MILFORD, Ohio — Kenny Saief has been in the United States for just over a week, but he’s making good use of his time.
Only 12 minutes after entering his first MLS match as a substitute for FC Cincinnati in a 1-1 draw at Atlanta United, he provided a highlight-reel assist for the equalizer that stunned Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Now, can he do it on a regular basis?
“I hope so," Saief said at training on Tuesday. "I’ll do my best and hopefully it’s going to work again.”
Certainly, coach Alan Koch expects more of the same.
"Kenny is definitely a playmaker,” Koch said. “And he made that difference already when he went on. ... He definitely does have that creative element to his game, and already within the first 20 minutes he played, he came on and made a huge impact, so hopefully that can continue.”
The US men's national team midfielder was understated when speaking about his role in Atlanta, and said he is taking a game-by-game approach at his new club.
“It was an important point,” said Saief. “The first point of the season. But it’s finished now. I think we need to take the positive things and go to the next game. We need to focus on Sunday’s game. Atlanta is finished.”
Saief joined FC Cincinnati on loan from Belgian club RSC Anderlecht a week ago. The agreement is for four months, according to the player, and extends until preparations begin for the next Belgian First Division A season.
Before the 2019 season, Cincy's technical director, Luke Sassano, had plans to secure a different playmaker. The expansion team engaged in a drawn-out pursuit of Chilean Matias Fernandez. However, a deal with Liga MX club Necaxa that looked certain in mid-January fell through at the last minute.
So, the club began preseason without a No. 10. Results were mixed, and striker Fanendo Adi voiced concerns about the lack of offensive talent on the roster.
While Saief seems to be a remedy for the club's creative concerns, it’s not clear if he’ll always play in an attacking role. The 25-year-old is intentionally listed as both a midfielder and a defender on the team’s roster. Koch explained he plans to leverage Saief’s positional flexibility.
“I said already that Kenny can play in multiple different positions," Koch said, "so that gives us versatility in how we play as a group.”
Regardless of where Saief lines up, teammates like center back Nick Hagglund like what they see.
“Fantastic player," Hagglund said. "Really technical, adds a little something extra to the team. He’s a welcomed addition.”
Roland Lamah, who scored via Saief’s assist in Atlanta, also praised the player for his technical ability.
“He’s a good player," Lamah said. "He’s a technical player. First game, I think he’s not already fit, but he gives us an assist. He’ll help us during the season.”
Saief was only cleared to play 30 minutes by the team’s medical staff last Sunday. However, the American-born Israeli said he is ready to play a bigger role in the club's home opener this weekend against the Portland Timbers.
“I’ll be ready if the coach decides to put me in," Saief said. "I feel good and I’m ready.”