FC Cincinnati was humbled Saturday evening by ‘Hell is Real’ rivals Columbus Crew in its MLS is Back Tournament opener, ultimately losing 4-0 in Jaap’s Stam managerial debut for Cincinnati.
The Orange and Blue certainly did not experience a ‘new manager bump’, also known as a short-term improvement in results following the appointment of a new head coach, as the team looked progressively worse as the match went on Saturday night.
Stam’s side looked encouraging in the opening 15 minutes of the game by controlling possession and enjoying the best chances to score. The wheels came off when Lucas Zelarayan hit a spectacular free kick in the 27th minute. From there, it was clear Cincinnati’s players dropped their head and lost faith in the game plan.
“We didn’t take our chances and went one goal behind,” said Stam in a post-match press conference. “[Then] we see a little disappointment in our team as well. They look a little frustrated.”
“We were not as accurate in our passing or pressing as we were when it went well. Spaces became big and the opposition took advantage of that. The team found it hard to keep up the good spirit.”
Just three minutes after the first goal the floodgates opened. Darlington Nagbe spun away from midfielder Haris Medunjanin and laid off the ball to Youness Mokhtar. He easily picked out striker Gyasi Zardes for the simple finish. The goal called into question Cincinnati’s completely disjointed backline, as well as the midfield trio that collectively did not look up to the task.
Zardes completed his brace in the second half by placing a left-footed shot that came off of a perfectly executed cross from Zelarayan. Mokhtar scored the night’s final goal to pile on the misery on a play that afforded the entire Crew offense far too much time on the ball.
“After the first goal we struggled and as a team we weren’t sticking together,” Siem de Jong said after the match. “[We were] trying to press and trying to drop as well. We gave them too much space. Those moments as a team we need to learn and build from.”
Stam, a former Manchester United center back and Dutch international, will surely be disappointed with how his team defended in the match. Crew attackers often found themselves in acres of space with halfhearted pressure from Cincinnati defenders who seemed reactive in their defensive assignments.
The match shows how much improvement is needed for a club that allowed 75 goals last season. Cincinnati’s defeat also illustrates the effects of constant turnover at the head coach position. Since 2019, players have tried to absorb the coaching principles of three head coaches and one interim head coach. Additionally, Stam has had less time with his team than any other MLS head coach after signing with the Orange and Blue less than two months ago.
“In the preseason, you want to try certain things out,” said Stam. “In training sessions it’s always different than a real game. These games are good for assessing where we are. It’s just begun.”
“The players need to get fit. We need to learn to play and defend in a certain way. That takes time. Hopefully it can improve very quickly.”
Aside from Cincinnati’s lack of tactical cohesion, perhaps the most troubling development on the pitch was his side’s lack of belief after conceding first. Some teams can bounce back from going behind in a match, but FC Cincy has failed to show it can on a consistent basis.
“We need to find that switch when, even if there’s disappointment, we can turn it around and we are willing to go for that,” said Stam.
Cincinnati has yet to win in either of its three MLS matches in 2020 and next face Atlanta United on July 16th.