CINCINNATI -- If athletes are more likely to change up their pre-game preparations when things aren't going well, FC Cincinnati just might be the most routine-laden team in the United Soccer League.
FCC players don't necessarily have any superstitions tied to their 18-game unbeaten streak, but defender Forrest Lasso said every member of the team probably has his own ritual preparation before games.
The evidence suggests they're working just fine. FCC heads into Saturday's game at Penn FC on a seven-game winning streak and closing in on the USL regular-season title, which could come as early as Wednesday at Richmond.
"Everyone has their own little things," Lasso said. "I think whether you're superstitious or traditional or routine or just have habits, whatever it is, the biggest thing is for each player individually to have the right state of mind. Whatever makes you the most relaxed, makes you the most happy, makes you the most comfortable, is usually what they go with. Maybe someone goes to McDonald's and drinks a Coke before a game. If that makes them feel better, they will play better.
"When you lose a game, you are more willing to change things up or mix it up because you want to change the result, and on the contrary, when you are winning, the fewer things you want to change."
Lasso's own routine is relatively simple.
Every evening before a home game, he cooks the same meal: Chicken breast, half a pound of salmon, three or four vegetables, three or four fruits, salad and quinoa with a Pedialyte and glass of milk.
The next morning, on game day, he eats breakfast at Sleepy Bee Cafe with teammates Jimmy McLaughlin and Spencer Richey, then heads home to relax. Four or five hours before kickoff, he has three over-easy eggs, a chicken breast and yogurt with fruits and then a banana at the stadium.
"It's relatively basic, but it's healthy and light, surprisingly with all that food," Lasso said. "My mom always told me when I was younger you had to carb up the night before to play at your highest performance the next day, so I've taken that to heart the past eight or nine years.
"It's kind of like a 'why fix it if it ain't broke?' type deal. It's worked for me in the past, so why change it? It's also a corny metaphor, but your body is kind of like your car. If you want a sports car to perform at its highest ability, you're going to put premium gas in it instead of regular gas. I treat my body the same way. If I want to play 90 minutes of quality soccer, then I need to do everything I can in the days before to make sure I do that."
Lasso said he always listens to the same genre of music while he's cooking his pre-game meals, and he always wears a fun pair of socks to the stadium. As far as he's concerned, looking good is feeling good; feeling good is playing good.
FCC coach Alan Koch said he doesn't have any superstitions or unique routines but also doesn't doubt that his players all have individual ways of preparing centering themselves before games.
FCC leading scorer Emmanuel Ledesma has a pretty intricate pre-game ritual. He believes it brings him good luck.
The Argentinian midfielder gets to the stadium early, says hello to his teammates and coaches, then puts headphones on. His routine includes listening to music while applying heat to his legs, closing his eyes and balancing on one foot. He also drinks coffee or Red Bull to get a caffeine boost.
When he gets on the field, he always steps with his right foot three times and does the sign of the cross to thank God for the opportunity to play the game he loves. He kisses the ball, runs side-to-side in the box and ties his shoes. Then, he's finally ready to go.
During the match, he also kisses the ball before any free kick or corner kick he takes.
"I love the ball," Ledesma said. "She is my best friend. We create a good relationship. I kiss her so she will be nice with me, and it works. It's part of the routine."
Other players take naps the same time every day before a game, go to the same restaurant for meals or watch the same thing on television each time.
Ledesma focuses on what helps him mentally prepare right before a match.
He's had the same routine the past few years, and whether FCC's unbeaten streak continues or comes to an end, he doesn't expect to change what he does. As a likely candidate for the league MVP award, Ledesma probably doesn't need to.
"I try to do every single detail," Ledesma said. "I never change my routine. I try to do the same thing every game. It's something that's lucky for me and keeps my mind calm."