One of the very first things Gerard Nijkamp and FC Cincinnati spoke about during his first interview about potentially becoming the club's general manager in 2019 was the new stadium the club were building. Since, this stadium has been on the mind of everyone at the club, Nijkamp included, be it in the background or forefront, as it is this weekend.
On Sunday against Inter Miami CF (4 pm ET | FOX, FOX Deportes), that idea becomes a reality as FC Cincinnati will play their first-ever game at TQL Stadium.
The club have trained in their new home this week as they prepare for the game. Nijkamp has been at those sessions, walking around the beautiful new ground, looking around and imaging what it'll be like in a real game.
“It started with a dream, but when it becomes reality, it feels like you’re dreaming again," Nijkamp told MLSsoccer.com. "Is this real? I’m happy we’re able to host fans again, not full but a percentage and hopefully soon it’ll be full. To see our fans again, to see everyone who loves the club— Everything is coming in place. Dreams become reality.”
Of course, the job will not be complete until Cincinnati pick up their form. Their on-field struggles are well-known and well-rehearsed at this point, but it's an inextricable part of the story. Back-to-back last place finishes in their first two years in the league and it's been more of the same this year, with just one point from their three matches.
They took an early 2-0 lead after 12 minutes in their season opener against Nashville SC and have since been outscored 10-0.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself, because I like that to perform," Nijkamp said. "But I’m also long enough in soccer to know there is a moment where you have to provide results to help everyone. That’s something I feel, but I don’t feel that pressure becomes stress. We understand what we are doing, but it’s a high-performance organization I’m working in. Results are important.”
The club aren't bereft of talented players, giving fans some reason for optimism.
Brazilian youth international forward Brenner and attacking midfielder Lucho Acosta highlight the attack, while the likes of Kamohelo Mokotjo, Ronald Matarrita and others make up the core of the defense, which got a boost when the club signed former US international Geoff Cameron this week. New center back Gustavo Vallecilla is available to debut, providing two much-needed reinforcements to an embattled backline. Goalkeeper Kenneth Vermeer was signed after LAFC placed him on waivers, too.
It's up to head coach Jaap Stam to mold the group on the fly and begin picking up points.
“This team is not playing a long time together. Maybe Sunday we’ll have three players debut," Nijkamp said. "It takes time but we’re in the season so we don’t have much time. That’s the situation. I feel 100% confident in the individuals that we brought in, that improved the team and will make us better. ... I believe in this team, Jaap believes in this team.”
The club are hopeful TQL Stadium can be a launching pad to trend in the right direction.
“(The stadium is) a chance to change the momentum in a good way after the last two losses," Nijkamp said. "We want to be competitive, we want to win. In this league, you have to do the job in home games. Those two things have to come together Sunday."