CINCINNATI -- This soccer season hasn’t been easy for FC Cincinnati defender Sem de Wit.
First he contended with a mysterious knee ailment, and then a July trade from the Whitecaps FC 2 -- which led to a midseason transition to the Orange and Blue -- and finally a couple matches in which he felt he didn’t play his best.
The 22-year-old center back said he’s “happy so far” but “can do way better,” and there’s no time like the present as FC Cincinnati heads to Ottawa Fury FC for a second-to-last regular-season match. The teams play at 2 p.m. Sunday in an outing with significant playoff implications for FC Cincinnati.
The Orange and Blue are in sixth place in the United Soccer League Eastern Conference standings, five points out of fourth place (the last perch for a team to host a playoff game) and three points from ninth place (and out of the playoffs entirely). Ottawa is 13th in the standings and out of playoff contention, but it has the ability to complicate things for Alan Koch’s team.
A well-performing de Wit could make a difference. The tenacious defender was the Whitecaps FC 2 player of the year last season, on a team coached by Koch.
“He’s got a bright future ahead of him. He did very, very well for me in Vancouver. I think he’s done well since he’s been here but I still feel that he’s capable of more than our fans have seen yet, which is exciting,” Koch said.
Last season’s success was tinged by an injury that kept de Wit off the pitch for five weeks at this season’s start. It was a strange ailment, he said. He was on a trip to Wales with the Whitecaps’ first team when he awoke with unexpected pain in his right knee.
“I was like, ‘Oh, that’s fine.’ And then it ended up being five weeks out, no walking, nothing, so it was hard. I never found out what it was. It was weird. We did some therapy on it with a shockwave machine and after three sessions it was good,” de Wit said.
He was traded to FC Cincinnati in July. Koch pushed hard for the acquisition because of his familiarity with the 6-foot-1 player, as well as his confidence that de Wit possessed the experience and mental acuity to help the Orange and Blue contend.
De Wit said the midseason move was tricky. His older brother Nick, who played professionally in Holland before blowing out his knee, flew with him from Vancouver to Cincinnati to check out his new digs.
“A transition halfway through the season is tough but I think it is also good. You get to know the guys as you’re coming to their team. But they picked me up pretty well. They’re very nice guys and it makes it easier,” de Wit said.
De Wit comes from an athletic family in the Netherlands. His father, Etienne, played tennis recreationally. His mom, Tabitha, excelled at badminton. Sem, Nick and their younger sister, Bo, gravitated toward soccer.
Sem de Wit debuted with Almere City FC in 2012 when he was just 17 and played four professional seasons in his home country before being picked up in Vancouver. He has started nine of FC Cincinnati’s last 10 matches and enjoyed his time here thus far, from the strong fan support to the new opportunity with Koch.
“Sometimes you do what you have to do for your career and it brought me to a nice city and a great place so I’m happy I’m here,” de Wit said.
De Wit has played a role in the Orange and Blue’s recent run of draws and wins, including a stunning 1-0 defeat at then-second place Charlotte last weekend. The three points were crucial for FC Cincinnati’s postseason bid.
Ottawa hasn’t won since Aug. 12 but may attempt to embrace the role of spoiler Sunday. The Fury lost to FC Cincinnati 3-1 at Nippert Stadium in August, but de Wit said that’s history.
And he isn’t taking another victory for granted.
“It’s a new game and they probably want to beat us more now because we beat them here, 3-1. So that game means nothing for us. It means more for them. They just want revenge,” de Wit said. “We just need to prepare for an absolute battle.”