When Gerard Nijkamp arrived to FC Cincinnati in May 2019, he inherited a plan that essentially indicated FCC would build incrementally in its early years and reach full on-field maturity with the opening of the West End stadium in 2021.
Now, with the opening of the stadium just months away, fans are clamoring for high-profile player signings and citing concerns about the perceived lack of quality of the roster FC Cincinnati's building.
Amid the rolling roster build, the coronavirus pandemic has adversely affected finances and labor talks between Major League Soccer's owners and the MLS Players Association have cast added uncertainty on the 2021 season, for which the opening day was only recently announced.
There's no question that as of Thursday, FC Cincinnati's roster is still lacking. By Nijkamp's own admission during a Thursday Zoom call, the club is still in search of a central midfielder, a center forward to bang in the goals, a winger and a starting-caliber central defender – all key components to fielding a successful team.
Reports indicate the club has missed on multiple targets this offseason to fill those needs.
Still, during his Thursday remarks Nijkamp conveyed confidence in the plan he inherited upon arriving to the club, saying of the goal to reach full, on-field maturity in 2021: "I can say it's absolutely our goal."
"It's absolutely our goal to be better, to be competitive, to play for a playoff position with a team who can really compete in this league," Nijkamp said. "Again, my takeaway from 2020, with all these challenges you mentioned yourself, we were competitive. We were not always lucky. We didn't score enough goals but we showed ourselves differently than it was in 2019, so we showed progress. We didn't show the progress in results but we showed progress in the way we want to play, in the way we want to compete with our opponents. In '21, we have to go to the next step and, yeah, absolutely our goal. We are working hard to achieve that but again, we cannot see the future.
"What we know now is April 3, first weekend of competition. We know there will be a moment this season we go into our beautiful new stadium and there will be a roster who will achieve these goals and I'm convinced that we'll do it, also with the challenges we have today."
Nijkamp also recapped the club's personnel dealings of the last month, which was comprised of in-coming acquisitions.
The club also recently welcomed a SuperDraft class of four drafted players with No. 2 overall selection Calvin Harris leading the quartet.
"(Harris) is a player that brings something different," Nijkamp said. "We are always looking to players that bring something different in our roster, especially in positions where the need is and, as you know, we can use these kind of players with pace, with individual quality in one-versus-one but also in scoring... Our scouting team always put him in the top three of really high potential players that can be a really great addition to our club."
Nijkamp also explained how the club planned to use the three other draft selections.
Avionne Flanagan, a left back out of South Florida taken at No. 29 overall, will join FC Cincinnati in preseason to evaluate his readiness to serve as a backup to Matarrita.
FC Cincinnati final draft selections – the University of Dayton's Jonas Fjeldberg and Hofstra's Matthew Vowinkel – were both picked with offense in mind as both are decorated goalscorers.
Nijkamp said Fjeldberg and Vowinkel will return to the college ranks this spring and be monitored by FC Cincinnati – an opportunity afford to MLS clubs and college players after some conferences cancelled the autumn season due to the pandemic.
Of greater concern to some fans is that FC Cincinnati's reported pursuit of players such as Papu Gomez, formerly of the Italian top-flight outfit, Atalanta, and Lincoln, a Brazilian youth international that has since signed with Japan's Vissel Kobe, haven't produced upgrades for the Orange and Blue.
A FIFA international transfer window closes in key parts of the world on Monday, although it remains open for MLS clubs through May. Nijkamp said he viewed that dynamic as an advantage for clubs like FC Cincinnati.
"We have to find the right players that's fitting our roster, that's fitting in the way we think we can be a winning team next season and also taking into account the starting date of the league," Nijkamp said. "We are working hard to get these auditions and we are positive that we will succeed but we cannot put a time frame on it."