Photo provided by FC Cincinnati
When Franko Kovacevic found out he was joining FC Cincinnati on loan from Hoffenheim, it was “a little bit strange” to know he likely would only play one or two games before breaking for the offseason.
Still, the 21-year-old forward made the most of the experience and noted that the one game he played was worth it — even after losing the finale to Inter Miami CF in wild tropical storm conditions. Kovacevic is hoping the short adjustment period he was afforded will pay off this preseason as he tries to prove he can make an impact on the team.
FCC will be using the preseason as a trial period for Kovacevic, who is supposed to be on loan through June. The loan agreement allows for the club to send him back to Germany if he doesn’t show he’s worth the precious senior/international slot on the roster.
“I couldn’t make it here faster because of Coronavirus problems and these things, but yeah, I was a little bit disappointed after the game, because we lost but at the end … I was happy with how I performed,” Kovacevic said. “And yeah, I’m a little bit bigger, but I think I can create a lot of opportunities for my strikers. And also, I can score some goals. I scored it last season with Hoffenheim II. I’m a player who likes to play one-on-one, and I like to play with my feet. And my goal is always to win every game, so I want to do everything to help my teammates better.”
Kovacevic, who is 6-foot-1, joined FCC after two partial seasons with TSG Hoffenheim II (2019-20) and time in his native Croatia’s top-tier with NHK Hajduk Split (2017-19) and NK Rudeš (2019), making 48 career appearances, including 23 starts, and recording seven goals and one assist over four professional seasons.
He played 11 games, including six starts, and scored six goals with TSG Hoffenheim II in the Regionalliga Südwest, which is in the fourth division in Germany, before FCC acquired him on loan with an extension option at the end of the June 30th expiration date.
“When I heard for this (loan), I was very happy because I searched for the league, for the club who is like a step between Bundesliga and (Hoffenheim II) — this step between,” Kovacevic said. “And MLS is growing, it’s a very strong league and I think it quickly will get bigger in Europe also. They started already to respect the MLS much more than before.
“So, yeah. This was a little bit strange (coming at the end of the MLS season), but I was very happy that I have now a place where I can play and where I can show myself and show that I can play on a level like MLS so I was very happy that I could come even for one game because it means a lot for me to perform on that level. Every game on this level will make me better.”
FC Cincinnati general manager Gerard Nijkamp isn’t ready to say he can count on Kovacevic, though. Despite the potential he sees in the young forward, Nijkamp continues to look at other options on the market as two of three forwards on the roster are loanees. He’s been non-committal to keeping Jurgen Locadia as well, particularly with the high transfer fee and a built-in trigger on a purchase option from Brighton.
Nijkamp called Kovacevic “an interesting player” who can create competition for the other forwards. He is primarily a center forward but can play on either wing as well, and coach Jaap Stam called him “lively.”
“You can see that when he’s on the pitch, he gets in certain areas,” Stam said after Kovacevic’s debut. “When he gets the ball, he’s trying to do something with it. When he’s facing forward with a ball and he’s driving forward with the ball you can see that something happens, you can see that the opposition needs to react to it. He gets past players at times. Yeah, of course, sometimes he makes like the wrong decision, but a lot of players do that. So that’s nothing new. And we’re looking for players up front as well as taking initiative and going forward and creating their one-v-ones and taking players on so something happens. … He wants to show himself and I think in a way he did, but of course he can bring more than what we’ve seen from him.”
Although he also believes he has more to show, Kovacevic settled in well in his three weeks in Cincinnati, getting to know some of the players and staff and acclimating to the environment at Mercy Health Training Center before heading back to Croatia for the offseason. He knew Locadia from time they spent together at Hoffenheim, where Locadia was on loan prior to Brighton’s current arrangement with FCC. Kovacevic trained at times with the Hoffenheim first team and lived near Locadia, so the familiar face was helpful upon arriving in Cincinnati.
Kovacevic planned to spend time training with Hajduk to prepare for the MLS preseason, but having off from November until mid-January – or whenever the team reunites amid the uncertainty over the CBA – was going to be a new experience for him.
“In Europe we don’t have this so big difference between season to season, and usually when you have some small break, you have national team, so yeah, it’s a little bit different now,” said Kovacevic, who has spent time with the Croatian youth national team. “But yeah, I’ll work because in in Europe, every player, they took maybe one two weeks off, and then they start to build up. And of course, I’m a young player, so I have things to improve so I work on everything, what I see and what my team says for me to do.”
Kovacevic said there wasn’t necessarily anything specific the club wanted him to work on. FCC expects him to be able to contribute goals and assists, and that is his goal, he said.
The biggest adjustment he noticed between MLS and playing in Europe was the physicality. Players are more aggressive in MLS, but he felt at home in Stam’s system and hopes he gets a chance to be a part of it in 2021.
“I like his vision and the style of football,” Kovacevic said. “He wants to control the game, hold possession and those things would be how we play in Europe. We want to have the ball and play down on the ground, and yeah, because of that, I’m happy. When I come here, he just confirmed everything what he said (in an interview before the loan deal) and he’s helped me a lot. I think the reason I played okay that last game was also because he gave me all the things I need to do in a game and he explained me everything. And after training and before training he was here for me, so yeah, I’m glad that he did this for me. It made it easier.”