CINCINNATI — FC Cincinnati President and General Manager Jeff Berding said the players acquired through the Major League Soccer Expansion Draft will be key pieces to the club moving forward.
Cincinnati made its five picks Tuesday, trading one of them — Vancouver forward Kei Kamara — to Colorado for an international spot, during a live-streamed show from an MLS studio in New York City. FC Cincinnati later used the trade for an international spot to acquire defender Kendall Watson from Vancouver.
The other four players selected include D.C. United forward Darren Mattocks, FC Dallas midfielder Roland Lamah, Houston Dynamo midfielder Eric Alexander and New York Red Bulls defender Hassan Ndam. The expansion draft is a mechanism to help as the club builds its inaugural roster for the jump to MLS next season, but FC Cincinnati could only choose one unprotected player from five different teams among the 18 who did not get players taken in Los Angeles FC’s expansion draft last year.
At the completion of Tuesday’s expansion draft, head coach Alan Koch also announced FC Cincinnati had traded $450,000 in allocation money to Atlanta United for defender Greg Garza, and both Koch and Berding acknowledged in interviews after the draft that other pieces are in the works as well.
“The other four players (drafted) are going to be key parts of FC Cincinnati,” Berding said. “The trade with Kei will allow us to announce before too long another important building block. There are other ways to sign players, so there will be other pieces we will continue to announce that allow us to build a quality roster.”
Mattocks scored 10 goals in 14 starts with 25 appearances overall for D.C. United in 2018. The 28-year-old also has spent time with Portland and began his MLS career with Vancouver Whitecaps, where he was picked second overall in the 2012 SuperDraft.
Lamah, 30, spent the last two seasons with FC Dallas, making 50 starts and 61 appearances over the past two years with 19 goals. A native of Ivory Coast, Lamah played with Europe’s second-tier Swansea City on loan in 2013-14. He primarily plays as a left winger.
A nine-year veteran of the MLS who made 20 starts in 21 appearances last year, Alexander began his career as a third-round pick by FC Dallas in the 2010 SuperDraft. The 30-year-old has 161 starts in 212 MLS appearances overall, including stints with Portland, New York Red Bulls and Montreal Impact.
Ndam, a 20-year-old native of Cameroon, signed with the Red Bulls in 2017 but has spent most of his time with the club’s United Soccer League team, where he made 52 appearances. FC Cincinnati knows him well after he shut down designated player Fanendo Adi, who was acquired from Portland Timbers in July and loaned to the USL squad, in a second-round playoff loss this season.
“(We get) athleticism in one perspective, I think also a good footballer, someone who can allow us to try to play two (up front) at the same time and then a monster who has huge upside,” Koch said. “They all bring different things we are going to need in MLS.”
Garza won the 2018 MLS Cup with Atlanta on Saturday and made 37 appearances over two seasons with the Five Stripes. The 27-year-old joined the club from Liga MX side Club Tijuana.
FC Cincinnati now has 15 players on its roster, which will grow to 28 players, after a fury of announced signings from the team’s USL squad in the two days before the draft. Cincinnati signed defenders Blake Smith and Justin Hoyte, midfielders Nazmi Albadawi and Jimmy McLaughlin and forward Emery Welshman on Monday, as the five join Emmanuel Ledesma, Forrest Lasso and Corben Bone in the jump to MLS.
On Sunday, Cincinnati acquired goalkeeper Spencer Richey in a trade with Vancouver Whitecaps, where he had an option for 2019 after spending this season on loan with FC Cincinnati. FCC already signed forward Fanendo Adi and midfielder Fatai Alashe for 2019 in July and brought them in to finish the 2018 campaign in USL.
“We made a determined effort we were going to bring back a number of our players who have been sort of the core of our club, a couple from Day 1 of our club, proven winners who have literally themselves built the culture of our club, who know our city and love our community, who know Alan and how we want to play and who can be leaders as we start to introduce all these new players,” Berding said when asked about the strategy to keep so many players. “Today was about adding proven, experienced MLS players to bring to the group and start the process of completing the puzzle of all the different pieces and how together we will have a mosaic of a strong-minded, hard-playing, athletic, talented club.”
FCC will continue the roster building process with the waiver draft, which is set for 4 p.m. Wednesday, and the first round of the re-entry draft at 3 p.m. Friday. The waiver draft consists of players who have been waived by clubs and do not meet the minimum years of service requirement for the re-entry draft or free agency. Cincinnati will pick last in both draft events.