FC Cincinnati have been calling more than their fair share of press conferences in recent weeks, not all of them pleasant. But on Thursday, club GM Gerard Nijkamp could exhale as he sat alongside his new prized signing.
That's when the club unveiled Dutch attacking midfielder Siem de Jong, acquired from Ajax on a free transfer. The 31-year-old has a long, successful history in the Netherlands, breaking through with Ajax in 2007 and returning to the club in recent years. He was deemed surplus to requirements for the Dutch giants, with a splendid collection of young attacking talents at the club, and Nijkamp acted quickly.
"I've been following him a long time, Siem has a great track record," Nijkamp told reporters Thursday. "From that time I've been following him, trying to sign him at PEC Zwolle but that was not possible. Now we have the opportunity, it went quite fast for him to be here now. I know his qualities, what he can bring to the team, especially in the final third."
The club have until next week's roster compliance day to determine whether they will keep de Jong on a Designated Player contract or buy down his charge with allocation money and keep a third roster spot open.
Either way, during a transitional offseason in Ohio, de Jong is yet another key attacking import by Nijkamp and his staff, following Designated Players Jurgen Locadia and Yuya Kubo, as well as winger Adrien Regattin. Additionally up top, the club acquired young forward Brandon Vazquez from Atlanta United.
The question — and it's not an easy one — is how those players fit together. Their natural positions include three center forwards, a right wing and a No. 10, leaving interim head coach Yoann Damet a bit of a puzzle.
Nijkamp has been careful not to speak for his head coaches and former boss Ron Jans, who resigned earlier this week amid an investigation, didn't reveal plans he and his staff had.
It's little more than conjecture, but let's run through the options.
Cincy have played primarily a 4-3-3 this spring, and if that continues, expect de Jong to primarily play as the furthest forward midfielder as often as possible once he settles visa issues that Nijkamp said are expected to keep him out of the Week 1 opener against the New York Red Bulls on Sunday, March 1 (1 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in the US and on DAZN in Canada).
"I'm an attacking midfielder, but one that gets in front of goal," de Jong said. "Linking up midfield and attack but in the final third I'm maybe more of a second striker, trying to be at the end of the play as well."
Kubo had success in Belgium as a second striker at times, andis a versatile forward that can play on both wings as well. With de Jong more than likely sticking as the No. 10, and Regattin featuring most on the right wing throughout his career, that seems to necessitate pushing Kubo or Locadia to the left flank.
Thankfully for Damet, the whole group is versatile. Kubo and Locadia have experience on the left, with Locadia's pace making him a direct threat to run in behind or cut in to shoot. Early indications are it may be Kubo out wide.
It looks solid on paper. Time will tell how the pieces interact between the white lines in MLS.
"It's exciting but at this moment we're still in preseason," Nijkamp said. "I cannot wait, like all of us and especially the supporters, for when Siem can join the team. With all the other signings and the team we had in place, it gives me confidence we're putting the pieces together, hopefully to have a great season."
Locadia and de Jong featured together at PSV for a season, a good start to forming a good partnership in attack, even if de Jong is a bit miffed his friend already took the No. 10 shirt.
"I talked to (Locadia) before I signed," de Jong said. "He said the team was looking good. Gerard told me about the team, new signings and the plan too. I said to Locadia 'you're wearing my number, can I have it?' He didn't want to give it. He's a good guy."