Jurgen Locadia knows a thing or two about expectations. From Dutch wonderkid with PSV to Brighton & Hove Albion's club-record transfer, the forward shouldn't have much trouble dealing with the pressures that accompany his latest move to FC Cincinnati.
The 26-year-old signed with Cincy as a Designated Player this week, the punctuation to the club's transformation under general manager Gerard Nijkamp and head coach Ron Jans before their second MLS season.
“These players normally for us are hard to get, because they’re playing in a top-five league in the world," Nijkamp told MLSsoccer.com on Tuesday. "MLS is not there yet, we’re improving, just like us as a club. We’re building a foundation, with the training center, stadium and roster. If you have your contacts in Europe and especially with his management, then sometimes one phone call is enough to get this big fish. If I put my teeth in it, it’s hard for him to get loose."
It wasn't a straightforward deal. Locadia was on loan with Hoffenheim in the Bundesliga, though owned by Brighton. Cincy had to agree to a deal with Brighton and Hoffenheim had to agree to let him out of his loan early. He didn't enjoy consistent minutes with the club, with just 526 minutes stretched across 11 Bundesliga appearances. He did score four times, though, a decent return when measured by goals per minute.
Locadia broke through at Dutch club PSV as a teenager, where he immediately became one of Europe's next top prospects. He stayed with PSV until January 2018, when Premier League club Brighton made him their club-record signing. He never quite got regular playing time with the English side, preceding his loan to Hoffenheim.
All of a sudden, Locadia became an attainable target for FC Cincinnati.
“Yes, I was surprised he became available," Nijkamp admitted. "Now we have to make him successful again as an individual player, because then we’ll also be successful. Hopefully we can put him back on the horse again in the way he was, as a huge potential player at PSV in getting a transfer to Brighton. I have a very good feeling about that. So does our head coach Ron Jans.
"He’s only 26 years old, he’s still midway through his career. If the player feels happy and respected in an environment where he wants to be, it’s human nature that a person is going to perform. Hopefully we can help him with that, but he also has to help himself to get to that level.”
Locadia is on a five-month loan and Cincy hold his purchase option. If all goes well, they'll trigger Locadia's purchase clause this summer.
“I knew Jurgen for a long time," Jans said. "He proved since he was a young boy that when you say ‘Locadia,’ the first thing you think of is scoring goals. He can do that from the center forward position, but he can also do it from the left side. Yeah, I’m pretty happy he’s coming over.”
Jans didn't reveal his initial plans for how he'll deploy Locadia and fellow DP Yuya Kubo in a new-look attack, noting that both forwards give him great flexibility. Locadia can play through the center or the left wing, while Kubo has featured up top, on either wing or attacking midfield.
Locadia is the centerpiece of Cincinnati's busy winter, one that began with little roster flexibility. On top of the two DPs, Cincy have also acquired midfielder Haris Medunjanin, defender Tom Pettersson and others as they look to reverse fortunes from last year's league-worst points total (24).
"It is a job at the end of the day," Nijkamp said with a laugh. “We moved some players where we were thinking there wasn’t a future at FC Cincinnati. From there, you create space in the roster. We also used the draft in a good way to help the roster build and in the (recent) weeks to get impact players."
The club's still hopeful that more impact players will arrive, either now or in the summer. Locadia's acquisition reduces the urgency on that front, though.
Cincy came close to acquiring PSV midfielder and Uruguay international Gaston Pereiro, but he ultimately signed with Cagliari in Serie A. While the MLS side would have been thrilled to sign a player of Pereiro's quality, Nijkamp is content moving onto other targets who want to join the Orange and Blue.
“On the technical side, yes it’s disappointing," Nijkamp said of the Pereiro saga. "We thought he was really at a value for this team, and now with Jurgen on the roster, even more. But we’re not disappointed on the mental or emotional side. We want to have people here at FC Cincinnati – whether you’re a player or a person at the club – everyone must want to be here. That was not the case with Gaston. He was thinking the next step in his career was in Europe. Then you must not come to America and FC Cincinnati if you don’t really want to be part of the project. I’m not disappointed on that front, I’m even satisfied.”
With the work done thus far, Nijkamp feels less pressured to get a third DP in immediately. Cincinnati are still working towards that, but may wait until the summer to complement the squad and see where needs arise.
“The needs we had before signing Kubo and Locadia was more a need, but now is a wish," Nijkamp said of adding a DP No. 10. "We’re working hard to acquire a creative midfielder, and maybe we are talking with several profiles. If we can find him now, good. If the pieces don’t come together, then we will continue to do that over the summer, when the market is bigger, especially in Europe. The need becomes a wish.”