The monkey is finally off of FC Cincinnati’s back as the team started their 2018 campaign with a 1-0 away win over Charleston Battery, obtaining their first win over Charleston in six tries and their first points against the Battery on the road. The Orange & Blue broke through in the first half with a hard-fought Blake Smith goal, then heavily depended on the defense to make that lead last to the end. Here’s what stood out after the first big test of the season.
Bending Without Breaking
At the 35th-minute mark, both teams had taken five shots, with Cincinnati getting better looks at the goal than Charleston. Lance Laing and Emery Welshman had great shots on frame before Blake’s goal, and it took a sprawling save from Odisnel Cooper to deny a beautiful Manu Ledesma free kick outside the box.
The next ten minutes became a sudden undoing, as Charleston completely reversed field, taking five of the next six shots. The second half didn’t reverse much of the momentum either, as Charleston possessed the ball for much of the second half and enjoyed a heavy advantage in shots over the full 90-plus minutes. Charleston’s 24 shots were the second most from a team this weekend (Red Bulls II fired 31 at Toronto FC II), and Cincinnati’s 9 shots were the fewest for a team that won.
The good news is that the defensive line, a concern in the offseason, stepped up to the task. Forrest Lasso and Dekel Keinan snuffed out eight of those shots between them to at least lessen the blow, and the team managed to play clear-out ball for much of the game (33 clearances to Charleston’s 8). Smith’s goal also showed that scoring from the back line could be the key to an improved scoring team.
There is no doubt that Evan Newton was the man of the match, filling some enormous gloves in his first minutes as the FCC goalkeeper. While Cooper was challenged early on the Charleston side, the Battery could have won this game comfortably if Newton hadn’t made himself big in goal, making five saves for the clean sheet.
Two of Newton’s saves came as a result of the keeper filling out his form in two different situations. He blocked a low shot from forward Ian Svantesson in the 39th minute that he likely didn’t see from the screens in the box, forced to fill a hole that couldn’t be patched by all the defensemen in the box. Newton then stretched high to deny Svantesson a header in the 66th minute, absorbing a shot from the goalpost as a reward.
However, Newton’s sprawling save in the 40th minute on a shot by Kotaro Higashi might be Save of the Week stuff.
— FC Cincinnati (@fccincinnati) March 17, 2018
This is just the first game of the season, but it’s definitely a confidence-builder to see Newton displaying the ability that helped Sacramento upset Real Monarchs in the playoffs last season. Newton produced five saves or more three times last year, but did not win any of those games. The question will likely be if Koch opts to play the hot hand or if he gives Spencer Richey a start to see if he can play at the same level.
For the first thirty minutes, the offense couldn’t have gone better for Cincinnati, but once the Charleston midfield started to control the ball and connect passes, their use of two forwards started to push possession constantly in Cincinnati’s half. Svantesson got plenty more looks in front of goal than FCC’s lone striker, and that pressure forced Cincinnati to dump passes out and deflect shots for corner kicks (10 for Charleston to Cincinnati’s 3).
With the team looking tired, Koch made some interesting moves to change momentum just enough in the second half. Having left Tomi Ameobi off the roster for the first game, Koch replaced Welshman with Danni König, who hadn’t seen any legitimate preseason minutes since the February 27th match against NKU. Koch then opted to later use Will Seymore as a replacement for Corben Bone, while Nazmi Albadawi remained on the bench.
While König and Seymore didn’t produce goals during their minutes, they did halt Charleston’s momentum just enough to keep the score where it was. Seymore won some vital fouls late in the game to reverse the field and almost scored on a heading pass from König. Meanwhile, König managed to get into his defender’s head late in the game, drawing a red card on Quinton Griffith during a foul to deplete Charleston’s arsenal.
Those rolls of the dice worked for Koch this time around, but it also shows that the coach has some initial confidence in spreading the minutes around. Resting the likes of Ameobi and Albadawi in a game that meant a lot for a retooled FC Cincinnati felt like a risky calculation, but three points before an early bye week should give Koch some time to figure out what worked while scouting Indy for their March 31st game.
Stay tuned to Orange and Blue press for coverage of FC Cincinnati as they prepare for their next match.