FC Cincinnati GM Chris Albright provides offseason update on head coaching search

·7 min read

FC Cincinnati needs more Major League Soccer flavoring in several key areas, according to general manager Christ Albright.

Albright on Tuesday provided an offseason update in a conversation with reporters that was broadcast on the team's website. He addressed wide-ranging topics, including the club's head-coaching search and individual players.

A common thread emerged throughout Albright's remarks, and it was that the club needs more MLS experience – on the sideline coaching the team, and likely in the locker room.

Taken in sum, Albright's remarks were another signal of FC Cincinnati's intent to embrace MLS methods backed by proven, repeated successes around the league.

The head coaching search

Large portions of FC Cincinnati's 2021 roster are returning, so the most impactful change to be made this offseason will be at the head coaching position, which was vacated by Jaap Stam in September.

It's the largest outstanding question for the club and Albright said the hiring process is ongoing.

"We're down to, I would say, the final few (candidates)," Albright said. "And then you can read into it what 'few' is but, yeah, as far as specific candidates, we're not gonna comment on that at the moment. We feel good about where we are in the process for sure."

Like FC Cincinnati's search for a new GM that produced Albright, the club's head coaching search has so far played out quietly and with no firm reports linking specific names to the job.

There is growing suspicion among fans via social media that Albright's mid-December timeline to have a coach hired is suggestive of some candidates still being involved in the ongoing MLS Cup playoffs. Those sentiments haven't been formally addressed by Albright.

More: USMNT's Brenden Aaronson: FC Cincinnati in good hands with Chris Albright

It's been Albright's long-stated preference to have a head coach with MLS experience. On Tuesday, he elaborated further on the profile he's trying to match with a candidate.

"Someone that's been around winning cultures, winning teams in this league," Albright said. "Someone that understands the mechanics and difficulties of getting players to this league and at the same time embraces those difficulties.

"Someone that's really wrapped their arms around MLS for what it is and has had success within that construct. Profile-wise, we want to be an aggressive team. You saw the match against Mexico in our stadium. I think we want to make TQL a homefield advantage and I think one way to do that is by creating a sort of in-your-face, transition-based, pressing-based team that obviously lends to the modern game, the modern athlete but really takes advantage of what we're trying to do in our stadium."

Roster decisions for 2022

Albright on Tuesday confirmed the club picked up the purchase option on center back Gustavo Vallecilla's contract, lengthening the stay of the promising 22-year-old who started in 25 matches in 2021 and scored twice.

"We will be picking up that option and triggering that transfer," Albright said of the now-former player from Ecuadorian Serie A side Aucas. "Gustavo's a young, exciting player and he's a player that, in that position, needs experience... He's gonna be Ecuador's plans moving forward. He's going to be in our plans moving forward. He has a lot of attributes that lend themselves well to MLS in his athleticism and physicality."

Vallecilla played at FC Cincinnati on-loan in 2021 with an option for a permanent transfer.

There are a handful of other consequential roster decisions still to be announced. The final answers were due to MLS Tuesday, which was the deadline to report which players' contract options were being utilized.

More: 'We knew what was ailing us': Inside the process that produced Chris Albright as FC Cincinnati's next GM

More: GM Chris Albright to emphasize MLS experience in FC Cincinnati head coaching search

Albright said all the roster decisions that needed to be made were indeed finalized, and the club's announcement of those moves was forthcoming.

Beyond Vallecilla, it is known that Florian Valot won't return for 2022 after he bid farewell to FC Cincinnati in a social media post. The Enquirer later confirmed the nature of Valot's departure as he was not offered a contract to remain at the club despite his desire to stay.

Buy-in from returning players?

There's no indication that any FC Cincinnati players are making waves about wanting out of the club, but contracts alone don't guarantee contentment with playing at FCC after a four-win 2021 season.

The possibility of restlessness from talented players always seems to be underscored in times of losing, and FCC has had plenty of that during its three straight last-place finishes in MLS.

But when asked Tuesday if he had firm commitments from the club's most valued players, Albright affirmed his belief that he has buy-in from the players returning for 2022.

"One thing that I understand that works in this league is valuing your players. We all have jobs or don't have jobs at the end of the days based on the results on the field, so it's our job to create an environment where all those players are able to maximize their talent," Albright said. "That's our job, first and foremost. And that's everybody in this room (at the Mercy Health Training Center) currently with me. That's everybody in the medical staff, everybody in sports science. Our job is to make sure that it's a player-first environment, so I think knowing that that's the direction we're moving in, I think I do have buy-in from all the players, frankly.

"It's our job, it's my job to get more out of those players. We need to get more out of Brenner. We need to put him in a better position to score goals more consistently. That's why he was brought here. We need (Acosta) to continue to improve on, you know, against the ball, defensively. And we've spoken to him about that, with Lucho directly. I think we're going to create an environment where players want to be here. We're going to pick a head coach that understands that nuance of, again, maximizing what you have in the players in-house and you don't get the most out of players by running around and being a tyrant. That just doesn't work."

In response to a separate question, Albright indicated the club had the general makings of a core group moving forward.

Albright's time observing FC Cincinnati up-close after he was hired in October made clear what he had thought of FCC's players from afar while serving as technical director at Philadelphia Union: That Cincinnati needs "glue pieces in here that are able to connect some of those other special pieces, and become more of a core of a team that helps these other guys understand how to win games in our league."

With limited room for maneuvering, Albright will attempt to overhaul the roster and on-board his new head coach during one of the shortest offseasons in MLS history.

FC Cincinnati opens the 2022 season against Austin FC on Feb. 26 at Q2 Stadium.

Along with FC Cincinnati's announcement regarding its personnel decisions, other roster mechanisms could see player movement pick up momentum in the coming weeks.

A half-day trade window opens Dec. 12, the day after the MLS Cup finale. The MLS expansion draft for Charlotte FC takes place Dec. 14 and is sometimes a good opportunity to make a move.

Free agency begins Dec. 15.

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: FC Cincinnati: Head coach update, roster decisions for MLS 2022

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