ORLANDO — Jaap Stam wasn’t going to come in and immediately fix everything for FC Cincinnati. The club showed in his debut that will take more time.
FC Cincinnati unraveled with the first surrendered goal and fell 4-0 to Columbus Crew SC in the “Hell is Real” derby late Saturday, as the rivals opened MLS is Back Tournament play at ESPN Wide World of Sports in Kissimmee.
Stam was hired in late May as the club’s third MLS head coach in two seasons, and after four months off from games because of COVID-19, FCC was hoping to use this tournament as a fresh start. The Orange and Blue, now 0-3 in 2020, instead showed signs of the same struggles that left them the worst team in the league last year. They’ll be looking to bounce back Thursday in another Group E game against Atlanta United, a team that beat them 2-1 in their last game before the layoff March 7.
The three group stage games in the World Cup-style tournament count toward the regular-season standings.
Here are three takeaways from the match:
1. Promising start quickly forgotten
FC Cincinnati actually looked pretty solid in the first 15 minutes, showing patience in the build-up from the back and stringing together passes to create chances in the attacking third. However, the moment that could have changed the game for FC Cincinnati was one of those scoring opportunities given away.
After Yuya Kubo slipped a diagonal pass through the Columbus back line, Adrien Regattin had an open look in the box in the 12th minute when Crew defender Vito Wormgoor slid to the ground grasping at his ankle. As Crew players pointed to try to stop the play, Regattin hesitated and kicked the ball out of bounds, negating a potential goal opportunity.
“I couldn't see what really happened to the defender,” midfielder Siem de Jong said in a Zoom news conference after the game. “I think Adrien heard something, and he was a bit shocked I think at the moment. I hope it's not too bad for Vito. … In that moment, he (Regattin) decided to do that, and that's his choice and I stand with him in that choice.”
Wormgoor was helped off the field and didn’t return, but the game changed from there. Columbus, instead of giving FCC a corner kick, drove the ball to the other end of the field and the Orange and Blue couldn’t seem to move back into the attack much after that. In the 27th minute, Columbus scored the first of two goals in a three-minute span and the dagger came with another strike early in the second half.
“We had a few key moments to attack, and of course, the first goal for us would have helped us a lot, and I think you can see their first goal helped them a lot, so in these circumstances it's really important scoring the first goal,” de Jong said. “It gives you a chance to sit back a bit, and you can see we had to come out of it and we gave more space away and that created the gaps.”
2. Slow or no response
The Crew’s first goal came on a free kick which star midfielder Lucas Zelerayan curved around FC Cincinnati’s wall and into the top right corner from just outside the penalty box. The shot, awarded after Frankie Amaya came from behind to cause a foul, kissed the post and went right in, well beyond even goalie Przemyslaw Tyton’s lengthy reach.
Less than three minutes later, the Crew worked the ball around Cincinnati midfielder Haris Medunjanin, allowing Youness Mokhtar to send a pass through for Gyasi Zardes, who breezed by right back Saad Abdul-Salaam for an open shot on goal. Zardes sent it far-post to double the lead to 2-0.
There was still plenty of time after that, but FCC was clearly deflated and the Crew went into halftime with a 67 percent possession rate and the Orange and Blue dragging. Zelerayan and Gyasi teamed up for another goal in the 50th minute with Gyasi volleying in a cross after just barely managing to stay onside waiting for the pass around the penalty spot. Mokhtar finished the scoring 10 minutes later.
“When things are not always going how you want them to be – and it's difficult – and then when you’re conceding, well, there's a lot of disappointment,” Stam said. “… You know I've played games myself as well when you're three-nil up, and then within six minutes you can concede three goals and – that's even with the best teams in Europe. You need to stay positive, and you need to react in a certain way. You're a professional. I think all the players are willing to do that. They're willing to work very hard for it. In a way, I can understand that there's disappointment, but we need to find that switch that even when there's disappointment, we can turn that around and we were willing to go for that.”
3. No excuses, but …
There is no sugar-coating a 4-0 loss in a rivalry game, but it was clear the Crew were the better-prepared team, and they should have been. Columbus greatly improved in the offseason, had a normal preseason this winter and looked more cohesive than a Cincinnati squad still adjusting to yet another new coach.
FCC should theoretically be better than last year with some key additions to the roster this offseason, but still is limited by past decisions that led to such a bad start in MLS. A four-month layoff helped give general manager Gerard Nijkamp time to find a coach to replace Ron Jans – who agreed to resign in February, 12 days before the start of the season, because of the use of a racial slur. However, Stam only arrived June 16 and with less than a month to prepare for his first game, there were limitations to what he could achieve in such a short time.
Stam’s tendency to want to play the ball forward more than the team did under Jans was evident in the first 15 minutes, but old habits returned and the Orange and Blue fell back on their heels. Spacing on defense and within the midfield was a familiar struggle. Injuries to forward Jurgen Locadia, center back Maikel van der Werff and winger Joe Gyau didn’t help. The game also didn’t start until 11:20 p.m. because of lightning delaying the first game of the night between Atlanta and New York Red Bulls.
“It’s always tough,” Abdul-Salaam said. “Especially going in after a long period of time, coming into the bubble, getting used to situations, circumstances, the game was delayed, and at the end of the day we are still getting used to each other. We are still trying. We are still learning. So, I’ll go back again and say it’s a learning experience. We have to build on it. We have to learn, and moving forward we are going to do better each game. Sometimes you don’t get the result … but as a team you have to stick together and continue moving forward.”