CINCINNATI — Shortly after a couple of players complained about FC Cincinnati’s lack of identity on the pitch, interim coach Yoann Damet took charge and gave them what they wanted.
The players executed his possession-based game plan about as well as Damet could have hoped for in his first match at the helm, especially considering he had just three days to prepare after the firing of former head coach Alan Koch. FC Cincinnati earned a 2-1 win over third-place Montreal Impact in Damet’s managing debut on May 11.
But Sunday’s 5-1 drubbing at Orlando City SC showed there is no easy fix right now. FCC (3-8-2) dwells at the bottom of the Eastern Conference table heading into a match Saturday at home against the New York Red Bulls (5-5-2), who have won four of their last five – a stretch that began with a victory over FCC in late April.
“We are in a tough place,” Damet said Tuesday before the first practice of the week. “We know it. The win against Montreal of course was a good thing, but we were still in a tough place. I am looking forward to seeing the reaction on the field. Sometimes you have to go through some of the course, and we have to keep working and moving forward.”
The strange thing Sunday at Orlando was FCC looked nothing like the team that came out and surpassed its season average passing total in one half against Montreal. FCC reverted to sitting back on defense, and that only held up for the first half and a 1-1 score at halftime. Orlando scored three goals in the first 20 minutes of the second half.
Statistics also told a different story from the Montreal match. Orlando had the possession advantage at 61.3 percent, and Cincinnati, while still doing better than the previous average of 200.5 passes per game, finished with 221 fewer passes than the week before.
“The team didn't play the way he wants us to play, from my (view),” said midfielder Kenny Saief, who was one of the players complaining about the need for an identity. “We changed something and performed not exactly the way we trained. But it's OK. It's normal because it's new and we need to be strong together and get out of the situation together and just trust Yoann. This is what we wanted, we needed, and it's up to the team now to show we can perform the way he wants.”
Of course, it was a completely different lineup with midfielders Leonardo Bertone and Fatai Alashe (who subbed on in the second half against Montreal and scored the game winner) and wingers Roland Lamah and Allan Cruz all out with injuries. And FCC had to further adjust when left back Greg Garza went down with an apparent Achilles’ heel injury 10 minutes into the match.
However, that just showed the lack of depth that Koch had glossed over through the first eight games before finally publicly addressing the need for more players.
Defender Mathieu Deplagne said it just seemed like the group against Orlando wasn’t as well-adjusted to the new style of play.
“It takes time,” Deplagne said. “We switched a lot of players between Montreal and Orlando, so we have to fix it every day on the training field. We know it takes time, and maybe the players in Orlando maybe didn't adjust correctly and the way we have to play so it's on us to find the right path.”
Damet cited a few different reasons why the game plan didn’t work as well Sunday as it had against Montreal.
“I think, unfortunately, there were some conditions,” Damet said. “The weather, the heat, was one of them. Greg's injury was also something that happened early in the game, and that changes the dynamic. It's also a process when you want to play, you need to move. You need to be connected. I think we lacked a bit of that. We were a bit disconnected. It's not only about the positioning. It's about the right timing and playing in the right tempo.”
Garza’s injury likely had a big impact, as he seemed to be a catalyst against Montreal, since FCC did much of its attacking on the left side with him coming up from the back line. FCC is winless in games he doesn’t play, and he has missed six full matches because of groin or calf injuries that sidelined him early this season. The Montreal game was his first game back after missing five straight.
FCC lost five in a row during that absence, and Deplagne’s role was affected the most as he moved from right back to cover for Garza in a spot he hasn’t played much in his career.
“Greg is our only left back with a left foot, so he gave us a lot of strength going forward and on the defensive side as well,” captain Kendall Waston said. “He has a lot of experience. We feel really sad for him being injured again. It's a tough time, but now as a group we have to back him up.
“It's not the same when you play right-footed on the left side, so that little bit is going to change, but we are going to continue with the same mentality in trying to win games, however it takes.”
The focus now is just on bouncing back and resuming the way Damet wants to play. He looks forward to seeing how players respond this week.
“It’s most important to improve the way we want to play and what we expect on the field,” he said. “It’s like I told the players: We're going to have results if we play the way we want to play, if we improve tactically, but also the mentality we show on the field.”