One of the many peculiarities of soccer is that whenever you happen upon a day where weather is dreadful — think 45º F and driving rain — just about everyone you talk to will describe it as “this is a great day for soccer!” If not that saying specifically, a variation of it will likely fill its place — “now this is soccer weather” or “this is weather made for soccer”.
Newsflash: nobody actually likes playing in that kind of weather.
And predictably, I heard that common colloquialism uttered no less than a dozen times in the several hours I spent out taking in the action at FC Cincinnati’s open tryouts last Saturday.
A dreary, wet and cold Cincinnati greeted myself, a handful of other journalists, and the 127 players who made their way out to UC to see if they could earn a spot on the USL side’s maiden roster. Though I stood huddled under a tent at one end of the pitch, trying my best to minimize the amount of rain sprayed on me by the frequent gusts of wind, I was also counting my lucky stars. I had a proposal to participate in portions of the tryout with a GoPro strapped to me rejected due to liability concerns. No part of me wanted to be out playing in that mess, even if it would have made for some awesome content.
As coach John Harkes and his staff made their way over for the post-tryout media session under the tent — his clothing soaked and clearly a bit frozen — I asked if this reminded him of his time playing in England. “This is colder,” he replied, inciting some chuckles from the gathered crowd.
However, the nasty weather did provide the opportunity for Harkes and his staff to evaluate the players in adverse conditions, and the play in the final scrimmage between the top 30-or-so players definitely reflected that. An awkward skip on the turf resulting in a goal, misplaced passes and the occasional slip, all things that the coaching staff was surely took note of.
But that didn’t mean it wasn’t a productive day for the club. While I wasn’t able to get my paws on an official roster for the tryout — though I asked — we were told that there was a diverse mix of players on hand. Domestic based players were in the majority, including a number of Ohio-based hopefuls from schools such as Xavier, Ohio State, Ohio Wesleyan and Oberlin College. Too, international representatives from England, Honduras, Mexico, El Salvador were also in attendance. And at least in my humble opinion, the players on hand at the end of the day was easily one the best collectives of talent I’ve seen on a soccer field in Cincinnati in a long time.
“We were very happy with the level of play today. From the competition side of things, it’s been nothing but positive responses from a bunch of the players. There was a lot of quality.”
How many of those players who risked the miserable weather will actually be around come the March kickoff? That wasn’t something Harkes or President Jeff Berding were willing to commit a hard number to, but when pressed, they didn’t think it would be unreasonable 3 or 4 players being kept around for next season. A secondary tryout — perhaps invite only — could potentially be in the cards, too.
What we do know is that none of the players on hand were players that Harkes or his staff had scouted on their recent trip to England and Spain. However, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications, Gary De Jesus, did admit that the team has already submitted a handful of contracts to the league office for approval — and that at least one of those was an international player scouted during that trip. The expectation was that, once they’re approved, there should be some announcements shortly after the Thanksgiving holiday.
However, Berding did tell us is that FC Cincinnati wouldn’t be shy with the pocketbook when it came to filling out the rest of the roster. He expects the team to be in the “top three” in USL in 2016 with respect to payroll.
One other route for player acquisition was also discussed, and that was whether or not the team would be partnering with an MLS club for the 2016 season. The last time I spoke with the team in October, the FCC had changed its previously stated desire to remain fully independent. At the time though, the club weren’t willing to discuss which of the “multiple” MLS clubs they had held discussions with.
At the tryout I was far more direct with my line of questioning, asking whether Columbus Crew SC — currently without a league-mandated USL affiliate for 2016 after Austin announced a year’s hiatus — was or was not among the teams with which they had discussed an affiliation. Harkes quickly changed the subject; I’ll allow you to read between the lines as you please. That said, they do expect to have the details between themselves and whatever MLS club they affiliate with ironed out within “the next four to six weeks”.
As should be expected, some other tasty nuggets of information were also revealed during the time speaking with the team.
Chief among those is that the club have put on a request for proposals for broadcasting the team’s games. That RFP was delivered all of the local TV stations, as well as Fox Sports Ohio and Time Warner Cable Sports Channel, too. No word was provided on who the team will use for match commentary — I might know a person or two who would be more than capable of filling the role, should the team still be looking.
The club also shared further information on where they currently stand with season tickets. As first reported by good friend Chad Hollingsworth of Scratching the Pitch, Berding mentioned the club are currently hovering around the 4000 mark, still a good deal shy of their lofty target of 10,000. While the current total is nothing to scoff at, with the 2016 season kickoff just shy of four months off, they’ve got a lot of work ahead of them on that front.
All in all, even if it wasn’t really a “perfect day for soccer”, it was a productive day for both club and fans a like — especially given the horrific conditions. And when the club do finally get around to letting us know who in attendance would be a part of the squad or anyone else for that matter, WSOTP will be there to bring you all of the updates.