CINCINNATI — Fanendo Adi wanted so badly to make a big splash in his return to the starting lineup for FC Cincinnati.
After sitting out for seven games because of an ankle injury, the team’s star striker eased back into play with 37 minutes over the last three matches. But he felt like he had some lost time to make up on May 25, when he stepped onto the field for his first start since March 17.
Adi wasn’t expecting to play the full 90 minutes; however, the game was still scoreless in the 70th minute when he originally thought he might exit, and he mustered up the energy to continue on through the end of the game.
FCC gave up two goals in the final 15 minutes and lost 2-0 to the New York Red Bulls despite a promising performance from Adi.
“I was a little bit surprised, because before the start of the game I already expressed to the medical team that obviously I had not played on the turf a long time, and after the severity of the injury I didn't think I would go 90 minutes,” Adi said Tuesday before the team’s first training session in preparation for today’s game at Colorado.
“I was thinking more like 70 minutes, but they asked me during the 70th minute how I was feeling. Basically, I was good, so they said I could keep going, and if I feel really sore I should let them know. But I felt good and when we went down a goal, I just had the motivation to stay on. It was really important for me to really be out there the full 90.”
Getting back into the starting lineup was a long process for Adi. When he originally injured his ankle in the home opener March 17, the prognosis was a “mild sprain” that he expected to keep him out only two or three games.
As it looked like he might be nearing a return to practice, Adi picked up an OVI charge early in the morning after the team’s game March 31 against Philadelphia. He couldn’t participate in team activities for more than three weeks before Major League Soccer cleared him.
While he was suspended, he underwent a second MRI that revealed what he called a “tender spot” in the back of his ankle, and even after he was cleared physically to resume practicing, Adi still felt soreness after training sessions. He began practicing with the team April 25, the day after the league cleared him from suspension, but didn’t make a game day roster until May 4, when he subbed on for the final 11 minutes at San Jose.
Being able to play the full game three weeks later was a personal victory.
“I've not been out there for a long time now, so to be back and be able to go 90 minutes was a huge achievement for me,” he said. “Obviously, it wasn't the result we wanted, but personally, it was a good step for me.”
Adi was a productive addition to the squad last week. He finished with a game-high six shots, including two on goal that required fantastic saves by Luis Robles. He'd had just two total shots in his first three games before the injury and added two more in his pair of appearances off the bench in May.
The 28-year-old designated player watched those missed opportunities immediately after the game Saturday and again at home, trying to learn from them and see what he could have done better for next time. He’s yet to score a goal this season.
“My resolve is to try to get goals and get myself going for the season,” Adi said. “I'm very sad because I haven't been able to score or get an assist, but I try not to think about it a lot and try to take it as a game, but I just have to keep working and just keep believing in the team and believing in myself and I know the goals are going to come.”
As a striker, Adi knows his main job is to score goals, and with FCC struggling to finish chances this season, that made sitting out all the more difficult. The Orange and Blue have scored a league-worst 11 goals through 14 games.
Adi had been one of the few players publicly criticizing the team’s “lack of identity” under former coach Alan Koch, and when Yoann Damet took charge as interim head coach the week following the San Jose game, Damet immediately gave them what they wanted. FCC is playing a more possession-based attack, which Adi has been working to adjust to while also trying to return to full match fitness.
“It's different,” Adi said. “Obviously, he wants us to play and keep the ball, but every game is different. Every team brings different tactics, so you just have to adapt to the system you are going to play every week because it's not going to be the same. Sometimes we are going to play long, sometimes we are going to try to build out from the back, but as you saw against the Red Bulls, we tried to keep the ball. We know they are a team that presses very high, so you have to manage that differently, but we did a good job. Personally, I was able to get chances and I just need to try to finish them.”
Damet said he was pleased with Adi’s performance but noted the team at times relied on him too much in the air instead of working up the field in the methodical manner he’s been preaching. He insists Cincinnati can play both ways -- utilizing Adi’s ability to hold up the ball as players move into the attack and moving the ball with quick, short passes -- but it’s something they need to continue to work on.
Regardless of how they play, Adi’s teammates are happy to have him back as an option in the attack.
“I think everybody knows Fanendo Adi is a good striker, so after a long period without playing, I think he did a good, good job to help us,” winger Roland Lamah said. “He created a lot of chances. I think he's a good thing for us.”