CINCINNATI — With Major League Soccer suspending its season, FC Cincinnati general manager Gerard Nijkamp doesn’t know yet what that will mean for club operations moving forward.
MLS announced Thursday that effective immediately the league will suspend the season 30 days as it continues to assess the impact of COVID-19, but Nijkamp said it is not yet clear whether clubs can proceed with training sessions and how the league plans to make up games.
FC Cincinnati had been preparing for its home opener Saturday against D.C. United. The team still conducted practice Thursday morning; however, Nijkamp briefly interrupted the session to address the players once MLS announced the postponement of games.
“Five minutes ago, we received the official statement of the league that they postponed the league matches for 30 days, and, of course, we have to respect this decision,” Nijkamp said, addressing media at Mercy Health Training Center at the end of the team’s training session. “Public health is the most important thing for all of us. The last few days we spoke intensively with all the stakeholders, public health, the league, what to do with our first home opener. We are now relieved that they made a decision, and we have to see the next hours what the impact is for the team: Can we still continue training sessions here at Mercy Health Training Center. So, now I don't have more information about that.
According to a statement from MLS, the league will provide more information as it is available, including the expected rescheduling of affected games or an altered schedule.
In the meantime, FC Cincinnati announced its academy operations, including training and games, will be altered based on guidance provided from U.S. Soccer and MLS. The FC Cincinnati Foundation “Served by the Pros” charitable event on March 22 will be rescheduled; all scheduled player appearances will be canceled; and the club’s MLS WORKS Greener Goals service projects on April 8 and April 14 will be rescheduled to later dates.
Additionally, the FC Cincinnati downtown shop is adjusting its hours of operations. More information – including ticket policies – about FC Cincinnati’s affected matches will be announced in the near future, according to a team release.
For now, it’s a lot of “wait and see” while clubs seek more information from the league.
“We must keep them (the players) posted in the next hours what will be happening with the training session for tomorrow and the next weeks and how we want to continue training -- is it still possible?” Nijkamp said. “Can we play maybe some friendlies? They are all question marks we have, but at this moment, the message is there and so from there on we can plan and do other things. But key on that, on the message to the players and also to you and to all of us, and also to the stakeholders, the players, the supporters and the sponsors and ownership to tell everyone that it is, of course, sad to say, but the most important thing is our health.”
Nijkamp believes the league will still work to get all the games in, whether that means pushing games later into October or adding more midweek games to the schedule. The finale for FC Cincinnati currently is set for Oct. 4.
The Orange and Blue are still using the University of Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium for home games until the West End stadium opens in 2021. Nijkamp said there could be concern over rescheduling games because of the overlap with UC football but he couldn’t comment further on the topic without more information available.
“It will have impact, but we will play our 17 (home) matches, I think, but that is something I think,” Nijkamp said. “So we will continue hopefully this competition, but for now I also can't see the future so that means I have to be also calm down in my statements and what I want to say. But, from a private point of view, I hope we will continue this competition, and I believe in that, and we will play our 17 home matches so if we cannot play Saturday we will play later this season.”
FC Cincinnati was off to an 0-2 start this season, despite noticeable improvements in the attack, which already has seen all three designated players score goals. The Orange and Blue totaled just 31 goals in 34 matches last year and have three goals in two games so far with Jurgen Locadia, Allan Cruz and Yuya Kubo all finding the back of the net.
The team finally came to full strength this week with recent addition Siem De Jong arriving for his first training session Tuesday after completing his work visa paperwork back home in the Netherlands, where he had continued training with former club Ajax.
Nijkamp also is in the midst of an important coaching search after Ron Jans resigned 12 days before the start of the season amid an investigation regarding his use of a racial slur. Asked if the current situation could impact the search and interview process, Nijkamp said that is not yet on his mind.
“I think, at this moment, the most important thing is our public health,” Nijkamp said. “I spoke also to the players: It's the public health for you as an employee of a club but also your private situation. This concerns all of us, and that's something that is very important at this moment and I don't want to speak about that kind of thing (a coaching search) because it is secondary on public health for all of us.”
The NBA suspended its own season Wednesday night after a Utah Jazz player tested positive for the highly contagious new respiratory illness. Other sports organizations such as the NCAA planned to continue playing — just without fans in the stands.
The Orange and Blue had been excited to face D.C. United on Saturday, players told WCPO Wednesday morning. If the season continues after the 30-day suspension, it will be their last in their original home of Nippert Stadium.
"Nippert is a special place,” midfielder Jimmy McLaughlin said then. “I look forward to a chance to walk into the stadium and hear that crowd again. There’s nothing else like it.”