CINCINNATI -- Alan Koch's sudden promotion to FC Cincinnati head coach last February forced him to adjust his coaching style to fit the players he inherited.
He won't use that as an excuse for his club's shortcomings this season, but clearly Koch looks forward to assembling his own roster this time.
Koch got right back to work following FC Cincinnati's first-round playoff exit Oct. 21 and is making the most of his first full offseason to ensure he has the mix of players that best fits his system. He returned last week from a 13-day trip around the globe to recruit players and already has signed a handful of newcomers, including Israeli Maccabi Haifa captain and defender Dekel Keinan and a few more that he said should be announced this week.
"Anytime you go into an environment and you inherit a group, you have to work with that group, so it's completely impossible to impose your whole system, because you've inherited variables," Koch said. "I think it was a combination of working with what we had but also trying to play a certain way I would like to play. The beauty with this offseason is we will be able to implement exactly how we want to play at the start of the season.
"Last year, I felt like we were squeezing everything out of the orange, and I feel we did a good job of that," Koch added. "The beauty now is I'm getting to choose my own orange, and then we can squeeze everything out of that orange, too."
So, how much different will his team look in 2018?
Nine players from this season have re-signed or remain on contract, but even if that number grows and others return, Koch expects to put a squad on the field that can better possess the ball and attack the goal.
FC Cincinnati president and general manager Jeff Berding had hopes for the club to score 62 goals, which would have been one more than 2016 USL champion New York Red Bulls II. However, the Orange and Blue fell short, ranking 14th in the 30-team league with 46 goals.
Koch is accustomed to putting together high-scoring squads and would like to get back to that next season.
"I thought we had a good group of guys, but we just weren't good enough," Koch said. "…The base of our group needs to be significantly better, but we also need to have some true difference-makers within that group.
"At times this year we were more defensive than I would like to be. I hope by elevating our level of play, hopefully we are able to possess the ball a little bit more and hopefully we are more attack-minded."
FC Cincinnati's top two scorers this season were both Koch's recruits.
Djiby Fall, who scored 12 goals in league play and had four game-winners in the U.S. Open Cup semifinal run, signed on when John Harkes was still coach but was a player Koch had followed and endorsed. Danni Konig notched 11 goals in 28 games after the Orange and Blue acquired him in a Koch-orchestrated trade with Oklahoma Energy FC.
Although Konig has re-signed for next season, Fall announced via social media that he would not be back, leaving questions as to who would replace the big target up top.
"We are looking for a target-type player to come in to do up front, but we are also looking for someone more mobile, too," Koch said. "I like to have a lot of different tools to utilize up front."
The addition of Keinan comes as defenders Austin Berry and Harrison Delbridge -- two FC Cincinnati originals -- remain unsigned. FC Cincinnati was continuing discussions with Berry, and plans for Delbridge were expected to be revealed later, according to a team news release Oct. 25.
Koch said one or two more players are expected back, other than the nine that have already been announced as returning.
"Players are deciding what they want to do," he said. "Is it being here, going somewhere else? What do they want from their careers? There are so many different factors."
Regardless, there are at least 12 more spots to fill thanks to FC Cincinnati electing not to re-sign or exercise options for 10 players, Kyle Greig's loan from Vancouver Whitecaps expiring and Paul Nicholson announcing his retirement last week.
Midfielder/forward Jimmy McLaughlin, who will be back for a third season in 2018, said he isn't surprised to see Koch tinkering with the roster so much, especially after seeing so many ups and downs this season.
"Every coach has own philosophies and ideas," McLaughlin said. "Our game strategy changed a bit (under Koch) and I'm sure he is going to be bringing in players that fit the system he wants to play. I'm sure we're going to have a different identity next season, but we've got a full offseason to prepare. It's a club that has had great players since Day 1 and the club has done great bringing in top players from all over the country and all over the world, so I'm sure that will remain the case."
Koch said a look at the types of players he brought in during the 2017 campaign won't necessarily indicate the kind of talent he seeks for his rebuilt roster. Seven players came on board after the season started, including returners Justin Hoyte, Josu Currais, Sem de Wit, Garrett Halfhill and Konig.
"We need to have a good combination of youth and experience coming in," Koch said. "We will make sure we have the right balance. You're only allowed seven international players in the USL, so we will have seven internationals, and the core group of our club will be Americans. We will have a mix of young and old and domestic and international."
Koch's recent trip included domestic travel and abroad. He flew to New York, then to San Francisco and Vancouver before making the 16-hour flight to Israel and finishing up in Ireland for the FAI Cup.
The "whirlwind trip" was worth it, Koch said. He currently has no other travel plans to recruit players but said he will schedule another trip if necessary.
"Those trips are not fun," Koch said. "I think people think they are fun and exotic, but it's go, go, go the whole time. When I go on those trips I'm on a mission. This one proved to be very worthwhile, and hopefully we get all the work done that we're trying to do."