FC Cincinnati racing to craft "identity" as tough trip to Atlanta arrives

MILFORD, Ohio – FC Cincinnati’s newly-assembled MLS roster met for the first time just over six weeks ago. Head coach Alan Koch explained on Thursday that his team need time to build their identity.

“We don’t have a complete identity yet because we’ve only played one game,” Koch said. “It’s going to take time to unfold. By the time we have played five or six games, people will have a very clear idea of what our identity is.”

Many expect the MLS newcomers to play a counterattacking style this season. Some have predicted they’ll lean on tall, physical players like Fanendo Adi and Kendall Waston to score goals from set pieces. Koch said that’s not necessarily his approach.

“There are moments when we should be a counterattacking team and if we have players that can do that, great,” he said. “But we don’t want to just be one kind of team, so we have players that can hit teams in transition, but we also have players that are very comfortable keeping possession. We’re comfortable playing in multiple different ways.”

Waston, named Cincinnati’s captain just over a week ago, echoed his coach’s sentiments.

“It depends on the game. It depends on who we play. We go in with different plans and strategies each time,” said the Costa Rican. “For example, against Atlanta this Sunday, we want to avoid their [offensive] potential, and obviously, try to see their weaknesses and penetrate them.”

Greg Garza played for Atlanta United during their first MLS season, and lifted last year’s MLS Cup with the Five Stripes. An expansion veteran, Garza knows that team chemistry doesn’t come easily.

“We’re still getting used to each other. You have 25, 26 guys from different cultures, different places where they’ve played, and you have a few weeks to try to put that together. We’re still trying to implement the philosophy that Alan wants us to play,” he said. “The ideas are definitely there. Now the focus is to put those things on the field as quickly as possible.”

How fast FCC’s on-field chemistry comes together remains to be seen. Alan Koch said he won’t be afraid to make changes along the way if things don’t go well.

“I’ve shown we weren’t afraid to change things up during preseason,” said the head coach. “If something’s not working, we’ll change it. That goes case-by-case for individual players and it goes for our entire approach as a team.”

A difficult test awaits MLS’s debutants on Sunday in Atlanta (5 pm ET | ESPN, TSN4 — Full TV & streaming info), though they enter that match with reinforcements. Cincinnati added US men's national team midfielder Kenny Saief to the squad on Wednesday. Additionally, Garza, who has been injured since the January USMNT camp, is available for selection against his former team.

“It will be very emotional on a personal and professional level,” said Garza about his return to Atlanta. “I created a second home there. The page does have to turn pretty quickly, though. I did get traded about two days after we lifted that cup. That’s how this sport goes. You’re used to moving around and getting acclimated. As long as my family’s happy, that’s what makes me happy. So, we’re getting acclimated to Cincinnati and hoping for the best for Cincinnati this Sunday.”