CINCINNATI — A day after FC Cincinnati fired coach Alan Koch, the players were back to work and ready for a fresh start under interim coach Yoann Damet.
However, two of the team's vocal leaders said Wednesday they were surprised by the change and weren't aware of the “culture issues” president and general manager Jeff Berding cited as the reason for Koch’s firing.
Koch, who guided FCC the last two years in the United Soccer League, was dismissed amid a five-game losing streak — just 11 games into the expansion team’s first Major League Soccer season. It was clear frustration was mounting over the weeks leading up to his exit; however, the players didn’t view that the same way Berding did.
“Culture issues? Um, no, but we are getting it together,” captain Kendall Waston said. “This is the first time so many players are united in this same club. It's the first time we've had this situation. Things happen for a reason. Nobody likes to go through difficult moments, but I think when you go through difficult moments is where you have to be stronger and keep believing in what you have, because I fully believe in this group.”
Waston and forward Fanendo Adi both said the responsibility falls on the players.
“(There’s) not really a culture problem,” Adi said. “It was just we as players being complacent, being too relaxed and too confident. Now to have a different guy who has a different mentality and a different way of approaching the process will be important to see what he's going to bring, but we are looking forward to it.”
When asked how he feels about the change in coach, Adi took a moment before answering in a somber tone. The former Portland Timbers striker was one of the first players FCC signed for the inaugural MLS season when he joined Koch’s team in the USL last July.
“It's tough to talk about it,” Adi said. “Alan is the one that brought all of us together, so that respect was there, he was someone we respect a lot as a coach, a nice man, a communicator. That's just what it is. Obviously, we've had some tough moments, and they assumed it was bad organization. Us players, we are professionals and we get to meet new coaches. That decision was made, and today we have a new hierarchy. Us as players just have to go along with the new staff and try to implement what they want us to do and try to change the course of our season.”
Those are strong words coming from a guy who a few days earlier, fresh off a 1-0 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes, was complaining to media about the team’s lack of identity.
Comments like those (and similar ones made by midfielder Kenny Saief a week earlier) seemed to indicate Koch no longer had the support of the players or their confidence he could turn things around quickly. Adi’s message on Wednesday was a change.
Waston said the players didn’t necessarily believe the shift was necessary.
“I don't think so because that would be like saying the players wanted to fire the coach, and that is not happening with this group,” Waston said. “This group is really honest. We have guys that are willing to win. We don't want any of that negativity in this locker room. Obviously, we are aware of all those situations, and nobody likes (change) like I said before, but it's what happens. So yes, we feel bad, but now we are looking forward to just continue hopefully a successful road.”
The day before the team found out Koch had been dismissed, Waston tweeted a graphic emphasizing his belief in the team.
— Kendall Waston (@kwaston88) May 6, 2019
He wrote, “At times where things do not go our way, there’s several paths people usually choose: 1. Give up, 2. Blame others, 3. Have faith. My choice is option 3. Why? Because I believe in my teammates. I believe that sooner or later honest and steady work will have its reward. I believe in my teammates’ abilities. I believe in the quality of players we have in this group.”
The message was viewed by some on social media as a response to Koch’s recent post-game comments that the team needs more attacking players. FCC hasn’t scored a goal in 521 minutes and has gone since March 24 without a goal from open play.
Asked specifically if that was the intention of his post, Waston said it was just how he and the players feel about the team.
“It was a personal feeling and what my teammates feel as well,” Waston said. “I think we keep believing in what this squad has. From the beginning we saw the quality of players, the unity we are trying to create in this group, so results are not going by our side at this moment, but we still have faith that if we continue working hard, sooner than later they are going to come.”
Whether the change was wanted or necessary, the Orange and Blue did seem energized by Damet’s plan going forward. He will do some things differently as far as the formation and tactical approach, he said Wednesday, but his main focus is ensuring the players are enjoying being on the pitch again.
The 29-year-old Damet had served as an assistant under Koch since 2017 and will be the youngest person to ever coach an MLS team when FCC takes the pitch Saturday against Montreal Impact.
“I think it's going to be exciting,” Adi said. “The guys love him. The whole locker room is behind him, so us players just have to give our best.”