It's been a long offseason for FC Cincinnati, who came together for their first team session of the preseason on Monday after playing their last game of the 2020 season way back on November 8.
As is often the case with fresh beginnings that accompanies preseason, the air is filled with optimism.
After two disappointing seasons to start life in MLS, things are looking up for 2021. Jaap Stam, appointed during the league's suspension of play due to the COVID-19 pandemic last year, has his first preseason with the team. They are moving into a state-of-the-art new stadium. The roster he inherited is much improved, with more additions still to come.
“It’s looking good, but we’re not there yet," Stam told media on a virtual press conference. "We still need to work on the roster. It’s promising. What I saw today after the long offseason on the training session, where the players are physically is very well. Day one was very good but it’s only the start.”
The headline to their winter shopping so far is Brazilian forward Brenner, acquired from Sao Paulo in one of the most opulent transfers in MLS history. Expectations are high for the Brazilian youth international. It's not the first time Cincy have had a hugely talented one-time wonderkid arriving under much fanfare.
Last year it was Jurgen Locadia, widely acclaimed as a coup for the Ohio club at the time, though the former Dutch youth international struggled mightily in 2020. His future remains in doubt as he is on loan only until the summer with a hefty purchase option. Some theorized that Brenner's arrival would mark the end of Locadia's time in Cincy, but Stam is looking forward to seeing how the group develops.
“There’s always the possibility of playing certain players together," Stam said. "We assessed the team after last season, what type of players we needed to bring in. We need to find players to fit in the system, but Jurgen is one of them. … Brenner and Locadia can play together.”
Stam has swapped between his preferred 4-3-3 and his secondary 5-3-2 formation. The latter, it's quite obvious that the two forwards could share the starting lineup. The former, Locadia has excelled earlier in his career playing on the left wing as a wide forward, giving Stam more options, including Brandon Vazquez.
“The depth of the roster is very important to us," Stam said. "With all these games, we need to have players who compete with each other within the team to keep pressure on each other. The strikers we have, with Brandon, Locadia and Brenner, there’s a lot of quality there. It makes it very interesting for me to make choices and for the opposition to see who will be playing.”