Current players have big opportunity as FC Cincinnati joins MLS

FC Cincinnati’s Corben Bone, left, and Aodhan Quinn celebrate Bone’s goal during their 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup semifinal game against New York Red Bulls Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017 at Nippert Stadium on the University of Cincinnati Campus in Cincinnati. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF
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FC Cincinnati’s Corben Bone, left, and Aodhan Quinn celebrate Bone’s goal during their 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup semifinal game against New York Red Bulls Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017 at Nippert Stadium on the University of Cincinnati Campus in Cincinnati. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Center back Forrest Lasso said earlier this season that every lower division player in the United States wanted to play for FC Cincinnati and experience the support of the 20,000-plus fans that pack Nippert Stadium for home games.

Now, after the club was awarded an invitation into Major League Soccer to begin play next season, the carrot grows even bigger for both current and potential future players.

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FC Cincinnati coach Alan Koch said that doesn’t necessarily mean more pressure for his players, as they try to prove they too belong in MLS, but it does mean opposing players will want to play their best games in front of the Orange and Blue staff.

“We had a very constructive chat with the guys this morning, and they were all aware obviously of what was going to transpire and really just discuss moving forward what that means,” FC Cincinnati coach Alan Koch said. “They have a step ahead of everybody else. They play for FC Cincinnati. They are FC Cincinnati players, and they already have the best chance possible to join the squad on our MLS roster, so it’s exciting to go to work with them every single day. On the flip side, the target on every single player’s back just became a lot bigger because every team we play against wants to get their jobs. The cloud and uncertainty is gone but the target on their back just became a lot bigger.”

The excitement surrounding FC Cincinnati since its record-breaking inaugural season in 2016 has helped draw some of the best lower-division players to the Queen City, and the club will begin its roster-building from within.

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Most of the 30-player roster will come from the expansion draft and Super Draft processes, as well as free agent signings.

The majority of players on the team now are under one-year contracts, as only one multi-year deal was publicized during this past offseason’s signings and acquisitions. That was awarded to midfielder Nazmi Albadawi, a former North American Soccer League Best XI player with USL newcomer North Carolina FC.

If the chance to try to win a USL trophy in front of some of the biggest crowds in the country isn’t enough motivation for a player, a chance to play in MLS should be.

“In many respects it became a lot easier today,” Koch said. “I think the cloud that has hovered over our players every day for the last six months now is finally gone. There is no uncertainty. We know this club is in MLS. We know this club is in MLS, we know this club is in MLS in 2019. Now, it gives the players a carrot to show what they can do to earn a spot on that roster.”

FCC statistically is off to its best start in club history, sitting in second place at 6-3-2 after a loss to Louisville City on Saturday dropped the Orange and Blue from the top of the table.

Tuesday’s announcement should only help the team grow more competitive.

“Players signed here because of the incredible fan support, because of the great ownership, because of the world-class management, because you’re playing in a facility with 25,000 fans every night,” broadcaster Tommy Gelehrter, the “Voice of FC Cincinnati,” said. “If I’m an athlete, I’m working hard every day to make the team. It doesn’t matter what level it’s at, I want to be part of this club, and that’s why they’ve been able to build this club the way they have. This announcement should propel them even further than the great start they’ve already seen to start the year. It should be an exciting summer as we build toward next season.”