Bethlehem Steel FC 1 – 1 FC Cincinnati: Deeper Cuts

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Image: Charlotte Muscroft/Bethlehem Steel FC

FC Cincinnati went on the road for the third time in four matches on Sunday and picked up a hard-fought 1-1 draw in Bethlehem. Nazmi Albadawi was awarded his first start of the season and got the equalizing goal in the 71st minute to secure the tie. This article goes a level deeper into the details behind the road point FCC earned in Pennsylvania.

The Result – Not Pretty But Positive

This wasn’t a glamorous game, but the result makes up for it. The weather was bad, the surface gave the players trouble, and both teams struggled to finish the chances they created. Many of FCC’s performances this season have been similarly austere. But the results are unmistakably positive, and professional soccer is a results-oriented business. As Geoff Tebbetts mentioned in his match recap yesterday, this is the best four-game start to a season in FC Cincinnati’s three-year history. FC Cincinnati currently has an average of 1.75 points per game. For comparison purposes, the Charleston Battery finished second in the Eastern Conference last season with an average of 1.69 points per game. Consider also that this roster boasts 17 new players and that last season’s MVP, Kenney Walker, has been out for the better part of three games. That may sound like excuse-making but those are real factors. So even though some may not be enjoying the aesthetics right now, the results are there.

New Faces

While Nazmi’s start drew a lot of fan’s attention yesterday, he was just one of three players that made his 2018 debut as a starter for the Orange & Blue. The other two were Matt Bahner and Daniel Haber. Here’s a more detailed look at how all three fared on Sunday.

Nazmi, of course, had the most influential game of the three. He scored the lone goal of the match, had a 71.4% pass completion rate, fired six shots (two on target), and had one key pass.

As we’ve seen in previous matches, FCC’s central attacking midfielder plays quite high (close to the forward), and often peels out of the crowded midfield to find the ball and combine with the wingers and fullbacks.

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Average position of Albadawi (#5 in green on left side), just behind #10, CF Welshman
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First-half distribution by Albadawi, when he was statistically most influential.

As for the others, Matt Bahner won 3 of 4 duels and had 2 clearances and 2 interceptions. Daniel Haber had 1 on-target shot, 2 key passes, and delivered 3 successful crosses out of 5 total. Both were substituted toward the end of the match as FCC searched for second-half goals. Statistics aside, it was good to see these three get a taste of the action for the first time this season.

Trending Upward

Most of the points gathered this season have depended on strong defensive performances, but the distribution and attack statistics are improving…in some categories. First, Alan Koch’s side is getting more of the ball. The Orange & Blue were slightly out-possessed in the first two matches, averaging 47% possession in those games. That number has improved in the matches against Louisville City and Bethlehem. FCC has won the possession battle in both, averaging 55% in each match.

FCC produced just 9 shots per game on average in their first two matches. Contrast that with a 17 shot per game average in their two most recent performances. It’s worth noting that against Louisville and Bethlehem, FCC went down a goal early and pushed numbers forward later in the match in an effort to equalize. The good news though, is that the chances are coming.

Finishing is where the Orange & Blue continue to struggle, however. Despite producing 51 total shots in 4 games, FCC is averaging only 3.25 on-target shots per game. FC Cincinnati’s conversion rate (goals/shots) is at 8% which is tied for 27th in a 33 team league. The stats may sound grim, but the chances have been there to take, especially in the last two games. With a little more finishing quality and a little luck, FCC’s goals scored should follow the upward trend in the other categories. Combine that with an already stingy defense (2 clean sheets and only 2 goals conceded in 4 games), and there’s a recipe for success.

Wrapping Up

So while it’s not champagne football at this point (and nobody promised that), it’s been a good start to the 2018 campaign and the Bethlehem result is another example of that. The Orange & Blue now return home for a single match at Nippert versus Pittsburgh before getting back on a plane to face Ottawa Fury FC at the end of April. While the team continues to focus on fine-tuning their football, fans will turn their attention to the drama unfolding on the MLS expansion front, which is sure to dominate headlines this week.

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s 2018 season.

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