In August of 2019, Kings Island announced its new roller coaster, Orion, a $30 million giga coaster with a 300-foot drop and more than a mile of track. I was initially interested in this news, as someone who hates roller coasters and takes great pleasure in avoiding them.
However, I hadn’t yet realized that I was already on a rollercoaster – one with a $150 million franchise fee and soon to complete a $250 million stadium. I am, of course, talking about FC Cincinnati (FCC).
FCC began life in Major League Soccer (MLS) with a bang. Leonardo Bertone hit a thumping volley 13 minutes into the season away in Seattle, and life looked good. A draw at the reigning champions in Atlanta and a win over Portland in the home opener made life look even better.
But after another win in the cold of New England in March, and one of the best starts by an expansion franchise in history, FC Cincinnati won one game in their next 14. After back-to-back wins in the heat of mid-July, it won one game in the 14 afterward. In the penultimate week of the season, in the dying seconds of a 1-1 draw with Orlando, the club conceded its 75th goal, setting the record for the worst defense in the 24-year history of MLS.
As the season closed and final tallies were counted, the club also set another dubious record – having conceded 44 more goals than it scored, the club boasted the worst goal differential in MLS history.
While painful, this is necessary knowledge for framing the 2020 season.
It hadn’t even begun before cracks started to appear.
Ron Jans, the designated heir to fired head coach Alan Koch, resigned weeks before the first game, after a controversy which I happened to write about earlier this year.
Two games were played, and two games were lost, although some promising attacking play against the two best teams in the Eastern Conference the year prior (Atlanta and the New York Red Bulls) gave a little spark of hope to fans of the Orange and Blue.
Four months later, after lockdown had ended and in seclusion at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, the season began again with an old-fashioned demolition job. Four goals, three in the space of 20 minutes, scored by the eternal enemy Columbus — and the players just looked lost.
New head coach Jaap Stam made a fateful decision: The club would sit back and defend, taking only infrequent attempts at the primary objective of soccer – scoring goals.
This has made a lot of people very angry and has been widely regarded as a bad move.
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After two wins over a now-terrible Atlanta and the New York Red Bulls, FC Cincinnati settled into a now familiar pattern – in the 15 games since, as of the time of writing, the club has won two of them.
When the revised MLS schedule was released, with clubs playing home games in empty stadiums, the Orange and Blue went to Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati and played four straight games, six hours of soccer, where zero goals were scored by either team. I watched all four games live, in their entirety, and believe me when I say that I have never been more bored (and I watch a lot of soccer).
Statistically, there are improvements from 2019. Points per game is up – 0.8, up from 0.71 (although both are only worth enough for dead last in the league.) The defense has tightened up, boasting a better record at the back than eight other MLS clubs.
The multi-million-dollar star striker up front has improved as well, with Jurgen Locadia’s two goals an improvement on Fanendo Adi’s one, I guess. That’s … where the positives end, however, and there is one more rather horrifying stat that has come out of this season.
As of this moment, FC Cincinnati was granted the treasure of eight games at home, and in those games, proceeded to score a total of three goals. Barring a dramatic turnaround, the club is certainly headed for another dubious record – having scored only 11 goals this season, it is on track to have the worst offense in the 25-year history of MLS.
One club holding the all-time records for the worst offense, the worst defense, and the worst goal differential in league history, and not setting all three together in the same season, is unprecedented in top-division soccer. I looked through every top-division league in the world I could find available data for – and, barring six goals scored in the remaining three games, FC Cincinnati would be the first, and only, team to achieve this feat.
It’s only fitting for a club coming from this city, one where the sporting tradition is one of pain and suffering.
And I cannot wait for next season.