CINCINNATI — Since FC Cincinnati’s preseason training began one month ago, midfielder Victor Ulloa has slept in his own bed a total of two nights.
It’s his first time playing for someone other than FC Dallas, where he began his professional career in 2011, and so far, it’s been a whirlwind experience but one he’s enjoying, he said.
The club has been on the road for all but six training sessions since players reported for the first practice Jan. 22 at the University of Cincinnati, and those like Ulloa who are new to the city haven’t had much time yet to settle into their new environment.
FCC began the preseason schedule with a trio of friendlies during a two-week stay in Bradenton, Florida, and now is wrapping up with one last game Saturday against the Columbus Crew at the Carolina Challenge Cup in Charleston, S.C. The team, which is 2-1-3, heads home briefly before opening its inaugural Major League Soccer season with two road games -- March 2 at Seattle and March 10 at Atlanta.
"It will take awhile before it feels like our home base, but I’m excited for what’s to come,” Ulloa said. “We didn’t travel much for the preseason in Dallas, other than maybe going away for a week. I don’t know if we could have trained all this time in Cincinnati with all that weather, but it’s something new and it's nice to be away where we can build on team chemistry and get to know each other. That's important for an expansion team, being together 24/7, getting to know each other and at the same time getting a lot of work in on the field, training and getting an idea of what the coaches want to do.”
FC Cincinnati coach Alan Koch said having the first two games on the road will allow the team to continue to work on developing those bonds. The players had at least one night out together in Florida, he said, and while staying in downtown Charleston, there have been opportunities for them to grab coffee together and share meals outside of team-organized activities.
There will be plenty of time for the newcomers to explore Cincinnati later, as the regular season runs through the beginning of October, but in the meantime, the 11 returning players from last year’s United Soccer League roster are helping teammates acclimate.
“We haven’t had much time to get settled, but I’ve had about two weeks in Cincinnati and for me, it was great,” said center back Hassan Ndam, whom FCC acquired from the New York Red Bulls organization during the expansion draft Dec. 11. “A couple guys that were here last year have really helped us out – not just myself but all of us coming from other teams or Europe. They make sure we’re comfortable and don’t have anything else to worry about besides playing soccer."
Ndam arrived in Cincinnati about a week early and had help finding an apartment in Oakley, where many of the returning players live. He keeps a list of their restaurant recommendations in his room and looks forward to going to some of the steakhouses and healthy food options he’s been told to try.
Ulloa, who also was acquired in the expansion draft, found the club’s use of the Sportsology app to be helpful as well. Players are able to sign in with a team email address and find customized information about the club and city, including all the schools in the area for those with kids and recommendations for restaurants, things to do and places to live, with directions included.
According to a team spokesperson, FC Cincinnati worked with the app developers to customize the information that would be most useful to the players as they research the region and try to get settled.
“I used it back home before I arrived so I knew where to go and could learn more about the city and everything,” Ulloa said. "Players and staff have access to it, and it talks about ownership and players and staff, it describes the city and areas that are nice for a night out, neighborhoods to live in. It’s been really helpful."
Ulloa arrived a few days before the players were required to report and immediately began looking at homes to rent based on some of those recommendations. He and his wife looked in different parts of the city and decided on a place in Anderson Township, but couldn’t move in until after the team returned from Florida. FCC left a few days later for Charleston.
That meant Ulloa has been living in hotels for most of the past month. His wife has remained back home in Dallas since preseason began but she arrives in Cincinnati the day the team returns from this final trip. Then, he will start exploring a little more.
“It’s been hectic, but it will be nice to get out of a hotel and have a place to go where I have my own bed,” Ulloa said. “I was in Dallas a very long time, so this is a completely different challenge, a new experience. I've really enjoyed it so far. The group welcomed me with open arms, everyone from the players to the staff to the front office.
“This is a complete change, though, because where I’m from, everything is flat and open, but here it’s like a city in a valley -- uphill, downhill. I can’t image the trees turning green. I’m excited to make Cincinnati my home and get together with my family and explore the cool spots we’ve been told about.”