FC Cincinnati: An unmitigated disaster

On the business side, FC Cincinnati has been an undisputed success.

It came out of nowhere to earn an MLS expansion franchise after smashing attendance records in its three USL seasons. In its first MLS season, FC Cincinnati averaged 27,336 fans a game to rank third in the League.

But that's been overshadowed by problems on the soccer side, making FCC an unmitigated disaster since its move to MLS. It had the shortest lead time of any expansion team, but that doesn't explain the missteps, one after another.

It didn't hire a general manager to exclusively handle the soccer side until Dutchman Gerard Nijkamp was hired in May 30, 2019. And then, he still had to wrap up business at his Dutch club, PEC Zwolle.

By then, it was clear that FC Cincinnati had built one of the most poorly constructed expansion rosters in MLS history. Alan Koch, a holdover from the USL days, was fired as head coach after a 2-7-2 start. A "series of recent issues and a team culture that had deteriorated" were cited as the reasons for the change.

One of Nijkamp's first moves in August 2019 was to hire fellow Dutchman, Ron Jans, as the head coach. Nijkamp knew Jans from their years working in Dutch soccer -- he coached at PEC Zwolle for four seasons, winning the Dutch Cup in 2014 -- and felt his former coach would be a good fit for the building job he had in mind for FC Cincinnati.

Big mistake.

Less than two weeks before the start of the 2020 season, Jans quit as head coach.

In MLS's 25 seasons, no team has ever before had to make a preseason coaching change. But for FC Cincinnati it was the second time  in four years it happened. Koch was installed as head coach during the 2017 USL preseason after John Harkes was fired.

Jans resigned on Tuesday following an investigation into inappropriate language and racial slurs. His exit followed confidential interviews of players about issues at the club. Jans was on leave while those interviews took place at FCC's preseason camp in Bradenton, Florida.

Jans told Dutch media he had used the "N-word" while singing along to music in the locker room in preseason. He said he liked hip hop music but he didn’t know the song that was being played and didn’t feel guilty because he was not racist, suggesting what he did was "somewhat awkward in America."

In a statement on Tuesday, MLS Players Association executive director Bob Foose suggested that Jans' resignation related to his singing a song was a "false narrative" and "these intentional falsehoods have added to the toxicity of the atmosphere and encouraged further, deplorable abuse of players."

Asked about what led to Jans' departure, Berding said confidential interviews with players showed "broader themes and experiences that were insensitive." After that, "we knew there was no future for Ron at the club."

It belies the question, why was Jans hired in the first place, given the issues that had already existed in the FC Cincinnati.

"I don't think that we blew it," said Nijkamp. "We did our research professionally and took our time and we created a profile and we were all convinced that Ron was the right person at the right time, but sometimes you will be surprised."

FC Cincinnati president Ron Berding, who also held the title of general manager before Nijkamp's hiring, said Jans' reaction was to share his perspective.

"He shared that he doesn’t have animus," Berding said, "but acknowledged insensitivity in his dealings with the players. He understood and supported that we were going to do the investigation. Yes, he was remorseful. He stated that he felt badly. It’s been a tough few days.”

Jans' exit sends Nijkamp back to the drawing board. And for the second time in two seasons, Frenchman Yoann Damet, who doesn't turn 30 until March 19, will step in as interim coach.

Damet went 3-10-0 as the interim coach in 2019. But here's how bad things were at FC Cincinnati: Those three wins were as many as it earned under Koch and Jans combined.

9 comments about "FC Cincinnati: An unmitigated disaster".
  1. Arnold Ramirez, February 19, 2020 at 6:34 a.m.

    In a previous article I had said he should be fired but some Soccer America subscribers didn't agree with me. As a college coach for 40 years our LIU teams had to put up with racist remarks from players and fans. Our teams were a mixture of Latino players, Africans and Caribbean players. I am all for zero tolerance. The coach of Cincinnati did the right thing.

  2. Bob Ashpole replied, February 19, 2020 at 7:29 a.m.

    In defense of my own opinion, Arnold, this article makes clear that Jans was not in trouble because he sang along to a rap song.

  3. R2 Dad, February 19, 2020 at 10:32 a.m.

    I don't know this coach or the specifics, but there will always be problems viewing other cultures through our American lense, especially a Dutch culture that celebrates Zwarte Piet. If you are old, white and Dutch, it's going to be difficult to find your way with your African and Caribbean players in the US. That situation would present a dangerous social minefield. In this day and age of course he was going to get called our for something inappropriate. Did he know he was on a knifeedge from the very start? Berding should have been expllicit on those types of challenges of the position from the very start. So many potential levels of awkward and creepy.

  4. frank schoon replied, February 19, 2020 at 11:20 a.m.

    R2, I grew up with Zwarte Piet, and there was nothing racial about it and my family on my father side is from South America from Surinam, in other words I have blacks as uncles on my father's side of the family.  Realize, Holland is very liberal and very inclusive, white,blacks and people of all colors live and play together. It is not like here where you find Blacks livings together in enclaves a and whites somewhere is not like that in Holland, people of all colors live and play together. We never had a problem with Zwarte Piet, until someone who lives in the Caribbean, not in Holland , who isn't even dutch ,decided that this was an affront. And that is how the protest movement began, although it is a very small minority, but they create the squeekie wheel. All this time noone ever protested until this lady began it a few years, go figure...

    The dutch people are free and expressive with each other and therefore don't walk on eggs, like Americans do, especially when talking with Blacks. We don't have that in Holland for the races are  not living so seperated as here.

    The dutch don't understand the hypocrisy, of the 'N' word usage that some can say it, make money off of it, joke around with it  and others can't. If it is bad than it  is bad for everyone, unless one can make a buck from it.   The word 'cultural appropriation' in Holland is not issue ,only here, where 'whites'  are continually faced with that word. Can you imagine if we really played this game of cultural appropriation who would come out on top. We in America are so inundated with this garbage, and worse play along with the hypocrisy...

    I think Ron Jans entered a hornet's nest when he accepted the job and there were already bad feelings lingering , whatever they were.

  5. Bob Ashpole replied, February 19, 2020 at 12:40 p.m.

    MLS teams are invariably culturally diverse. It is impossible to avoid problems. The healthy solution lies in open communication rather than "avoidance". Problems buried don't go away.

  6. humble 1, February 19, 2020 at 10:36 a.m.

    Headline of this article says it all.  This points squarely to the overall immaturity of pro soccer in USA and in no small part to inherit weaknees of the franchise system that allows buffoonery to carry on.  This is not base/basket/football - this is the worlds game - the standards are set around the world - we have a long way to go. Fortunately - lower down the food chain - outside the clutches of the 'elite' the game is growing like wildfire.

  7. Bob Ashpole replied, February 19, 2020 at 12:50 p.m.

    Agreed, Humble. In an unhealthy organization there will always be resentments about something. If it isn't skin color, it's shirt numbers, locker locations, or who is first in line after a match at the therapist. In unhealthy situations most fights are not really about the surface topic, but rather something repressed. 

  8. schultz rockne, February 21, 2020 at 10:35 p.m.

    It's very difficult, it seems, for white people to come to terms with their racism--whether from the racist Netherlands or the racist U.S.A. Caricatures and stereotypes and language are just the tip of the iceberg. Racist policies and ideas--and the people who deny, support, and apologize for them are the bigger issue. But thank you, Soccer America, for helping to call out racism where and when it exists. The goal (goooooooool! as Andrés Cantor would call it) is to be anti-racist, not "not racist" as Mr. Jans--and others--claim to be. After all, racism is curable in this way.

  9. Bob Ashpole replied, February 22, 2020 at 1:46 p.m.

    You don't recognize the difference between behavior and prejudice. It is much easier to change behavior than beliefs.

    The human brain works on patterns. So when we first encouter a person or situation, we proceed on preconceptions. Then as we learn more about the person or situation, our concepts move away from the preconceived. This is a type of learning.

    Preconceptions can be changed through education too, if the person is willing to learn. If the mind is closed, no learning occurs--no matter how much information is available.

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