By Charles Boehm – WASHINGTON, DC (Feb 23, 2023) US Soccer Players – In a one-on-one conversation with USSoccerPlayers.com at FC Cincinnati’s preseason training base in Florida last week, assistant coach Dominic Kinnear had a simple explanation for joining the club in January 2022. “Well, I wasn’t working,” deadpanned Kinnear, “so I needed a job.”
Kinnear had spent a year away from the sidelines following the end of his time as an assistant and interim head coach at the LA Galaxy after the 2020 MLS season. His message to Cincinnati head coach Pat Noonan was simple: “I’d love to be able to help.” That offer was accepted, and Kinnear has brought a valuable veteran perspective as FC Cincinnati climbs up the MLS Eastern Conference ladder.
“I’ve never had a staff that works the way they have with me,” Cincinnati striker Brandon Vazquez told The Athletic last summer, in the midst of his breakout 2022 campaign. “I’ve worked with a lot of big-name coaches but I haven’t had that personal coaching.”
FC Cincinnati’s coaching staff often splits into positional specialties during training. Kenny Arena drills the defenders. Ricardo Paez focuses on the midfield. And Kinnear works with the strikers. While he steadfastly deflects the credit towards Noonan and the players themselves, Cincinnati’s offense noticeably improved last season.
“It’s the most exciting part, because all it is is about scoring goals,” said Kinnear of that specialization work. “There’s nothing else except for, we’re trying to do a couple movements and we’re trying to score a goal and for me, that’s fun.”
With skillful playmaker Lucho Acosta pulling the strings, the Orange and Blue rocketed from 37 goals scored in 2021, third-worst in the East, to 64 goals last season, second only to eventual MLS Cup finalists Philadelphia. The forward duo of Brenner and Vazquez finished level with two other players for fourth in the league’s Golden Boot race on 18 goals, with Vazquez and Jesus Ferreira tied as the highest-scoring domestic players.
Noonan’s shift from a 4-3-3 shape to a 3-5-2 freed Acosta to roam, allowed both of Cincy’s #9s to share the field rather than compete for one spot and struck up a relationship that was both competitive and cooperative. And for spectators, quite entertaining to watch. Now they enter 2023 as a top contender in the East.
“Not a lot of teams play with two forwards, so then it becomes a partnership. And that partnership has to be one of respect… when you see the way they play, I think they have a healthy respect for each other. They want each other to do well,” said Kinnear, crediting “formation, freedom, ability, and then opportunity” for FCC’s attacking rebirth. “It’s due to the formation, 100%. It’s due to the way the team plays, which is also the way Pat wants to play, which is beneficial to those guys. Three, you have an attacking midfielder who’s one of the best passers of the ball in the league. and then you have two really strong, different types of forwards. One’s a great finisher, and one’s a powerful guy who can create space for himself and for others. It just was perfect for the season.”
Vazquez’s breakthrough earned him a long-awaited call-up to the USMNT last month. He celebrated by scoring against Serbia in his senior international debut, further advancing his credentials in the Yanks’ crowded #9 picture. Kinnear notes that all this was the 24-year-old’s first real chance to prove himself after so many years as an overlooked reserve with Club Tijuana and Atlanta United. Of Vazquez’s 83 MLS appearances before 2022, only 21 were starts.
“He was a talented kid when he was younger, he went to some situations where playing time didn’t fall into his favor. And then he’s at Cincinnati, and all of a sudden, it happens,” Kinnear said. “We talked about, ‘where were you last January to where you’re at this January?’ What an incredible 12 months. So the ability’s there, it’s just the opportunity, and the environment that you play in, the players you play with. And as a forward, you do rely on creativity of others at times. It worked out well for him. But he’s definitely worked hard. It’s not luck, what happened to him last year.”
Cincy’s collaboration on the field is matched on the technical staff, headed by Noonan and general manager Chris Albright. Kinnear admires the camaraderie between those two former Philadelphia Union colleagues and considers it a key facet of the club’s rise from three-time wooden spoon finishers to MLS Cup contenders.
“The relationship between Chris and Pat, for me, is excellent. Because they’re friends, and I think that’s great to have,” he said. “I know around the league, that’s not always the case, that a GM and the head coach are in it together. I respect that relationship that they have… it’s what’s so beneficial for us, to be able to work the way we do.”
Now Cincinnati starts a new year in a situation they haven’t experienced since their days in the USL Championship, with high expectations both inside the locker room and out. FCC “aren’t a secret anymore,” Kinnear said, and that’s another challenge the four-time MLS Cup winner’s experience is likely to help the team navigate.
“From the coaching side of things, I’m very lucky to have the staff that I work with every day, because they’ve all also been a part of championship teams,” Noonan, who worked on Bruce Arena’s USMNT staff in 2017, said last year. “Nobody’s getting too high or too low when things are going well, when things aren’t going well. Just the way you come into the building and understand how to have conversations and understand how to take the good with the bad, that experience gets you through all the ups and downs that you face throughout the course of the year.”
Whatever Cincy’s direction in 2023, count on Kinnear to roam the training ground with a smile on his face, enjoying the daily routine more than ever.
“Maybe the year away, it made me appreciate it. I’m serious,” he said. “Every time I walk out here, I’m like, ‘hey, it’s a good day today.’ Being outside’s good, man. Being outside’s good.”