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MLS Expansion Draft: Breaking down FC Cincinnati’s moves

FC Cincinnati added five players to its roster Tuesday afternoon, with four coming through the 2018 expansion draft.

The new club, which will become Major League Soccer’s 24th team next year, went after a few dynamic attackers on big salaries to improve the quality of its roster in the final third. They’ll join striker Fanendo Adi, who was acquired from the Portland Timbers during the summer.

Cincinnati also brought in a few experienced midfielders and a young defender it saw firsthand in the United Soccer League. The 2019 expansion side also made a pair of trades, sending an experienced forward back to the Western Conference and bringing in one of the top left backs in MLS. Below is a look at how each pick made Tuesday will help FC Cincinnati ahead of the 2019 season.

No. 1: Darren Mattocks

Darren Mattocks is a Jamaican international forward who was buried on D.C. United’s depth chart after Wayne Rooney arrived during the summer, so it made sense for the Black and Red to expose him for the draft.

Sep 12, 2018; D.C. United forward Darren Mattocks (11) chases the ball in front of Minnesota United FC defender Marc Burch (8) in the second half at Audi Field. (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Mattocks played for the University of Akron and was elected by the Vancouver Whitecaps in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft. he played for the Whitecaps until 2016, when he was traded to the Portland Timbers. He was then traded to D.C. United for the 2018 season, during which he scored 10 goals.

Mattocks has scored 34 career MLS goals and provides a complementary option to Adi, who played with Mattocks in Portland.

Mattocks also is familiar with FC Cincinnati head coach Alan Koch, who coached Vancouver’s United Soccer League team in 2015-16.

Adding a dynamic player with familiarity to the coaching staff and the club’s top forward allows FC Cincinnati to hit the ground running during preseason.

“He has speed, athleticism. I think he plays with a little bit of a chip on his shoulder,” Koch said. “I think he’s capable of even more that he’s shown in the league so far.” 

“He’s just a fun, exciting player. I think anybody who’s ever been in a stadium and seen Darren play and how he works, he’s an electric player and he’s shown he can score goals in the league and for his national team.” 

The 28-year-old could initially start on the wing of a 4-2-3-1 formation or line up beneath Adi in order to create chances in the final third.

Mattocks could also end up as a valuable backup to Adi, though that may be a mistake given his value.

>>>Watch a replay of the draft<<<

No. 2 Kei Kamara (Traded to Colorado Rapids) 

Mar 4, 2018; Vancouver Whitecaps forward Kei Kamara (23) reacts against the Montreal Impact at BC Place. (Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports)

Selecting former Whitecaps striker Kei Kamara and shipping him for assets made sense for FC Cincinnati.

The veteran MLS forward was immediately traded to the Colorado Rapids for a 2019 international roster spot.

That may seems like a small return for the expansion side, but it could come in handy when putting together the framework of the roster.

“As much as I like (Mattocks, Adi and Kamara), it would be very difficult to manage all three in any system,” Koch said. 

From a Rapids perspective, adding an experienced forward in Kamara is massive after a dreadful first season under manager Anthony Hudson that resulted in a record of 8-19-7 and 31 points for second-to-last place in the West.

No. 3 Roland Lamah 

Roland Lamah brings experience and pace to the FC Cincinnati attack. During his two seasons with FC Dallas, the Belgian midfielder contributed 19 goals and nine assists over 61 appearances.

Aug 12, 2018; FC Dallas’ Roland Lamah traps a pass defended by Seattle midfielder Cristian Roldan at CenturyLink Field. (Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports)

Cincinnati already had a few playmakers from its USL side signed to play in MLS, but the addition of Lamah adds experience from a career that spans a few different European leagues.

Expect Lamah to be a starter from Day 1 on the flank, providing support for Adi and Mattocks in the final third, especially when it comes to crossing the ball to Adi for chances in the air.

“He’s another electric player,” Koch said. “He’s very skilled and very good 1v1. He plays on the inside. He plays on the outside. He’s a guy who’s got a lot of experience all over the place and as a new team we need experience in our squad.” 

However, Lamah doesn’t come cheap. He made $675,000 in base salary in 2018, according to the latest salary numbers released by the MLS Players Union.

No. 4 Eric Alexander

Cincinnati had to pick up some experience in the middle of the field, and it did so by selecting one of the more underrated central midfielders in MLS.

Aug 29, 2018; Houston Dynamo midfielder Eric Alexander passes the ball as New York Red Bulls midfielder Marc Rzatkowski defends. (Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)

Eric Alexander carries nine years of MLS experience with him from stints with FC Dallas, Portland, New York Red Bulls, Montreal and, most recently, Houston.

The 30-year-old should provide a calming force in the middle of the field, as Cincinnati looks to balance its midfield.

“Eric has league experience,” Koch said. “He’s done well at a few different clubs, hut I also feel he’s been undervalued.” 

“Everybody you speak to about him speaks volumes about him and his versatility is immense as we’re trying to build the squad,” Koch said. 

While adding Alexander is a step in the right direction, Cincinnati needs to add another midfielder with experience to either start, or provide depth.

No. 5 Hassan Ndam 

Cincinnati was expected to select at least one player it was familiar with from the second-tier USL, and that was accomplished with its fifth expansion draft.

Jun 9, 2018; Columbus Crew SC forward Gyasi Zardes heads the ball next to New York Red Bulls defender Hassan Ndam. (Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports)

Hassan Ndam is a young centerback out of the New York Red Bulls’ system that’s put together successful games against FC Cincinnati in the past.

“He’s a player who’s got all sorts of upside,” Koch said. “We think he’s capable of coming into our environment and competing right away.” 

By acquiring Ndam, Cincinnati is able to develop a young player by handing him valuable minutes the Red Bulls might not have been able to give him.

Adding Ndam to the defense also hands Cincinnati more of a backbone for what it wants its defense to look like.

Trade for Greg Garza

The most important move made by FC Cincinnati came after the five expansion draft picks, as it acquired Greg Garza from Atlanta United for $200,000 in general allocation money and $250,000 in targeted allocation money.

The United States men’s national team left back is one of the best players at his position in MLS, and it’s a great get for Cincinnati to snag a player who just won a championship with a second-year side.

May 13, 2018; Atlanta United defender Greg Garza crosses the ball during a game at Orlando City Stadium. (Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports)

Garza is arguably the best player on the Cincinnati roster at the moment.

“We are thrilled to add someone with Greg’s soccer pedigree to our backline for next season,”  Koch said. “He has played at the highest level of soccer in the United States and Mexico and has been a key component of his team at every stop. We look forward to what Greg will bring to our group on and off the pitch next season.”

He carries a wealth of club experience from Liga MX and MLS, as well as international experience from the USMNT.

As we’ve seen with previous expansion entries into MLS, a strong defense is one of the most important assets to have.

By bringing in Garza, Cincinnati is moving one step closer to assuring it won’t make the same mistakes 2017 expansion side Minnesota United did during its roster-building process.

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