Mailbag for Aug. 28: Kamo’s upcoming arrival, formation changes and more

Much has happened since last week’s mailbag.

FC Cincinnati signed defensive midfielder Kamohelo Mokotjo and a deal is in the works to bring in 20-year-old winger Alvaro Barrael from Argentina side Velez if the club can secure another international spot. 

On the field, the Orange and Blue drew against D.C. United and then dropped a disappointing 3-0 loss at Chicago, and now there is uncertainty about whether the next match will be played amid player-led protests in professional sports leagues making a stand against racial injustice following the brutal police shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin.

So, I’m finally taking some time to catch up on mail after a busy week-and-a-half…

Matt K: After (Tuesday) night’s loss, do you think it’s time Jaap starts implementing the 4-3-3 to see who fits or does he stick with the 5-3-2 and hope to get more of the success we saw in the MLS is Back Tournament and less of what we saw against Chicago?

I still get the sense that coach Stam wants to blend the use of both systems, and I think that’s probably the best plan of action. The five-back system has gotten more results than not, but switching up even mid-game to a 4-3-3 would allow opportunity to see who really fits in the plans for next year and beyond – it’s clear to me he would prefer the 4-3-3 and a more attack-minded approach than what we’ve seen with the 5-3-2.

FC Cincinnati had great success against Portland starting out in the 5-3-2 (minus the back line being in poor position on the one goal allowed) and then switching to the 4-3-3 to move more into the attack, and the defense looks much more comfortable with a five-back system right now. I was trying to get Stam to discuss this a little more in detail in his press conference Thursday because I think it’s especially relevant with the Columbus Crew match coming up Saturday. My question was whether he still thinks the team could be successful in a 4-3-3 against the Crew now that they’ve had more time together or if the changes since moving to the 5-3-2 after that indicate a better strategy for this team (I worded it differently so it didn’t appear as thought I was trying to get him to tip his hand on his game plan), but I’m going to share some of that in my pre-match notebook, so stay tuned.

Leo: Any update on Allan Cruz?

Well, as soon as I talked Stam into starting Cruz (not really, but he jokingly asked me if I wanted to do that when I asked about his role last week), he injured his knee sliding into his own teammate Tuesday at Chicago. He remained in the game another 10 minutes or so before going down again in the 24th minute and needing subbed off. Siem de Jong – who Cruz replaced at halftime against D.C. United because de Jong had a “knock” – came on for him. 

We did not get a chance to ask about the injury in the postgame press conference, which was a bit rushed because it started late and the team had a flight to catch, but a spokesperson confirmed Thursday that Cruz was doing work to the side and not with the full group. However, he was not listed on the club’s injury report in the game notes for Saturday’s match. Normally injuries are listed as “questionable” or “out” but this time it simply stated that Spencer Richey and Jimmy McLaughlin are “not medically cleared.” 

Mark B.: What do you think is Medunjanin’s future with the team as Kamo’s signing? He seems to fit even less. Another question, when do we think Kamo and Barreal would be able to join or play for FCC?

The 35-year-old Medunjanin expressed some uncertainty about his future in May as he was discussing becoming a father (his wife, Moran, had their baby just last week) and nearing the end of his career. Even he isn’t sure he will be around next year – it sounded from that particular interview he was thinking about retirement but he did say he still believes he has some time still. But in the short-term, his role will certainly be impacted by Mokotjo’s upcoming arrival. The problem for Medunjanin is that FCC needs a No. 6 that is better out of possession than what he can provide, while his strengths lie in his distribution (particularly on long passes) and it’s the same reason Philadelphia Union let his contract expire, if you read up on past comments made by the club’s sporting director. 

That said, I think he still plays a valuable role. He’s been credited as a great mentor to young players, especially for Frankie Amaya in the midfield, and the team will still need him until Mokotjo arrives and even after as it could take some time for Mokotjo to settle in. 

Mokotjo is probably still a few weeks away from being able to join the team as he awaits his work visa and then will have to undergo MLS safety protocols, which require international travelers to quarantine a week before arriving at the team facility for COVID-19 testing. He reportedly was still nursing an injury in early August so it could take a bit to get him up to match fitness, as well.

Regarding Barreal, Cincinnati Enquirer beat reporter Pat Brennan is reporting the deal is complete; however, given there has been no announcement yet (and according to an MLS source, it hasn’t been signed off by the league since an international spot has not been opened yet), he’s even further behind in the process. 

Cory C.: This might be premature until we have a couple of away days but I’m curious how the new travel protocol (same day travel, etc.) is affecting pre-game prep and post-game recovery.

I wrote about this in my post-game story from Tuesday night, so I will go on and answer after just the one away game so far. FC Cincinnati chartered its first flight out of Lunken on Tuesday morning, planning to leave around 10, but because COVID testing results got delayed and then the plane had GPS issues, the team didn’t leave until 11:30 a.m. and arrived about an hour later at 11:38 Central Time. That left less than eight hours before kickoff, and the players still needed to eat and by the time they were done with that, their “rest” time in the hotel (they still use a hotel for the afternoon) was cut down because they also still had their normal day-of-game meeting as well. 

Ideally, that won’t normally be the case but with travel there are always unexpected delays so the club is trying to account for that as much as possible. When the club travels the day before matches in a typical year, the team does a light training session in the away market and has plenty of time to get in meals and rest and still do last-minute game prep without feeling rushed. FCC will do its best to space that all out in one day with the travel, but there’s only so much that can be done with the travel protocols now.

Post-game recovery is something to keep an eye on going forward because that’s harder to tell after one game. It’s such a compact schedule, I would think it benefits them to get right back to their home market to do recovery and regen work the following day at the team facility. 

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