With a shorter-than-usual runway from the second division to the top flight, the USL hotshots have plenty of work to do in the coming months. But just what will be the toughest aspect of their move into MLS?
What is the biggest challenge facing FC Cincinnati ahead of their debut MLS season?
BAER: Setting up the soccer structure. Cincinnati has done a great job building a fanbase and getting the first team in a good place at the USL level but they still have a lot of work to do behind the scenes to get to an MLS level. They have a technical director in Luke Sassano, but have very little else in terms of staff around him. They currently do not have an academy, so bringing somebody to help Sassano set that up will be imperative.
BOEHM: Building a roster that can compete week in, week out in MLS. Like Minnesota, Montreal, Portland and others, FCC's established status as a lower-division club means they'll carry plenty of organizational and cultural nous to MLS. But to survive on the field, they'll need the horses – and they have a small margin for error when it comes to identifying, acquiring and using that talent. It remains to be seen whether coach Alan Koch's defensive-minded approach will be a pro or con in that effort.
COUCH: Week Two. That organization, from the front office to the field, is going to spend eight months putting everything they have into getting ready for – and executing – on Day One. And FC Cincinnati will crush it. But then they'll have another game to play. A whole season's worth, actually.
And I'd bet anything that Tuesday after that first match, the infinite expanse of MLS schedule sprawling out into reality causes more than a few staffers to wonder what they were possibly thinking when they took this on.
This too shall pass, but it takes everyone finding a way forward, for themselves, for the players, and for the fans putting dollars down, ready to cheer just as hard that second, third and 34th time out. Somebody set the reminder and send fancy coffees to that office after opening weekend is in the rearview. They'll need 'em.
DOYLE: The biggest challenge with any team is building the core, and given that, I think the most important thing for Cincy is that they don't make the mistakes Minnesota United made. The Loons undervalued the guys they already had – Christian Ramirez, Miguel Ibarra and Brent Kallman come to mind – while overvaluing subpar imports. That's how you get a defense that sets the record for single-season futility.
If there's one thing we all should've learned from the MNUFC experience, and from the likes of Aaron Long and Sebastien Ibeagha and Mark-Anthony Kaye, it's that there's a ton of talent in the second division, and a lot of it will scale. So if you're FC Cincy, trust the guys who are winning games for you right now. There's your core. Now make sure you kick over every stone in the expansion draft, the waiver draft, the re-entry draft, the SuperDraft and build upon it.
Once you do that, you have a lot more flexibility regarding how you spend your DP slots and TAM.
RODRIGUEZ: To me, a significant issue is the Designated Player strategy Cincinnati will pursue. Truly big signings don't happen in a couple weeks, and even "smaller" transfers often take months to carry over the line. With the World Cup upon us already, the window for blockbuster names is very tricky, and could be very short. They still have time to get deals done, but they've probably already gotten started on that front, and they'll need every second.
WARSHAW: The tasks for Cincy are the same tasks facing every MLS team:
1) Find a strong domestic core.
2) Scout well and hit on their two or three DPs and TAM players.
Cincy has the advantage of already having MLS veterans on their roster, so the biggest job will be scouring the world market to find their own Carlos Vela-type player.