Deeper Cuts: FCC Survives Tampa Bay’s Tidal Wave

Smith
Image: Joe Craven

FC Cincinnati is starting to make a habit of busting the ghosts of their short history. After collecting their first win against Tampa Bay earlier this year, the team finally earned their first goal, point, and win in St. Pete’s. The 2-1 victory over Tampa Bay puts FCC in first by 11 points and almost guarantees post-season play. However, it also reverses a disturbing trend when it comes to the summer.

In the 2016 and 2017 seasons, FC Cincinnati wilted in the summer heat, particularly in August. Under both John Harkes and Alan Koch, the team averaged only 1.0 point per game, but the trend has changed in 2018.

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Considering that this year’s August journey took FCC through the heart of the South, escaping the month unscathed with a vital win against Tampa Bay was no easy task. The boys in Orange & Blue had to overcome Mother Nature and a motivated Rowdies squad for these three points.

Absorbing the Impact

As if the weather wasn’t making the game hard enough, FCC had to withstand an onslaught from the Rowdies’ offense. Tampa Bay controlled possession (56%-44%) and passing accuracy (79%-76%) in a game where the pouring rain suggested that control would be a necessity. The heat map alone shows that the Rowdies occupied tons of real estate in the FCC 18-yard-box, whereas FCC barely made a mark in the Rowdies box.

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Tampa Bay’s heat map (left) vs. Cincinnati’s heat map (right).

With so much possession in the Cincinnati box, Tampa Bay managed 31 total shots, tied for the most in one game this year. Forward Junior Flemmings alone outshot the entire FCC offense (11 to 7). Tampa Bay even blanked Cincinnati on corner kicks, getting 13 of their own. However, FCC’s ability to clog the box and Evan Newton’s solid goalkeeping kept the damage to a minimum. Tampa Bay only managed 6 shots on target, putting their shot accuracy (19%) well below their season average (40%).

Much of the pressure in the first half came from Flemmings’ ability to penetrate, getting off 8 shots inside the 18-yard-box. However, FCC managed to neutralize Flemmings with Forrest Lasso’s physical frame. The big center back was responsible for 10 of Cincinnati’s 18 clearances in the first half. Considering Flemmings and Lasso tussled a bit in the home game against Tampa Bay, this matchup was highly anticipated.

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Tampa Bay’s shots in the 1st half (left) and the 2nd half (right).

In the second half, Tampa Bay altered their approach to encourage more attacks on Newton’s right. Cincinnati did a much better job at blocking shots (blue in the image) from that angle, as Paddy Barrett had three of Cincinnati’s 8 second-half blocks. Part of the defense was good fortune and solid blocking. However, the fact that Tampa Bay’s only two shots on goal (green) came from outside the box in the second half suggests that Cincinnati’s ability to pack the box, even after Blake Smith’s red card, succeeded.

Countering the Barrage

It’s clear that Tampa Bay had heavy advantages in offensive numbers. Even without the strong defensive performance, FC Cincinnati quite possibly could and should have lost this game. However, in these cases, it matters how well you can take advantage of the opponent’s momentary lapses and frustration.

For the most part, Tampa Bay had Cincinnati well-covered. Few of the areas in the heat map do not overlap between the two squads. However, all of that coverage led to the first goal. Tampa Bay was well-aware of the danger Emmanuel Ledesma presented, but his first touch drew the entire Tampa Bay back-line up to the top of their own box. With Nazmi Albadawi skirting to Ledesma’s right, the line left Jimmy McLaughlin wide open. Contact in the box, penalty, shot on goal, 1-0.

That first foul on Tampa Bay was the likeliest indication that referee Kevin Broadley wasn’t going to allow play to get too physical. While the Rowdies held a firm advantage in possession, they committed almost twice as many fouls as FCC (23-12). This allowed FCC to squeeze yellow cards out of their opponent to slow the game down in their favor when necessary.

Even when the eventual hammer came down on Blake Smith for time-wasting, Alan Koch managed to settle his club and make a strategic substitution. Pulling Fenando Adi out for Pa Konate, Koch opted for a 4-4-1 formation that stacked the defense. While this did allow the tying goal by Poku at the time, the frustration to score was still producing more yellow cards in Tampa Bay’s disadvantage (8-4).

And that’s where the eventual game-winning play came about. Tampa Bay pulled back in the 80th minute to reset after their goal, only for the defense to lapse at the right side of Daniel Vega again. With both Konate and Jimmy McLaughlin fresher and without cards, their give-and-go allowed Konate to approach the box with less to lose. The eventual foul reduced Tampa Bay’s squad to ten and allowed the winning penalty kick.

The Perfect Storm

Overall, it’s easy to say that this was a mess of a game. The rain did not help anyone. Tampa Bay proved that a stronger team with nothing more to lose could challenge Cincinnati. Had the weather been more cooperative, this could have easily been a statement Rowdies victory.

However, FCC proved to be a team that could read the environment, play with a calmer demeanor, and use the whistle to their advantage. Part of the good fortune, in the end, may have also been the short week—Stefano Bonomo, who had played well since his purchase from New York, was left off the 18-man roster. Still, sometimes you need a little luck to weather a storm.

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for coverage of FC Cincinnati’s upcoming clash with Pittsburgh and the rest of the 2018 season.

Smith

Author: Geoffrey Tebbetts

Contributor for the Orange & Blue Press for FC Cincinnati coverage.

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