Alan Koch - FC Cincinnati - Pointing

On Tuesday morning, Alan Koch was dismissed from his post as head coach of FC Cincinnati. First things first, the facts:

  • Koch led FC Cincinnati to a 2-7-2 record in 11 MLS games. He was 35-13-18 in two USL seasons at the helm, winning the 2018 USL Supporters’ Shield.
  • Only two MLS head coaches (not counting interim managers) have shorter tenures than Koch’s 11 games: 1996 Metrostars coach Eddie Firmani (8 games) and Thomas Rongen, who was fired after 10 games in Chivas USA’s 2005 expansion season.
  • Assistant coach Yoann Damet will take over interim duties. At 29 years old, he is the youngest head coach in MLS.

Alright, let’s get to it. Time to answer the questions that matter most.

Why now? 

FC Cincinnati are winless in seven and dry as a bone in front of goal, but the new boys are still just four points out of a playoff spot in the “Who the hell knows?” Eastern Conference. Clearly, all is not lost for 2019. There’s another transfer window come summer and an additional playoff spot up for grabs.

So why cut bait with Koch after just 11 games? Why not give him time to implement his vision? The answer provided by FC Cincinnati president and GM Jeff Berding is that firing his chosen head coach wasn’t about results. OK, so what was it about then?

One word: culture.

Here’s a sampling of Berding’s quotes on the matter. These are not emotional outbursts that Berding said in the heat of the moment and might very well regret. They’re straight out of the press release. They’re calculated. This is professional communication, folks.

“After a series of recent issues and a team culture that had deteriorated, we determined that it’s time to make a change to return a club-centered focus to the team,” Berding said.

My translation: The players aren’t responding to Koch, and that’s not going to change.

We interviewed Koch this preseason on Extratime driven by Continental, focusing on the difficulty of building an expansion team: “Culture is huge, particularly starting in the league,” he said. “I think it’s absolutely vital that we have that culture, that we stay true to it.”

Knowing and doing are different things, apparently. The rumblings out of Cincinnati started during preseason. As winter turned to spring, Koch lost the trust and faith of his players. Because of that, he lost his job.

What now?

Damet takes over until a permanent hire can be made, focusing on, per Berding, “immediately [infusing] the locker room and soccer staff with a positive energy and team approach.”

As you read between the lines there, here’s another banger of a canned quote from Berding:

“We have not come close to maximizing the talent we have in the dressing room this year, nor have we seen a foundation being built that will set us up for success this year and into next year.”

My translation: We have good enough players to compete, but they haven’t been put in position to do so. Koch didn’t establish an identity, and we didn’t have faith he could do so given more time.

Key word: identity, or lack thereof.

Clearly Berding didn’t take too kindly to Koch’s claim that he had, in fact, maximized the talent on the roster and needed more to credibly compete. The quote above is basically a direct reversal of Koch’s words following last Wednesday’s 2-0 loss to the Philadelphia Union.

To be fair to Koch, Cincinnati do need more talent to compete for championships, the club’s stated goal. The roster is not balanced – insert a joke about the glut of defensive midfielders – and the attack hasn’t scored a goal from open play in seven games.

The problem is that Koch had plenty of influence when Berding and technical director Luke Sassano were assembling said roster. Koch wanted Adi, and he got him. FC Cincy signed the USL players he felt were needed to build his culture. He had input on the expansion draft selections, MLS trades and TAM signings who made up the majority of his starting XI. 

Nobody expected FC Cincinnati to be the next Atlanta United or LAFC – the gap in spending is too big – but Berding clearly anticipated this team would have a cohesive approach to build on and guide moves in the summer window as well as a team-first, fight-for-the-crest attitude.

That hadn’t happened – not yet, anyway – so to point the finger at the roster was a bold move by Koch, especially when formations changes were the norm and FCC played 10 different XIs in 11 games.

Designated Player Fanendo Adi came right out and said the team didn’t have an identity after this weekend’s loss to San Jose: “We don’t have an identity yet. Of course, we’re a new team and a bunch of new players but we change formation and, you know, it’s no good.”

Adi also lamented the fact that so many players were being played out of the position: “We can’t play guys out of position and expect them to be excellent in those positions where they don’t play.”

That the DP forward went public with those thoughts ought to tell you something.

What's next?

Find the right head coach to push the club forward. It won’t be easy.

Berding said the right things about taking responsibility during his media access on Tuesday afternoon. He is the president, he made the hire and ultimately success or failure falls on him. This one obviously goes on the failure side of the ledger. Now he’s got a chance to put a mark on the other side.

The Orange and Blue had a tough job from the get-go. They had very little runway to go from USL to MLS. They moved on from Koch because they didn’t believe progress was coming in the short- or long-term. Now Berding must make a hire for the latter, knowing the former can’t be ignored either.

Whoever gets the job will have to integrate himself into the club midseason, quickly establish an identity and help bring some big wins in the summer and winter transfer windows. Not an easy gig, by any means. There are some big names being floated, but are they the right ones?

That’s up to Berding to decide. He’s got to get this one right.