Stejskal: Adi, Alashe on run with FC Cincinnati ahead of club's MLS move

FC Cincinnati - group photo - Fanendo Adi - Fatai Alashe

Fanendo Adi and Fatai Alashe knew they were arriving at a successful club when they were acquired by FC Cincinnati at the end of July.

Still, they didn’t quite expect this.  

Adi and Alashe, who were traded to FCC from the Portland Timbers and San Jose Earthquakes, respectively, have yet to lose a match in Cincinnati, who will move from USL to MLS next spring. The club have absolutely dominated their final season in the second division. They cruised to the USL regular-season title with a stellar 23-3-8 record and carry a 23-game unbeaten run into Saturday’s USL Cup Playoff quarterfinal matchup against Nashville SC.

They’re doing just as well off the field. Cincinnati broke their own USL record this season with an average attendance of 25,717 at Nippert Stadium, more than double the average attendance of the second-biggest draw in USL and higher than all but three MLS teams so far in 2018.

“I think the vision here is special,” Alashe told on Tuesday. “These guys want to compete with the best of the best in MLS. They’re not just focused on being be the best in USL – they want to be the best going forward.”

This season, Cincinnati have been tops in USL without too much help from Adi or Alashe. Both have rotated in and out of the lineup in the 13 games FCC have played since their arrival. Adi has three goals in four starts and 10 appearances at striker; Alashe has one goal in seven starts at holding midfield.

Their roles have been limited by design. Cincinnati were adamant after trading for both players that they wouldn’t loan either abroad or to an MLS club for the rest of 2018. Part of their rationale was to bolster their 2018 title hopes, but the desire to keep them was driven mainly by a desire for both to get settled in Cincinnati ahead of the hectic winter that will accompany the club’s move to MLS.

They’ve both been given time off to allow them to better adjust to their new home, new team and new league, with Adi mentioning that he and head coach Alan Koch have on several occasions decided for him to skip certain away trips due to poor fields or lackluster environments. Cincinnati’s sizzling form has helped – Koch doesn’t exactly need to shakeup a group that hasn’t lost a game since June.

Both Adi and Alashe are being brought along with an eye on 2019, but their adjustments haven’t been seamless. Both players mentioned getting used to a new style and standard of play in USL as one of their biggest hurdles. Adi had at least one suitor that could’ve kept him in MLS for the remainder of 2018. Sources told shortly after Adi was traded to Cincinnati that the Montreal Impact were interested in adding the Designated Player on loan from FCC for the rest of this season. Remaining in the top-flight was attractive to Adi, but he acknowledged Tuesday that it was the right call to see out 2018 in Cincinnati.

“It certainly took a while, but right now we are very settled,” he told over the phone. “We got our place, got a house, got everything settled. We all knew that it was going to be a long three months for me to be here mentally. At first it was a little bit difficult, but now it’s much better in the sense that the family’s here, we are comfortable, we are getting around the city, getting to know the coaches better and everything, so things are falling into place. I think it was the right decision to stay.”

Now both are fully focused on bringing a USL title to Cincinnati. A championship would be an ideal cap to the club’s three years in USL and the best possible way to build momentum heading into their inaugural season in MLS. FCC enter the postseason as heavy favorites, but USL’s single-elimination format increases the chances of an upset. Their team may be on a league-record unbeaten run, but Adi and Alashe know a USL Cup win is far from guaranteed for a team that has designs on continuing their success in MLS.

“It’s a tough situation, it’s going to be tough depending on the players we bring, but, according to what I know and what I’ve been told, they want to be a very good team, they want to be very successful the first year, they want to be a team that will come in and be able to make playoffs the first year in MLS,” said Adi. “Of course, talk is easy. You have to do the work, turn the words into actions, and that all has to happen. Right now, I’m sure there’s a lot of scouting going on and the coaches know what is right, so for me, I will just be there to help in any way I can. I will try to help the team in any way I can, I will be there, but we just have to be able to come into the season really prepared and ready to go.”