Fanendo Adi - Fatai Alashe - FCC signing
Sam Greene/Cincinnati Enquirer via USA TODAY NETWORK

Boehm: Cincinnati get a jump on 2019 with clever moves for Adi, Alashe

FC Cincinnati now have the first two players of their MLS existence, Fanendo Adi and Fatai Alashe. So what should we make of it?

Reactions to this deal will inevitably center around the hefty price Cincy paid for Adi – nearly a million dollars in various allocation monies, plus other considerations. But I’d contend that FCC are the ones working from a position of strength here. In doing so, they have made a promising start on their steep, slippery road to opening weekend 2019, and picked up two very useful players at the lowest possible ebb of their perceived value.

Cincy face one of the trickier paths any expansion team has navigated into modern MLS. Beyond the usual learning curve of a new league, they face a shorter-than-usual runway from their date of admission to their first game, there’s a stadium project to get off the ground and by the way, there’s a 2018 USL championship they’d like to win in the meantime. FCC currently sit six points clear at the top of that league’s overall standings.

On the plus side, they’ve got a large (and growing), passionate fanbase, an ambitious and well-heeled ownership group, a technical staff – led by Alan Koch and Luke Sassano – that’s familiar with MLS’s ways and a well-rooted organizational culture of growth and success.

The Orange-and-Blue have built something quite impressive over the past three years; it’s gained momentum rapidly and its leaders are eager to not only keep that going, but accelerate it. That looks like a massive factor in the timing and nature of Monday’s moves.

“Fanendo is a proven MLS star who has realized success year after year in Portland,” Sassano said in the club’s release of the Adi trade. “We’re thrilled to have him join our squad this season, get acclimated to both Cincinnati and our club. We expect he will find success as he settles in. By bringing Fanendo onboard now, we hope to show players both within MLS and outside MLS that we are willing to commit early for to the right players to continue our established winning culture from day one.”

I’ve found that memories can be short among MLS fandom these days, which arises mainly from the league’s explosive growth and is a good problem to have. Yet it can obscure the value of players and coaches who experience even a modest dip in performance or reputation. Such is the case with both Adi and Alashe.

Adi was a force of nature for most of his Portland Timbers tenure, showcasing a rare blend of skill, size, speed and swift decision-making to score at a rate of about 0.67 goals per 90 minutes over four years, which puts him in the company of names like Sebastian Giovinco and David Villa. (He chips in a fair number of assists, too, a product of a complete No. 9 skillset that will give Cincy’s attack a very useful reference point.)

He was instrumental to Portland's gutsy 2015 MLS Cup title run, briefly held the club’s all-time scoring record before teammate Diego Valeri passed him on that list, and even showcased steady improvement over his Timbers tenure, at least until he found himself the odd man out this season. The Timbers got a decent TAM and GAM package from FCC, but we’re talking about a player who was being hunted by overseas giants like Tigres UANL and Besiktas less than two years ago.

A similar if more understated case can be made for Alashe. The Michigan native seized a starting role for the San Jose Earthquakes early on in 2015, his first professional season, and went on to finish second in the Rookie of the Year voting, his tenacious holding-mid and box-to-box performances eclipsed only by Cyle Larin’s record-breaking campaign. He logged upwards of 2300 minutes in each of his first two seasons with the Quakes before slipping down the pecking order over the past year or so.

Athletic and committed, Alashe is just the sort of tough, rangy role player who can keep expansion teams afloat when times get tough. He can roam the center of the park destroying the opposition’s buildup efforts, or sit in and protect the back line, or even slot in at center back as needed. And thanks to the bizarre circumstances of his early entry and premature exit from the Quakes’ 2-0 loss at Montreal in Week 20, when he publicly argued with head coach Mikael Stahre, it seems pretty clear that Cincinnati are picking him up at a hefty discount.

Perhaps the most promising aspect of acquiring Adi and Alashe is the simple fact that both are arriving from frustrating periods of marginalization at their previous clubs. They’re surely keen to make an impact in their new surroundings – and appear likely to get a chance to do exactly that once they’re cleared for USL play, just in time for the stretch run in the second division.

This is bad news for the rest of the USL, and very good news for FCC both now and in the future.

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