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.
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.