By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (Oct 6, 2021) US Soccer Players – Ruled as we are by our devices, one of the habits of modern life is the update. You know how this goes. Your phone or computer tells you there’s an update that needs to be installed and that the process requires a restart. Even though the process usually only takes a few minutes, it always feels interminable. And there’s always a tiny bit of doubt about whether the update will make the device run better. Updates are normally for fixes and improvements, but experience tells us they don’t always take.
Soccer fans in Cincinnati are hoping that the latest update to their MLS team and the reboot it requires will make everything run better. They’ve been through so much already. Bad updates are always more frustrating when the device is new. FC Cincinnati is like that, a new device that has been updated multiple times, only to still have issues.
The latest update in Cincinnati comes in the form of a new general manager. Former MLS fullback and Philadelphia Union technical director Chris Albright will take the reins at TQL Stadium. The goal is the same as it is with every MLS team. Make the playoffs at a minimum. His arrival represents not just yet another new look for a very young MLS franchise. It’s also the continuation of a trend among MLS teams looking to remake themselves.
First, let’s consider the task facing Albright as he levels up from his job in Philadelphia.
Since its move into MLS from the USL Championship, FC Cincinnati has been unable to make itself competitive in the top division. Distinct miscalculations going into the team’s first MLS campaign not only set the team back in year one, but carried into later seasons. The latest change of leadership on the soccer side of the organization is yet another attempt to fix problems born of those initial decisions. Changing views in MLS on how to best maximize the salary budget within the unique rule book suggests that this might be the update that turns FC Cincinnati around.
What Albright represents is MLS expertise. For Cincinnati, it’s accepting what has the best chance of working in this league. It comes after an initial reliance on USL experience and then European influence to find success. Both of those were justifiable choices in theory that simply didn’t get the rewards the team expected.
The league’s parity-driven model is responsible for convincing clubs that with the right set of ideas, they can win championships without exorbitant spending on its roster. At the same time, that parity ensures that it’s almost impossible to differentiate yourself philosophically in any meaningful way. MLS is a league of shades of gray. Even the most vibrant version is still gray.
FC Cincinnati seems to understand that competitive advantage will come from having people with an innate knowledge of the league and the American soccer landscape. While Albright won’t have the network of European context that FCC’s last general manager had, he will know better how foreign signings might integrate into MLS and with the club culture that he will build.
Alright’s move to FC Cincinnati is graduation for him. It’s also the latest hiring by a new or updating MLS club of someone with an American background during a period when several clubs are in the market for a guiding hand in the front office.
Nashville may be the model for how this should work. They found the perfect person for the job in Mike Jacobs. His experience at Sporting Kansas City working under head coach/general manager Peter Vermes provided Jacobs with the education needed to succeed.
Jacobs, like Albright, did not have experience leading a front office before Nashville brought him on board. Utilizing the tools provided to MLS expansion teams by leveraging allocation money for MLS veterans and smartly scouting for talent at the upper end of the roster, Jacobs has turned Nashville into an MLS Cup contender within two years.
DC United hired an experienced MLS hand in Lucy Rushton, whose time in Atlanta prepared her for the job. It’s too early to judge her performance in DC, but the club has made strides under new head coach Hernan Losada. While he doesn’t fit the new domestic trend for soccer hires, Losada’s youth and attitude have made him a good fit with MLS.
Albright now has the responsibility of finding the right on-field boss for his new club. It seems unlikely he’ll turn to someone outside of MLS circles as he works to execute FC Cincinnati’s latest update. The current moment, with the club on the verge of claiming a third consecutive dead last finish, is crucial to turning it into a playoff contender. The head coach that Albright chooses will need time to mold the roster given to him by the new GM into a winner.
Patience is not always in order when a new update finishes and doesn’t immediately improve the system. Though they’d certainly take it, what FC Cincinnati needs is not necessarily a leap forward. Instead, they need to look for the kind of moves big and small that won’t make things worse.
More From Jason Davis:
- Columbus wins a trophy and switches focus to the playoffs
- MLS moves on from Rookie of the Year as the league changes scope
- At closer to full strength, Minnesota United tries for a late season push
- The Philadelphia Union model is working
Logo courtesy of the Campeones Cup