on Valot to apply pressure. Instead, Waston chose to maintain space between the two and jockey back towards goal, which allowed Valot to pick his place with his pass, and the rest is history. 

Now comes one of my biggest reasons why Waston isn’t suitable to be an every game starter; his athleticism/agility/reactions (whatever word you want to use) is on a sharp decline at this point in his career. Simply put, he isn’t able to be left alone to deal with many of the wingers and strikers in this league. Many times he is sitting back on his heels and gets left in the dust, just like in both of these examples:

FC Cincinnati vs NYRB: Daniel Royer goal

FC Cincinnati vs Atlanta United: Ezequiel Barco assist 

On both occasions, Waston is flat footed and is no match for either winger as they blow by him with little resistance. In Royer’s case, the both center backs were spectating the Red Bulls attacker as he sliced through the box. It wasn’t a good look at all for either one of them, but for Waston, that’s the new norm now. It didn’t even take more than a week for it to be replicated against one of the best attackers in the MLS in Ezequiel Barco. Jockeying backwards, plants both heels in the ground, Barco makes one cut, pass, goal. 

FC Cincinnati is now at a point where they can’t continue to throw out the same lineup and expect things to get better like they were doing last season. It is crystal clear that the defensive issues aren’t close to being patched up. Like I mentioned earlier, you can make a case across the backline as to why that player shouldn’t be starting, but the case for Kendall is the greatest in my eyes.

Nijkamp wants the fullbacks to be in advanced positions this season, which is why I don’t put a lot of the blame on Greg Garza. The biggest case I have against Garza is that he shouldn’t be paired with Waston on the left side because their play styles are very different. 

Maikel van der Werff has spent his whole career in a system that is identical to what is being implemented by the front office, so his place is cemented. I truly believe his play would be cleaned up when paired with a more athletic center back that is used to this modern style of play, hello Tom Pettersson.

Regardless of the defensive changes, I think Frankie Amaya will outperform Haris Medunjanin for the holding midfield spot. That in turn will allow him to hang back and sit with the center backs at times to link up play between the defensive and central third. I see that improving the energy in the back when you have that hunger to come back and play as a fifth defender, something we haven’t seen much in the club’s MLS tenure.

There needs to be more than one change made to get back on the upswing for 2020 when the season resumes, but replacing Waston with Pettersson is one that needs to be made in my eyes. 

Until that time comes, make sure to take precautions in the real world and be safe. Continue to wash your hands, stay home as much as you can, and save some damn toilet paper for other people. You’re not the only one who needs it.