CINCINNATI -- FC Cincinnati coach John Harkes said he was up for the challenge of building a roster from scratch, but even he admits he looks forward to the day when his main focus is developing players rather than finding them.
Harkes, a former U.S. men’s national team captain, and assistant coach Ryan Martin, who spent eight seasons on the staff of the Wake Forest men’s soccer team, have been hitting the recruiting trails the past three months since FC Cincinnati was announced as one of the United Soccer League’s 2016 expansion teams.
Both Harkes and general manager Jeff Berding say they are close to signing the club’s first player, and they also hope to find some options from tryouts Nov. 21, but the process is a grind that likely will continue beyond the Feb. 1 start of training. The season begins in March.
“It’s a process in an ever-changing landscape,” Harkes said. “It’s constant tinkering, but we hope for the best. And when it’s done, we’ll be very happy.”
Berding said the roster will max out at 24 players.
Players could come from the college ranks, but ideally most hail from free agency within various professional leagues &ndash such as the USL, a third-tier professional league, or the rival North American Soccer League, which is a second-tier league, or even current or impending Major League Soccer free agents who aren’t getting much playing time.
FC Cincinnati also hopes to find some experienced talent abroad, but USL teams are limited to seven international players on their rosters.
“Your hope is you build a quality roster where your youngest guys don’t have to contribute immediately,” Berding said.
Berding noted the recruiting process includes scouting and evaluating in person and online, using analytics, interviewing coaches, talking with agents and conducting medical reviews – all of which he oversees. FC Cincinnati uses a program called Wyscout to watch video of players all over the world.
Harkes and Martin, a Columbus native, also are using their wide range of contacts to find players, and they recently spent about 10 days in Europe scouting players in Spain and England. Open tryouts Nov. 21 will bring a pool of 90 players to their door, some of whom were invited. Harkes said he has watched the University of Cincinnati and Xavier University men’s teams live, as well.
“The process of picking players is going very well,” Harkes said. “It’s been a very warm reception, and we’ve had very good conversations about what can really be here come March, but also not just in the short term, in the long term as well.”
Harkes has the most input as far as which players FC Cincinnati wants, but Berding has the final say, as he signs the contracts and has to make sure each player fits into the budget and structure that has been established.
Berding declined to specify what the team’s player budget is, but said some will make as little as $1,000-$1,500 a month, while others will make “fairly more than that.” Top-level housing also will be provided by the team at MadMar Flats in Oakley.
“We hired John because he will have a very good sense of the qualities needed to be a good player and have an eye toward bringing in and attracting players to have a quality players,” Berding said. “As the director of soccer, he is working through who he wants on our team. Ultimately, every player on our team is going to be a player John Harkes wants on the team.”
So what kind of players is Harkes looking for? He seems to have a pretty clear picture of how he wants his team to look.
“The pace of the game has gotten faster, which means players have to be more technical and be able to keep the ball under pressure,” Harkes said. “Attacking formation is something we are going to be very, very focused on in the way we get together in a group, but also transitional when we get the defensive shape. It’s going to be a very well-balanced team. We’re going to also have players that are soccer intelligent, that know how to adapt to game situations.”
FC Cincinnati hopes players find the club an attractive option, given the quality staff, housing and facilities at UC’s Nippert Stadium. Berding has no doubts the roster will come together well.
“We’re trying to develop the best roster we can, and we feel confident we are going to have an exciting team that is going to represent Cincinnati very well in our inaugural year,” Berding said.