Deeper Cuts: Limiting Quality Chances and Projected Playoff Matchups

A deeper look at the FC Cincinnati stalemate in Pittsburgh, and a look at how the weekend’s USL action impacted the playoff picture.

Image: Ryan Meyer

FC Cincinnati shared the points with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in a scoreless draw on Saturday in their second-to-last game of the 2018 USL season. Pittsburgh, who leads the league in clean sheets with 17,  is notoriously difficult to break down, especially at Highmark Stadium. While this scoreless contest didn’t provide a lot of interesting stats, the match did offer a chance to look at at FC Cincinnati’s recent trend in shots against.

Limiting Quality Chances

FC Cincinnati has a high-performing defense of their own. They can now boast 14 clean sheets this season, which is tied for fifth best in the USL. One aspect of their recent success has been the team’s ability to limit quality chances, despite conceding a lot of shots. FCC been outshot by their opponents in 6 of their last 8 matches, especially in games against playoff-caliber opponents. While the Orange & Blue’s opponents are allowed to shoot, FCC blocks a fair number, and many of the opponent’s shots are from outside the box or unflattering angles.

In Saturday’s contest, Pittsburgh outshot FC Cincinnati 18 to 4. However, FCC blocked 8 of those shots, and 6 of Pittsburgh’s remaining shots were off-target. Only 4 were on target over the entire contest, which they could not convert. FCC put 3 of their 4 total shots on goal, and therefore ended up with only 1 less shot on target than Pittsburgh.

Screenshot 2018-10-07 10.54.43
Shots – FCC on the left, Pittsburgh on the right. Blocked shots are in light blue. Off-target shots are in red. On-target shots are in green.

Just over a week ago, FCC faced off with another likely playoff-bound team, Indy Eleven. Indy outshot FC Cincinnati 20 to 9. However, FCC blocked 6 of those shots, and 9 of Indy Eleven’s shots were off target. FCC put 5 of their 9 shots on target and ended up with the same number of shots on target as their opponent. They also won the match 3-0. If this just happened once or twice, you’d think FCC was lucky that the other team didn’t make the most of their chances, but this is a pattern that has appeared several times over the last 8 games.

As we’ve featured in recent analysis articles, Alan Koch’s offense is the most efficient in the league, scoring a league-leading number of goals from a relatively low number of shots. This ability to limit the quality of the opponents chances and be very efficient in converting their own, has been one of the storylines of their recent success. The combination of the two has resulted in a record-setting win streak and an unbeaten run that is still in progress.

Would it be better if FCC were limiting opponent’s shots altogether, as Pittsburgh is so adept at doing? Possibly, but the defensive posture FCC would have to take to achieve that goal would likely hamstring their prolific attacking players. Right now they are finding the right balance, a trend Cincinnati fans hope will continue into the postseason.

Projected Playoff Matchups

Things are still extremely tight in the Eastern Conference near the playoff cutoff line. New York Red Bulls II picked up a vital 2-1 victory against North Carolina FC, who is now on the outside looking in. Nashville SC also improved their playoff posture by delivering a convincing 3-0 victory over the Richmond Kickers, who are whimpering out of the U.S. second division. Indy and Bethlehem Steel FC shared the points in a 1-1 draw in another match with implications on FC Cincinnati’s first round playoff opponent. With one week remaining, there’s still plenty to play for in the USL, and FCC’s opponent is still unclear.

Here are Orange & Blue Press’ projections for the first round playoff matchups based on where things stand today. Our updated projections line up the Orange & Blue with Bethlehem Steel FC in the first round on October 20th.

Both graphics: Connor Paquette

The USL schedule features seven midweek games this week, and many of them have playoff seeding implications. Louisville City, Pittsburgh, North Carolina FC, NY Red Bulls II, and Nashville SC are all in action and looking to improve their current position. The picture is likely to keep shifting all the way through next Sunday when league play concludes.

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s final USL league game at Nashville SC and USL Cup playoff run.

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