For the 2016 season and the first half of 2017, the rivalry between FC Cincinnati and New York Red Bulls II was hardly a rivalry. Despite getting the first goal in 2016, FCC could not decipher the Baby Bulls over their first three meetings, losing all by a combined score of 8-1. Each loss looked worse, with the last one a 4-0 embarrassment in New Jersey.
However, the advantage has decidedly flip-flopped in favor of FC Cincinnati since then. Thanks to their 2-1 victory Saturday, FCC has outscored the Baby Bulls 8-3 over their three consecutive wins, and has figured out how to silence the potent Red Bulls offense. This is despite New York’s heavy 48-26 advantage in shots over the three games and high possession numbers.
How exactly did FCC figure it out? Let’s see if we can find out by looking at footage from 2017…
Rewinding the Tape
Even though the rainfall turned the field into a slick surface, Saturday’s game felt like the 2017 victory over the Baby Bulls. The numbers, in fact, make it feel eerily similar. In the 2017 match, New York made many more passes than Cincinnati (+210) and held a significant advantage in possession (65%-35%), shots (18-9), and shots on goal (7-4). In Saturday’s game, New York again dominated in possession (59%-41%), shots (17-9), and shots on goal (3-2).
While New York enjoyed the offensive advantage, FC Cincinnati capitalized on set pieces to do damage in both games. In 2017, Austin Berry headed in a corner kick from Kenney Walker to get the early lead, and Walker’s free kick outside the box froze the New York defense to put the game away. In 2018, the set pieces (and defenders) delivered again, this time with Forrest Lasso and Paddy Barrett heading home crosses by Manu Ledesma.
With the lead held firm in both games, FCC backed off their defensive line and played a “keep-away” style of soccer. The Orange & Blue held a solid advantage in clearances in both 2017 (35-17) and 2018 (39-22) with many more of the clearances in the second half. In fact, if you look at the heat maps from both games by half…
…you’ll see similar styles of play. In both games, Coach Koch pressed the defense up in the first halves to gain the quick lead, then drew the lines back later in the second halves to build a wall around the goalkeeper.
With the rain-slicked conditions forcing the teams into less passes and more 50/50 challenges, FCC took advantage of their aggressive brand of soccer. Last year, the team crafted their challenges at the right time to take six yellow cards, resorting to fouls down the stretch to halt offensive momentum.
With the game being much closer this time around, FCC took advantage of their physical strength to win the close plays. Despite the possession deficiency, FCC held an advantage in duels (52%-48%) and aerial challenges (53%-47%).
While FCC gave up more fouls to New York, their aggression factor frustrated the Baby Bulls much more. Andrew Tinari’s early yellow card forced the New York midfielder to play a more cautious form, while Danni König’s late charge to beat defender Jordan Scarlett to the ball in the first half forced Scarlett to over-exert himself and sub out from an injury. These plays may seem small, but overall Cincinnati’s confidence in their defense and challenges produced a win that appeared to be tenuous when the starting lineup was announced.
The luck of the crossbar and the referee’s hesitancy to pull a red card may have helped in the final score, but in general, what we typed about the game last year could equally apply to this year:
“New York dominated possession. . . and created a LOT of scoring opportunities. Despite this advantage, FCC created quality opportunities of their own via the counter-attack and from set pieces. They also played ‘good-enough’ defense that allowed them to hang on to the victory.”
Sometimes it pays to use the same playbook.
Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press as FC Cincinnati enjoys a break from the USL and prepares for their home friendly against La Liga’s RCD Espanyol.