Preseason Battles To Watch: Defense

FC Cincinnati retained last year’s defensive starters and added Cincinnati native Matt Bahner in the offseason. Who will earn a starting spot in 2017?


FC Cincinnati’s preseason comes to a close after they take on the Xavier University Mens Soccer team at the XU Soccer Complex on Friday. The 2017 preseason has provided the coaching staff and fans with a good look at a lot of players. The team has produced one win, two draws, and two losses over three weeks of play. The Orange and Blue have scored nine goals and conceded nine during their five game preseason stretch so far. It’s important to note however, that preseason results and associated statistics, should be taken with a grain of salt.

This article is the final installment of a series from Orange and Blue Press on preseason battles. The focus of this article is on another well defined area of the field for FC Cincinnati, defense.

FC Cincinnati had a very stable back line in 2016 anchored by Austin Berry and Harrison Delbridge. Delbridge starred and earned All USL First Team Honors for his performance. Tyler Polak and and Pat McMahon were regulars at left and right fullback respectively.

Cut to the Chase

Berry, Delbridge, and Polak all appear to be locks for the starting eleven in 2017, assuming they are healthy. The only battle truly in progress is for the right back position, where Pat McMahon is fighting to retain his starting position after the arrival of Matt Bahner from the Jacksonville Armada.

Pat McMahon has been a fine servant to the club over the past year. He started 21 of the first 24 matches FC Cincinnati played last season. He was a consistent performer, with a high work rate, and fit well into a system where Harkes asked the fullbacks to go up and down the length of the field with regularity. He also scored a stoppage time goal in the first Dirty River Derby that proved pivotal in FC Cincinnati winning the River Cities Cup. McMahon eventually lost his grip on the starting position and began to share starts with Derek Luke in August of 2016.

Prediction and Depth

Bahner will get the nod at right back to start the season. Berry, Delbridge, and Polak will make up the rest of the back four. The battle for right back is a tight however. Bahner, a Cincinnati native, has stared three preseason matches. McMahon has started two. Bahner played the majority of the match against Sacramento, which was the best dress rehearsal for a real USL game that the preseason offered. He also came from a NASL side, which (arguably) was a higher level of US Soccer in 2016. Signs point to Bahner being the starter, but this is one to watch on Friday night and beyond. With Bahner as the starter, McMahon will provide backup at right back. Derek Luke will be the reserve left back.

Depth is the real question mark in defense for FC Cincinnati. Austin Berry is injured and will miss two to three weeks with an elbow sprain. Paul Nicholson is the obvious replacement for Berry while injured. In 2016, Nicholson deputized for Berry from the end of April until mid-July after Berry suffered a quad injury during training. Nicholson is capable, but any additional defensive injuries could cause a real problem. Because of this lack of depth, FC Cincinnati showcased a few trialists in their preseason games. Expect Koch to sign one of these trialists soon to provide needed cover in central defense.

FC Cincinnati’s USL season kicks of on March 25th in a familiar setting. For the second year running, their first game is a road trip to the Charleston Battery. It’s the first of three consecutive road matches to start their regular season campaign. The home opener is on April 15th and will feature football starved fans and a newly expanded pitch at Nippert Stadium.

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for coverage of FC Cincinnati’s 2017 Season.



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