Although their playoff ticket had already been punched on Thursday, FC Cincinnati squared against Toronto FC II at the Ontario Soccer Center with an opportunity to claim a higher seed. Considering that Toronto II had a surprising home record before the game (4W-5T-6L) with wins over Louisville, Charleston, and Orlando B, FCC had a rough game on their hands, but escaped Toronto with a come-from-behind 4-3 win.
The start appeared to be more of the same from the Cincinnati defense, going down 2-0 in the first 30 minutes. Forward Ben Spencer managed to get his head on a cross in the 10th minute that Mitch Hildebrandt couldn’t collect, setting up a right-footed goal from forward Tsubasa Endoh. In the 31st minute, Endoh collected his brace from a similar slot, slotting home a shot Austin Berry couldn’t deflect. In both cases, the defense appeared hesitant, allowing Spencer and Endoh to infiltrate the box on crosses.
For the rest of the first half, FCC appeared to find their footing, while Toronto II pulled their attack back and allowed Cincinnati to gain control. Momentum finally swung FCC’s way after Danni König skied high for a header off a Kenney Walker free kick in the 41st minute. His 11th goal of the year made it 2-1 at halftime.
The momentum continued to roll after the first goal, as FC Cincinnati started to hammer shots at goalkeeper Mark Pais, twice finding the woodwork. In the 49th minute, Walker used a give-and-go with Corben Bone to skid a shot from outside the box past the keeper’s left, his second goal of the season making the score 2-2.
The momentum was then halted abruptly in the 53rd minute. Forward Shaan Hundal managed to collect a long pass beyond the back line, looping a soft shot over Hildebrandt when the keeper came off his line for a risky challenge to give Toronto II the lead again.
However, for the last thirty minutes of the game, it appeared that Coach Koch had unleashed the wings on both sides of the field to get the equalizer. Jimmy McLaughlin had been challenging the left side of the defense all game, and his left-footed cross in the 66th minute found Djiby right in front of the goal. The striker’s 12th USL goal of the season knotted things at 3-3.
Kadeem Dacres then came on in the 68th minute, and that substitution caused chaos on the other side of the pitch to set up the final goal. Walker looped a pass in the 86th minute to the front of the goal with Bone and Justin Hoyte charging from the right. Hoyte flicked the pass past the keeper to deposit his second goal of the season, giving FCC the hard-earned three points.
With the win in hand, FC Cincinnati finishes the regular season with a 12-10-10 record, putting them in 6th place. If Bethlehem Steel doesn’t win against Saint Louis FC in their home finale, FCC will travel to Tampa Bay to face the Rowdies in the first round. However, a Bethlehem win would push them back to 7th and an away match against Charleston Battery, the same team that knocked them out of the playoffs last year.
Four Numbers That Mattered
12 – The win was the 12th time this season FC Cincinnati has come from behind to capture points. While their play may not have been consistent, FCC has been showing this year that they can pull themselves out of a hole (if it’s not too deep). The team has salvaged a total 16 points (2W-10T) after falling behind this year. Of course, goals given up early from now on won’t be as easy to recover.
19 – The number of shots taken by FC Cincinnati in the second half alone. Arguably, no numbers displayed more desperation in the FCC game than the attacking statistics. While the playoffs had been assured, the team still played with an aggression in the second half that belonged to a team outside the Top 8. Of the six first-half shots, only two were within the 18-yard box, but nine of the 19 in the second half were within the box, including the game-winner.
#6 – The jersey number of the day’s MVP, Kenney Walker. While Walker put up solid passing numbers (83% accuracy, 10 successful long passes) with his one goal and two assists, it may be his synergy with teammates that makes the team better—FCC’s worst games were arguably when Walker was serving card suspensions against New York Red Bulls II and Ottawa, and Corben Bone had one of his more productive games this season with 94% passing accuracy in the Toronto II half.
-16 – FC Cincinnati’s goal differential on the road. The wins on the road versus Toronto II and Charlotte have shown the team can compete, but if FCC wants to write another Cinderella script for the USL playoffs, they need to stop the goals from pouring in. The team has given up 1.93 goals per game (31 total) on the road this year, compared to a paltry 0.93 gpg (14 total) last year.
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