In an already challenging situation, FC Cincinnati head coach Jaap Stam has arguably the toughest task of any coach ahead of the MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando.
Stam was only officially named Cincinnati's head coach on May 21, taking over in the middle of the league's hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He didn't lead his first training session until mid-June, giving him little time to implement his ideas and philosophy onto the club before the return to play. Throw in the fact that he's taking over a Cincinnati side that endured a difficult expansion season that saw them ship a league-record 75 goals in 2019, and Stam has his work cut out for him to get the club to a place where it can make a run at the upcoming tournament.
Speaking in a club-released video from Orlando on Friday, Stam said that he's trying to take a patient approach with the knowledge that imparting his identity is going to take time, but added that he's been pleased with his new players' approach and their willingness to learn.
“We play, of course, in the way that we want everyone to learn and play," Stam said. "You see a lot of moments are going well, but also sometimes making a lot of mistakes as well which is normal. Because we’ve only been working for almost three weeks which is very short to come over here and implement new ideas. And you need to have your time. Normally when you go into a certain way of playing it takes months before you get into the system and into the players’ minds as well. We can’t expect them to do everything right. They’re very eager to learn and they’re willing to learn which is very positive.
“We’re trying to do it as quick as we can, but we need to be realistic. We need to know as well that for us, for the team and for myself coming here, it takes time to eventually get where we want to go.”
With the club getting settled in at the ESPN Wide World of Sports resort in Orlando, Stam said the focus has been adjusting to the elements in what promises to be a hot and humid climate. It's a variable that every team will have to take into account, and Stam said training for Cincinnati has been tailored with that in mind.
“We’re looking at the fitness of the players,” Stam said. “Over here with the humidity we need to get used to that. First time we tried to play 90 minutes or get close to playing 90 minutes of playing football in a friendly game. You want to see how the players are coping with the circumstances over here with the heat and humidity. They find it not easy. It’s tough.”
Cincinnati won't be a trendy pick to win the tournament based on last season, but there's reason to believe that this will be an improved squad. Chief among them is the arrival of forward Jurgen Locadia, who joined the club from English Championship side Brighton & Hove Albion ahead of the season, and scored in his MLS debut against the New York Red Bulls on March 1. If Locadia proves to be the prolific goal-scorer he was brought in to be, Cincinnati's chances in the tournament would improve drastically, which is why Stam said on Friday that he's trying to get the 26-year-old up to fitness as quickly as possible.
“Jurgen came to us. We need to try to get him fit as quick as we can," Staam said. "For him, as well, he’s been out for a while. Then when you have training sessions when you feel a niggle, you have to be careful with that as well. We’ll look at it from day to day and see how it goes.”