It's not like Yoann Damet had enough time to implement a whole set of new, esoteric ideas on how to play the game of soccer. He didn't get into work on Tuesday and began a 96-hour, full Pep Guardiola overhaul in the FC Cincinnati locker room and on the training pitch.
But he didn't need to do that. One of the main criticisms when Alan Koch was fired was that his team "lacked an identity." I couldn't tell you much about this side through the first 11 games of 2019 other than "they hit a lot of long balls and don't seem to value the idea of completing passes." It was ugly, and it was ineffective, and it led to 655 minutes of soccer without an open play goal, no wins and just one point over nearly two months.
Damet's big change wasn't tactical, then. It was simply ideological: let's get on the ball and complete a ton of passes. Let's get comfortable doing that, and not be afraid of making mistakes.
That was the story of Saturday's 2-1 win over visiting Montreal:
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Coming into this game, Cincy averaged just 2.7 passes per sequence per Opta, 22nd out of 24 teams in MLS. The goal above came off a 16-pass sequence from back-to-front. The second goal of the day – which was arguably prettier – came off an 11-pass sequence, again moving from back-to-front. Cincinnati had a plan to use the ball and actually did so.
It was both effective and fantastic in its simplicity.
Three personnel-related notes here:
1) Victor Ulloa is a fantastic possession player, and using him as a field-spreading regista pretty much assured that the field would be big for the home side. And unlike most registas, Ulloa doesn't require much defensive protection – he's very good at sitting in front of the defense, winning the ball and spraying.
My long-standing belief is that Ulloa is the type of guy who could be ok in most systems, but could be excellent in the right system (think Wil Trapp). I hope we get to see more of him doing this.
2) Greg Garza makes a huge difference at left back. It's a damn shame that he's so frequently hurt.
3) No. 1 overall SuperDraft pick Frankie Amaya looked the part in his second straight start. He doesn't appear to be a game-breaker at this point, but he's unafraid to get on the ball in tough spots (and doesn't turn it over when he does), and he affects the game defensively beyond what could/should be expected of an 18-year-old No. 10. Cincy fans should have an extra liter today on Amaya's behalf, especially since he's so far from being able to have one himself.
For the Impact, this performance was a warning shot. Yes, they're still near the top of the East, and yes, they've now got just seven road games left in 2019. Unless something truly bizarre happens, this is going to be a playoff team.
But this was the third time in a month that teams just passed around and through their bunker. When Philly does it, it's "ok, that's what they do – and they were a playoff team last year." When NYCFC does it, it's "ok, they've struggled, but they're also super-talented. Sometimes it happens."
Now FC Cincinnati, with an interim coach and a bunch of journeymen attackers, have done it. There's no "ok, well..." way to soften that. The blueprint's out there, teams are following it, and Remi Garde's going to have to make an adjustment sooner or later.