FC Cincinnati brings in two top-division players in hopes of leaving the USL with a title

CINCINNATI -- It was important for FC Cincinnati to get an early jump on building the roster for its inaugural Major League Soccer season in 2019, but the club also wants to leave the United Soccer League with a bang.

In bringing in the first two pieces of the MLS roster to finish out the USL season, FC Cincinnati is putting itself in the best position possible to leave the USL with a title.

The team already leads the USL in points, sitting in first in the Eastern Conference by six points, but the addition of forward Fanendo Adi and midfielder Fatai Alashe on Monday will make Cincinnati even tougher to beat.

FC Cincinnati acquired Adi as its first designated player from MLS side Portland Timbers in exchange for $850,000 in allocation money – league-provided pools of money teams can use to pay down player contracts – and obtained Alashe from the San Jose Earthquakes in exchange for $135,000 in allocation money. Both players will finish the season in the USL with Cincinnati.

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“We've been incredibly resourceful to build up the group we have up until today, and obviously now we are adding to it,” FC Cincinnati coach Alan Koch said. “Now we are preparing ourselves not just for the rest of the season but for next year, too. We say everyday, squeeze the most you can out of your players. We just added two extra pieces to our club today, which is exciting, and we will continue to squeeze the most we can out of our players.”

A 6-foot-4 native of Nigeria, Adi scored 54 goals in 126 games over four-plus seasons with the Timbers, including three goals in 14 appearances this year.

Portland’s second-highest paid player, Adi struggled some under new coach Giovanni Savarese and hasn’t started a game since June 9, but FCC hopes a fresh start will bring him back to the level he was at when he posted two 16-goal seasons and one 10-goal campaign for the Timbers.

“It’s very emotional,” Adi said. “I’ve been there four years, and I left a legacy there to start something new. It’s beautiful but some beautiful things have to come to an end and I’m ready for this next chapter. It's going to be, I think, even more beautiful.”

San Jose selected Alashe with the fourth overall pick in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft after a four-year career at Michigan State. He made 85 appearances with 69 starts over three-plus seasons for the Earthquakes, scoring five goals and adding three assists, and he was a regular on the U.S. Under-23 National Team during its last cycle ahead of the 2016 Olympic Games. In 2018, Alashe made 12 appearances – including two starts – for San Jose.

“For me it’s just a good opportunity to start something new and be part of something special going on in this city,” Alashe said. “I could see it Day 1 when I got here. … (For FC Cincinnati) to bring us in here to be one of the first pieces is really humbling.”

It’s humbling for both players to be joining a USL team when they might have been able to go elsewhere to finish the season, but Adi said they don’t view themselves above anyone else on FCC’s current team.

That kind of attitude will help the two players integrate onto a team full of players who have been trying to prove worthy of MLS inclusion all season.

"As long as we feel not above anybody, as long as we take each and every one of us the same, we are going to excel as a team,” Adi said. “Mark my words today, we are going to be a great team. We are going to excel in USL and go into MLS ready to work."

Alashe said he and Adi want to be a part of helping FCC to a trophy this year. Both were impressed with what they learned about the team’s success, as well as the support they’ve earned from the city.

The two practiced lightly with FCC on Monday morning and already feel welcomed by the other players, they both said.

“I think we have a lot of potential,” Alashe said. “Obviously the guys are doing pretty well without the additions, so I think what's important is we bring our quality. We do have to still prove ourselves. We do have to earn a spot on the team, and I think it's just important to show the guys that we're here to help and hopefully we can find a way to win some trophies.”

A trophy was what FC Cincinnati president and general manager Jeff Berding has had in mind from day one. He said Monday’s player signings are consistent with the three pillars the club was built on: being a winning team, a family-friendly club and a franchise visible in the community.

“We want to win, not just for the guys in the locker room and the staff and the owners,” Berding said. “We want to win for this city. This city is hungry for that kind of success. We were so thrilled with what happened May 29 on Fountain Square, we want to have another party on Fountain Square, and that's going to drive us every single day.”

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Koch said FCC isn’t trying to send any messages to MLS or the USL by bringing in two top-division players to finish this season, but the move was comparable to watching several “2” teams bring MLS players down from their parent clubs every time they face Cincinnati.

Their inclusion on the USL roster doesn’t guarantee anything, he said, but adding two more quality players certainly helps strengthen the team overall. FCC faces fellow MLS expansion franchise Nashville SC on Saturday, but Koch has no timetable yet for when his two new players will make their debuts.

FCC is expected to add one more player in the current transfer window, which ends Aug. 10.

“We've had a huge target on our backs since Day 1 this season, and as we've had success on the field, that target has gotten bigger and bigger, and it will probably get bigger today, too,” Koch said. “We know the rest of the year is not going to be easy. You know anything can happen in 90 minutes. There are no guarantees. You can sign your players in the middle of the season, you can sign them in the beginning, but at the end of the day, you've got to go out on the pitch and get results. We are just excited to add two good players, two good people.”

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