As always with expansion sides, intrigue has been high surrounding FC Cincinnati out of the starting gate for the 2019 MLS season. They have earned eight points from their first six matches, a strong start to their inaugural MLS campaign.
Here are five things we've learned so far:
Mid-block defending rather than low-block
With FC Cincy's panoply of central defenders and defensive midfielders, conventional wisdom suggested the club would defend deep and look to hit on the counter. A theoretically sound conclusion many jumped to (myself included), but it hasn't been the case so far in 2019.
Against the Seattle Sounders in their inaugural game, they bravely (naively?) had their line of confrontation higher than predicted and it cost them, giving up four goals in a 4-1 loss. They did the same against Atlanta United a week later and conceded a fifth minute goal to Josef Martinez because of it, but it has largely been successful since that shot. Wins against the Portland Timbers and New England Revolution, plus a pair of draws have the club feeling good after their first six games.
Note: Their next game is on the road against LAFC on Saturday (10:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US, DAZN in Canada). Leaving space in behind against Carlos Vela, Diego Rossi and the league's most explosive attack might not be a great idea, though.
Four at the back
This kind of goes hand-in-hand with the first point. With the saturation of central defenders and defensive midfielders, as well as lineups from preseason games, it looked like head coach Alan Koch would prefer to play with five defenders, freeing Greg Garza and Alvas Powell to bomb forward at will.
Instead, Koch has opted for a tradition back four with two defense-minded midfielders ahead of the defense. Fullbacks Garza, Powell and Mathieu Deplagne (more on him a bit below) still have freedom to get forward when the opportunity presents itself, but not the carte blanche which is intrinsic with three central defenders between the wingbacks.
Koch's preferred pairings and positional battles
Nick Hagglund has been the preferred partner to Kendal Waston, with Forest Lasso the first man up with either unavailable. Roland Lamah, Kekuta Manneh and Allan Cruz have also been integral figures thus far.
Moving forward, where Koch decides Kenny Saief is best used will have a domino effect across the team.
Reliance on Fanendo Adi? Nope
Through injury and suspension, Adi has made three starts over the first six games. The latest of which, against Portland in mid-March, he exited after just 45 minutes. The supporting cast has picked up the slack without him.
An egalitarian attack, FC Cincinnati have eight goals from eight different goal scorers. Only Saief has multiple assists (2), as well. They have been strongest in transition and on set pieces, as was thought in preseason. Between towering center backs Waston, Hagglund and Lasso, Cincy will continue to dominate both attacking and defensive dead balls.
Throughout Deplagne's career prior to joining Cincy, he spent just seven matches at left back. He had 121 at right back throughout a decade in France.
Due to injuries, Deplagne has been forced to fill in admirably at left back four times already for FC Cincinnati. He has played every one of Cincy's 540 MLS minutes so far and ostensibly is the club's first choice right back when all players all healthy, with Alvas Powell languished to the bench for now. In the preseason he spent time in central defense as part of a back five.
It's not the sexiest takeaway, but important nonetheless. Deplagne's versatility has been an asset in Cincy's initial foray to MLS. It's clear that he will be an integral member of Cincy's expansion campaign and will continue to feature all along the backline.
Hey, he even has two career starts at right midfield. Just in case Cincy ever need him there, too.