FC Cincinnati hopes to cut out streaky scoring as it moves into 2018 season
Laurel Pfahler | WCPO Contributor
9:04 AM, Feb 23, 2018
CINCINNATI -- Nazmi Albadawi doesn't see why goals can't come in bunches for FC Cincinnati this season.
The new FCC midfielder said he has never seen such a talented group of players assembled together at this level, and he's hoping that makes the offense develop quickly despite major roster turnover during the offseason.
FCC has been streaky with its scoring the past two seasons and fell well short of the 62-goal mark that president and general manager Jeff Berding hoped the club would hit -- a number he felt was necessary to make a championship run.
New York Red Bulls II scored 61 goals en route to the 2016 United Soccer League title, and 2017 champion Louisville City finished with 65. Cincinnati tallied 46 goals last season -- four more than its inaugural campaign -- but only nine players from the 2017 team returned, as coach Alan Koch brought in several top players from the NASL and other leagues during his first full offseason.
"The team we have here is a great team, so the depth in that area is incredible," said Albadawki, a former North Carolina FC player who earned back-to-back North American Soccer League Best XI recognition in 2016 and 2017. "Every attacking position, we have numerous players that can play there that are good. Even the returning players they have are very high-level players, and for me, I'm hoping it will be pretty easy because I'm playing at the highest level I've played at so far, as far as my teammates. No disrespect to my past teammates, but everyone here is so good it makes my job a little easier."
Koch believes the scoring could come from all over the field, especially with the depth of the roster, but Albadawi should have a big part in setting up FCC's attack.
He established an NASL record with 10 assists in 2016 and totaled four goals and six assists over 33 appearances last year, helping North Carolina FC to the championship semifinal.
FCC returned just one true forward from last year in Danni Konig, who tallied 11 goals in 23 appearances after transferring from Oklahoma Energy FC two months into the season.
Leading scorer Djiby Fall finished with 12 goals in 25 league games but did not come back, and Koch brought in four new forwards to replace him, including Emery Welshman, who had 16 goals in 18 appearances with Ligue 1 Ontario side Sigma FC in 2014, and Tomi Ameobi, who amassed 21 goals over four years with FC Edmonton.
Attacking midfielder Emmanuel Ledesma also should factor into the offense after scoring 10 goals in 18 games with the New York Cosmos last year. He played with English Championship club Middlesborough from 2012 to 2015.
"There are lots of options," Koch said. "We wanted to have two good players at every position, and I think we have two good players at every position. I don't think we'll have scoring from just one player this year. I think it will be by committee, but if one person steps up and they go score double-digit goals, then great.
"Nazmi is silky smooth. He's very skilled and very good at creating opportunities. Emmanuel (Ledesma) has a wonderful left foot, so that's exciting to see what he can do with that. We've pushed Corben (Bone) a little bit further up the field so far, so there's a lot of creativity with those players, and we've got guys like Emery and Danni that are both goal-scorers, so there are a lot of different options to how we can play up front."
Koch spent the first month of the preseason rotating players around and trying different combinations, but as the team heads into March, the lineup will start to take shape and players will know better where they stand in upcoming preseason games.
FCC plays USL newcomer Indy Eleven on the road Thursday and at Northern Kentucky University on Tuesday before hosting Nashville SC on March 3 and finishing up with exhibitions against the University of Cincinnati and Sacramento Republic the following week.
The attack at times could be made up of an entirely new group of players compared to last year, but Koch said the ability to develop his own roster for the first time in Cincinnati doesn't mean the returners he brought back move down in the pecking order.
Jimmy McLaughlin, Kenney Walker and Bone are the three midfielders back from last year.
"I like the players we kept," Koch said. "They are very good players, and they fit what we need them to do, and then we've gone out and individually recruited other guys to come in, so I think the level of the group is going to be significantly better. I think part of that is the talent level has increased, but I think also the players are pushing each other. Jimmy McLaughlin, for example, I think he's a fantastic player, and he continues to get better for us every single year but now having other players around him will make him better and just his willingness to get better will make the other players better too. That's the goal when you bring in high-level players."
Ledesma said the main objective for the players right now is just getting comfortable with one another, but the goals will come as the chemistry builds.
It should help that FCC began its preseason almost three weeks earlier than the past two years and played two games before the club even got its first exhibition in last year. FC Cincinnati tied Major League Soccer's New England Revolution 1-1 and beat the USL Tampa Bay Rowdies 1-0 while training at IMG Academy in Bradenton earlier this month.
"It's just working every day, working hard and getting better," Ledesma said. "We have to get to know each other as a team because there are a lot of new players, and that's the best way to score more goals is to learn more about the other players and get better playing together every day."
Koch doesn't plan on setting a goal for how many times the club needs to score this year, but he is confident FCC will be competitive.
"I know where Jeff was coming from when he said that (62-goal mark), but we won't be saying anything like that this year," Koch said. "I honestly don't care how many goals we score. My job and my goal is to go win games. Whether we win 1-0 or 16-0, it doesn't make any difference. You get three points by scoring one goal more than the opposition, and hopefully we do a lot of that this year."