Notebook: FC Cincy looks to carry momentum into break

FC Cincinnati coach Jaap Stam saw progress two weeks ago in the home opener, but now after the team’s first win, the players are believing it too. Stam said he can see in training sessions that spirits have been lifted.

Now heading into their last match before a three-week layoff from games, the Orange and Blue are hoping to carry that confidence into the break.

Cincinnati (1-3-1, 4 points) hosts the first-place New England Revolution (4-1-2, 14 points) on Saturday at TQL Stadium in front of an expected crowd of about 11,000 fans.

“The approach is still the same — the only thing is and that’s I think for everybody, if you have a long break, after that, you want to go into that break with a good result because that makes the feeling a lot better and makes it yeah, a lot nicer to work as well in that period after that particular game,” Stam said. “But the approach is not going to be different. We’re still like looking at the opposition, we’re still working on tactics for ourselves, but also towards the opposition, looking at the opposition, what they’re trying to do and what we need to do, giving the players a certain feeling. And hopefully, they’re going to be comfortable going into this game as well to perform.”

Last weekend against Montreal, FCC held the opponent under two goals for the first time, coming back for the first time in MLS to win 2-1 at CF Montreal’s temporary home in Fort Lauderdale. Over the last two games, the Orange and Blue have scored four goals, doubling their previous total from the first three games.

FCC totaled 12 goals all of last season, over 23 matches (0.52 goals per game), and already is on pace to score 40 goals in 34 matches this year (1.2 goals per game). Six different players have scored goals, four coming off set pieces.

The defensive improvement not surprisingly corresponds with the insertion of new center backs Geoff Cameron and Gustavo Vallecilla, who made their second appearances last week, and the formation change against Montreal to shift from the 4-3-3 to the 3-5-2, which provided more defensive cover and enabled the outside backs to get more involved in the attack.

Stam said biggest difference the last two weeks for the offense is just that the team actually finished some opportunities and gained some confidence in doing so.

“Every game that we’ve been playing, we’ve been creating opportunities,” Stam said. “It’s going to be a problem if you don’t create opportunities at all, then you need to make changes or then you maybe need to think differently as well. We still create opportunities and we get in front of goal. … If you score these opportunities, then it’s a total different game and it changes everything, also the feeling of the players. And that’s a very important thing.”

Personnel changes …

Stam has made some changes to the lineup the last two games and provided some more insight Thursday into why some players have gone from starting to not even making the gameday roster.

Calvin Harris, for example, started against Miami on May 16, then was subbed out at halftime with Jurgen Locadia replacing him, and the rookie didn’t even make the trip to Fort Lauderdale last weekend. Kamohelo Mokotjo started the first three games and hasn’t played the last two games – not being in the matchday squad May 16 and being an unused sub the following week. Allan Cruz has gotten opportunity instead.

In the case of Harris, there are still some things he needs to improve, Stam said.

“He’s a young guy, he came from college, came into the team,” Stam said. “He’s been doing very well for us and still is doing very well, making progress. You can also see at times that it’s a different way to play when you play in the college games and when you play in the MLS. So certain things that he needs to improve, certain things that he also is already doing quite well. But he still needs to learn, he still needs to make these steps to be consistent in what he’s trying to do. And then there’s also the issue with – well, if you have like a certain depth within your roster, then you need to make choices going into the game. But also, for us as coaches, for me as head coach, (you consider) how you go into that game, the personnel that you maybe need, and also the personnel that you might change, and which player you’re going to be using then, and that’s how you make the choices for your roster for the game as well. So, for Calvin, everything’s fine. He’s a great guy to work with. He’s got a very good attributes, and eventually during the season, you’re going to see that as well, even more. So no worries.”

Stam hasn’t spoken on Mokotjo’s absence and Thursday’s interview session ended before that could be addressed, but he has noted that the same thing happening with Harris can happen with “more experienced players.” Mokotjo got off to a slow start this season, and so did the team. With Allan Cruz and Yuya Kubo playing as holding midfielders, they’ve got more attack-minded players involved, and it seems to be mainly a tactical decision.

This week, there will be more choices to be made as everyone is healthy that is eligible for selection – Franko Kovacevic (hamstring) and Maikel van der Werff (sports hernia) remain on the injury list and out until the next game at least for Kovacevic and July 3 for van der Werff. Tom Pettersson has been medically cleared from the Achilles injury that sidelined him the last two weeks, and everyone else was healthy coming into Friday’s training session.

Scouting the opponent …

New England is second in the Supporters’ Shield standings and first in the Eastern Conference, coming off a pair of wins against Columbus and New York Red Bulls and only owning a loss to Nashville, on the road.

A healthy Carles Gil and the league’s top goalkeeper in Matt Turner, plus some exciting new additions in the attack, have carried Bruce Arena’s team from an eighth-place finish in the East last year (followed by a playoff run to the conference finals) to even greater expectations in 2021, backed by a strong start.

Stam said he’s not sure if that’s the best team FCC will have faced because second-place Orlando, fourth-place Nashville, sixth-place NYCFC also have solid teams and even Montreal still remains above the playoff line.

“You’ve got a good team, also a team that’s been working together for a longer period, maybe one or two new players within the roster,” Stam said. “But a good side with a lot of pace, certain physique, quality of playing as well in the midfield and yeah, experience. So that’s what we’ve seen and we need to deal with that. We play at home, so we also want to show ourselves to the fans again. And that’s we’re looking forward to do that.”

The good news for FCC is the Revs are 4-0 at home but 0-1-2 on the road.

Another interesting side note that may or may not be a storyline is that this marks the first meeting between Arena and Cameron since their relationship soured when the U.S. men’s national team that failed to make the 2018 World Cup. Cameron, who was benched for that fateful qualifying match against Trinidad & Tobago in October 2017, criticized Arena as the reason for that failure in an interview he did with the New York Times, and in response, Arena cited the team’s poor record when Cameron started games.

Both are fierce competitors so it could be an interesting reunion.

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