The Major League Soccer Combine is set to begin in just a couple of days in Orlando. The six day event will be where SuperDraft eligible athletes will be making their final cases for MLS roster consideration. The draft itself takes place in Chicago on Friday, January 11th. It will be streaming live on MLSsoccer.com beginning at 12pm ET.
FC Cincinnati will be selecting first in each of five rounds this year, and they recently made a deal with Toronto FC to secure an additional second round selection (30th, overall) which will hopefully give the club an extra touch of quality that they are increasingly in search of as the preseason inches closer with each day.
The side is set to begin preseason competition at IMG Academy and will start the campaign on January, 30th against Montreal Impact. At this exact moment, only 22 of a possible 30 roster spots are accounted for.
When we look at the roster going into the draft, it’s abundantly clear that the club needs to secure a best available attacking option, almost by default at this point.
The current squad of 22 is constructed by:
(in no particular order)
2 Goalkeepers: Tytoń, Richey
8 Defenders: Garza, Waston, Powell, Deplagne, N’Dam, Hoyte, Smith, Lasso.
8 Midfielders: Bertone, Alashi, Ulloa, Alexander, Bone, Ledesma, McGlaughlin, Albadawi.
4 Attackers: Adi, Mattocks, Welshman, Lamah.
Thus far the club hasn’t spared any expense with defenders. Garza, Waston, Powell, and are all tested upper echelon options within the league, but it comes with an extra problem in that each are international team players and will all likely be out at the same time during this year’s Gold Cup which will run from June 15th- July 7th. This line plus Mathieu Deplagne is the best back line they can field, and for better or worse - they all can potentially become unavailable a simultaneously. FCC will need to secure some quality depth. This season may not be all about winning, but it would certainly not serve the club well to lose a good run of form this summer because the backup squad is largely USL quality talent.
The younger USL incumbents Forrest Lasso and Blake Smith certainly deserve their fair chance in the top flight - but it isn’t hard to imagine experienced MLS forwards being a few steps ahead of these guys. If they can’t hang - and a playoff appearance is missed by a few points, this will be magnified.
As much as the defense might need depth - The attack needs actual warm bodies to put uniforms on. At the moment with the four attacking options, only two can really be counted on at this point in time in Adi and Mattocks - and both are exciting to have, but that’s a lot of MLS 2.0 potential in the attack. The team needs more options, as there is a real possibility that they are already down to three.
Roland Lamah was picked up in the expansion draft, and was already due for a contract re-construction in Dallas. To date he is absent from the team’s official roster, and there’s been no club/league official announcement guaranteeing that his intent is to be with the club or a deal is near completion.
This, coupled with the international transfer window currently being open - means that Lamah’s status is fairly questionable. If Lamah becomes cemented into the roster, it will require some level of parity as he’s a specialist on the left side of the pitch. The right side will need something that the current roster doesn’t have in bonafide form.
Too, the club brought back Emery Welshman, who occupies one of the eight coveted league controlled international roster spots. The club has already limited themselves by filling all eight and a supplemental ninth.
If any point in the SuperDraft, transfer market, or otherwise the club opts for another additional international spot, Welshman will be on the first to go list - which doesn’t mean gone forever necessarily, as he may be loaned for a period of time. The club won’t deprive itself of this option though of push comes to shove. There is no shortage of international talent in this draft, or open market.
In the goalminder category - it’s likely that FCC will not be making it a priority to address the fact that they only have two spots filled. After securing the ideal starter Przemysław Tytoń, retaining Spencer Richey for backup, and not officially waving by to an already established Evan Newton. It looks more and more like the club have done their due diligence, explored all other options, and nothing came together organically. Newton is a fine option to round out the GK staff.
Is it obvious what the club will do with this first pick? Not quite.
It is very important to remember that MLS is a melting pot of talent from all over the world. A “pretty good” NCAA athlete will have to look Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Wayne Rooney, and company in the eye and try their best. There’s levels to this game and it is very possible that nobody selected in this draft will see the field. It’s equally possible that they draft a mainstay of the team - see Julian Gressel of Atlanta United.
In fact of the 81 Super Draft picks in 2018 - only 22 saw minutes this year. FC Cincinnati is short on depth in a handful of places, which is to be expected for any expansion team - and the club has kept nine USL level players to cover these holes without starting off their MLS life in the red financially.
So what’s the best strategy? It just happens to be what Alan Koch and company decide to prioritize.
Here’s three options, with varying levels of spice.
The Jalapeńo :
In the next few days, there will be seven players tabbed as “Generation Adidas” eligible which will allow the club to pick them up and the spot would not count against the club’s senior roster or salary cap.
Said Haji from VCU is projected to be one of such players, and is considered to be best overall pick in the midfield. Midfielders can be utilized in so many ways - going after an impressionable youngster with the added financial benefits might be an attractive way to go.
As mentioned, the midfield is already deep and competitive. It would be hard to see Haji, or anyone FCC opts for coming into the season as a perennial starter from the jump.
Seek out, and manufacture a superstar. FC Cincinnati is a MLS team now, and while the immediate needs to be dealt with - the future is not to be ignored. The attack needs depth, and there’s one standout forward who was far and away the best finisher in all of college soccer.
Andre Shinyahiki - Denver