With the champagne uncorked after their 4-1 win over Richmond, there is still no rest for the weary. FC Cincinnati comes home for a royal welcome, only to be greeted by their I-74 rivals, the Indy Eleven. This showdown on Saturday closes the door on a short rivalry, but with both teams preparing for the playoffs, these ninety minutes should still be intense.
Despite allowing a first-half goal against Richmond, FC Cincinnati poured on the pressure for a full-game effort on Wednesday. Goals by Nazmi Albadawi and Emery Welshman started and finished the onslaught, but the night again belonged to Emmanuel Ledesma. His two moon-shot goals in the first half give him 16 overall for the year. With that, he ties Sean Okoli for the most USL goals by an FC Cincinnati player in a season.
Wednesday’s win also officially gives FC Cincinnati the USL regular-season title, as Phoenix can no longer pass them in the points total. The team will celebrate the achievement after the game on Saturday in front of a full house at Nippert Stadium that could see another possible record crowd for “Fan Appreciation Day.” Saturday will also be FC Cincinnati’s last USL regular-season home match before the playoffs begin next month.
FC Cincinnati’s ninth win in a row matches the mark set by Real Monarchs last season, and their 20th consecutive non-defeat leaves the team two games behind the record set by Richmond in 2013. FCC could also have other records to smash, but the team visiting from the Hoosier State could have something to say about that.
Indy Eleven comes into Saturday’s game after righting their ship. The Eleven turned away the Tampa Bay Rowdies 2-0 to remain in the middle of the playoff hunt. Indy sports a hungry set of strikers in Jack McInerney (10 goals) and Eugene Starikov (5 goals), but can also beat you from any position. Ayoze, Karl Ouimette, and Carlyle Mitchell have played significant minutes as a productive defending line, and goalkeeper Owain Fôn Williams has 11 clean sheets this season.
While Cincinnati has beaten Indy both times on the road this year, this Eleven squad had chances both times to capture at least a point. It took an Evan Newton penalty-kick save to preserve a 1-0 win in March, while the team used a Corben Bone goal to come from behind to win 3-2 in early May.
Here are five facts before the regular-season finale at Nippert Stadium.
- If you want to win a game, get the ball to either Corben Bone or Emmanuel Ledesma. The two midfielders have combined for 10 match-winning goals this season—seven coming in the last nine games.
- Cincinnati has given up only 31 goals all season, but most have come in the first half (58%). This could spell bad news against Indy, as the Eleven have scored 59% of their 44 goals in the first half. However, Indy has also experienced meltdowns after halftime. The team has given up 59% of their conceded goals in the second half.
- Indy Eleven is one of three teams in the USL that has used only one goalkeeper all season. Fôn Williams has played the most minutes of any goalkeeper in the USL, starting all 31 USL matches. The Welsh keeper is one of the best on the road, as seven of his 11 clean sheets have come away from Indiana.
- If they intend to go far in the playoffs, Indy’s numbers against the current Top 8 in the USL East could improve a little. As the table currently sits, Indy Eleven has a 9-3-4 record (31 pts.) against the Bottom 8 teams with a goal differential of +8. Against the seven teams that are currently in playoff positions, they are only 4-6-5 (17 pts.) with a -1 goal differential.
- Who says youth trumps experience? Saturday’s game will feature the two USL teams with the oldest average Starting XI. FC Cincinnati has the oldest Starting XI (28.6 year average), while Indy has the second-oldest (28.5). (The youngest is Toronto FC II at 20.9.)
Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of the “I-74 Derby” on Saturday night.