Jaap Stam - FC Cincinnati - while coaching Reading in 2018
Action Images / Reuters

Jaap Stam, and a plan, is just what FC Cincinnati need | Charles Boehm

Sometimes, an erroneous social-media post can be both entertaining AND revelatory.

Look, I’m not here to bury FC Cincinnati’s comms and digital staff, they are an experienced and hard-working bunch — let s/he who has never posted a bad tweet be the first to throw stones — and a little good-natured banter can go a long way in a time of COVID-19.

But that little episode does point to a bit of a disconnect for FCC, who stormed euphorically into MLS as a feel-good expansion marvel last year… and promptly saw nearly everything they touch turn into coal, coal so cold and hard it would take eyebrow-singing amounts of lighter fluid to get it burning for your Memorial Day grilling.

As amazing as their fanbase has turned out to be, as committed as their owners are, as lovely as that under-construction stadium looks, as rapidly as their star has catapulted into the American soccer firmament, Cincy still badly need an identity on the field, and a locker-room culture to match. With the new-club smell wearing off and other, fresher-faced newcomers arriving by the year, they’ve lost valuable time with some roster-building errors and a revolving door of head coaches.

When you include their three seasons in the USL Championship, FCC have already churned through four head coaches and one interim boss since they first took the field in 2016. Along the way they’ve played some effective but rarely inspiring soccer, and their current squad is probably still a few pieces short of playoff contention.

So considering all that, it’s damn impressive that they successfully courted one of the biggest names in world football to sign on the dotted line and make his home on the fair banks of the Ohio River.

Once the best center back in the world, Jaap Stam carries a typically Dutch philosophical orientation on the game — “My style is to have a lot of possession and create chances. Some might call it total football, but my intention is to try to dominate games,” he proclaimed in 2017 – and has already taken on some interesting challenges in his short managerial career.

And like his former Netherlands teammate and Ajax coaching colleague Frank de Boer, he arrives in MLS with something to prove (the two men also share a penchant for blunt honesty).

Stam bolted out of the gates in his first senior head coaching job, leading Reading FC to the precipice of promotion to the English Premier League in 2017 before losing the Championship playoff final to Huddersfield Town on penalties. He was out less than a year later as the Royals crashed to earth the following season, however, and subsequent spells back home at PEC Zwolle and Feyenoord were rather uninspiring.

All that said, at 47 he’s still a young coach, and he’s got a world-class soccer brain between his ears and most likely a contacts network of comparable quality. He should get a chance to establish a consistent style and way of working in Cincinnati, where Alan Koch and Ron Jans left mostly turmoil in their wake and some stability will go a long way.

Can he get Cincy’s lions playing proactive, productive footy? Will he become the anchor on which a compelling product is built for the friendly confines of that gorgeous West End stadium project? Whatever the answers turn out to be, FCC just made themselves a more interesting story to watch.

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