CINCINNATI — FC Cincinnati players and coaches have talked about having something to prove, coming into Major League Soccer as an expansion team many outsiders are doubting.
The club’s 4-1 loss at Seattle Sounders FC on Saturday in its MLS debut just seemed to verify the thought Cincinnati isn’t ready for the big leagues, but the Orange and Blue don’t view it that way.
This week, they say, just provides another opportunity for improvement. FCC travels to play 2018 MLS Cup champion Atlanta United on Sunday.
“The season is 34 games,” said midfielder Leo Bertone, who scored the lone goal for FCC on a volley from outside the box in the 13th minute. “It was one game, and we knew Seattle would be a tough game, but it's 34 games and at the end, you've got to look at it as the first game.”
FCC coach Alan Koch said the preseason simply wasn’t long enough to allow a new club like his time to jell and feel truly prepared regardless of the opponent. Building a team from scratch is a process that will require patience, and a challenging schedule makes that even more difficult to manage.
Seattle has won four U.S. Open Cup championships and an MLS Cup in 2016 during its 10 years in the league.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game,” Koch said Tuesday after the first training session of the week, a nearly two-hour session in 24-degree temperatures that felt much colder with the wind. “That's just a pure factor of the process and where we're at. We digested it, and I think the players have learned from it. We had a good video session before training. We came out here in obviously really adverse conditions and really pushed them, and it's been a positive response. The video session was very constructive, and we saw a fantastic response on the pitch today.”
Koch said there was much to learn from the first game. He just wants to see progress week to week, and eventually the results will come.
“It's about managing the moments,” he said. “I think as good as Seattle were, we feel we gave them a lot of opportunities and we gave them some of the goals they scored. It's about minimizing the opportunities we gave the opposition and capitalizing on chances we create for ourselves.”
Bertone addressed issues on defense Saturday as a lack of communication – almost 40,000 fans filled CenturyLink Field – and allowing too much space.
The Sounders found early opportunities down the right side and took advantage of defensive breakdowns there to score two of their goals. Part of that might have been from a switch to a 4-2-3-1 after six straight preseason games using a three-back system.
“We gave them too much space on that one side,” Bertone said. “We didn’t defend that good over there. They knew they could go there so they hurt us over there. The spaces we gave them we don't want to give to Atlanta this weekend.”
Seattle dominated possession and out shot Cincinnati 24-7. Goalkeeper Przemyslaw Tyton finished with six saves, which was a league high for opening weekend.
Koch said it wasn’t unexpected that the opponent would have more opportunities on offense than FCC, based on how the roster was built around defense. Cincinnati didn’t have the money to spend on big-name attacking players that have made Atlanta and Los Angeles FC successful right away as two of the three other expansion teams to join since 2017.
“I think particularly as we are building something, it's fairly safe to say a lot of teams we play against will create more chances than we do,” Koch said. “When we do create, we have to take them. Obviously, Leo took his chance the other day, but other players have to take those chances too. We obviously want to create more than the opposition, and we will eventually in the long-run be set up for success, but while we are building now in the early stages, I think it's safe to say there will be a lot of games where the teams we play against create more so when we get chances we are going to have to take them.”
Atlanta lost its opener at D.C. United on Saturday, 2-0, and was set to play Monterrey in a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal Wednesday, so both opponents Sunday will be looking to bounce back for their first points of the MLS season. FCC doesn’t expect anything less from the defending champions.
Cincinnati will continue to remain the underdogs in every game until it proves otherwise.
“Everybody has us ranked 24 out of 24, and they should,” Koch said. “We should start out at the bottom. Anybody who thinks we should start any higher than that, that's delusional. We haven't achieved anything yet. So, we will start from the bottom. We will fight and scrap for everything we can to work our way up, but we're going to savor and enjoy every moment as we go through this process.”