FC Cincinnati’s last game against Ottawa Fury FC in 2017 was an embarrassing 4-0 loss that almost knocked them out of playoff contention. Considering Cincinnati has undergone a sea change while the Fury remained relatively quiet in the offseason, the result had to be different this time.
With possession pretty much evenly split, but with shots in Cincinnati’s favor, this game again felt like two separate halves. Held toothless in the first, FCC broke through with three quick goals in the second half, including two beautiful distance shots from Kenney Walker and Manu Ledesma. In the end, both teams exhibited their preexisting strengths and weaknesses.
Ottawa’s Big Gamble
While Ottawa has given up 14 goals, the most in the USL for any squad, they tend to last a bit longer out of the gate than one might expect. So far, the Fury have not given up a goal in the first 30 minutes of a game, but they’ve collapsed by the end of it, having given up 11 in the last 30 minutes.
This makes Ottawa’s overall setup from Saturday perplexing. Going by their heat maps, Ottawa looked content with playing a high back line and a pulled-back attack line. Over the first 45 minutes, this appeared to be working—FCC was unable to break beyond the defense. When they did, either the offside flag went up (seven times!), or the faster Ottawa defense was able to catch the break from behind.
This pressure led to a more comfortable Ottawa attack, but FC Cincinnati’s defense was also unshakeable. While Ottawa took seven corner kicks to Cincinnati’s one over the course of the game, their drawn-back offense forced them to fire outside the box. Only one shot—a quick open-goal clearance by Blake Smith in the 43rd minute—was on frame and in the box for Ottawa. However, the high-playing defense forced FCC’s attack back as well—only two off-target shots were fired in the first half.
Cincinnati’s Big Payoff
With Lance Laing out with a hamstring issue, Alan Koch opted to forego any sort of left-wing presence. The team rolled out a midfielder-heavy 4-4-1-1 diamond formation with Richie Ryan pulled back in midfield, Corben Bone and Walker on the sides, and Nazmi Albadawi heading the middle.
While this led to deeper defensive play in the first half, it led to cleaner work in the second. If we view the number of times teams “recovered” on the field, both had the same amount of recoveries* in the first half (27-26). However, FCC rebounded better in the second, recovering the ball 42 times to Ottawa’s 22.
With better control of the ball in the offensive half, FCC’s attack got progressively stronger, while Ottawa saw their own chances fade. FCC hammered 12 shots in the second half, and all but two were taken from inside the box. The Fury, on the other hand, had only one off-target shot over a 30-minute span in the second half. Ottawa ended up with a generous 10 shots over the full 90 minutes, but only two were inside the box.
Yes, Cincinnati may have been snake-bit in the first half. However, their typical second-half surge, combined with Ottawa’s late-game lethargy, produced the expected result.
That Walker Goal, Though
It’s hard to add much analysis to the wonder-goal that Kenney Walker hit from way downtown. It wasn’t the longest goal in USL history—this shot from Sacramento’s Rodrigo Lopez in 2015 has it beat—but it might be the prettiest half-field volley.
Goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau had been playing a fantastic game for Ottawa. Attacks from Danni König and Bone came down the center of the box, but Crepeau stayed forward and wide to absorb shots. However, the forward pull of the defense may have led to his downfall.
Crepeau had been playing further up in the box than Spencer Richey did, perhaps as a precaution for any plays that got by Ottawa’s defensive line. As a result, Crepeau may have been more ready for a closer challenge. A typical high volley from 50 yards could be caught or padded away, even at this distance. However, Walker’s shot was a flat volley screened by players that gave Crepeau little time to react.
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) April 29, 2018
The telestrator doesn’t lie. From the goal kick by Richey to the time the ball hit the net, the shot never hit the ground and even scraped the post on the way in. Chalk that part up to luck, but considering Ledesma’s later goal was also a distance chip-shot, Walker may have known what he was doing all along.
FC Cincinnati’s road trip continues Wednesday with a return to the “scene of the crime” in Indy. With Walker back from his concussion, it will be interesting to see if this new look formation gets more play.
Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s next away game.
*Recovery – This is where a player wins back the ball when it has gone loose or where the ball has been played directly to him.