At the end of its third and final USL regular season, FC Cincinnati has captured an elusive mark. With the regular-season title and the highest seed in the Eastern Conference locked up, the Orange & Blue have an opportunity to head into the playoffs with rested players and a historic record. The only obstacle standing in their way is Nashville SC, who are desperate for a point for a playoff appearance. The two teams clash in the regular-season finale at First Tennessee Park on Saturday.
FC Cincinnati’s 22nd straight game undefeated was no easy task in Pittsburgh. The team needed every bit of their 90 minutes to end the game with the Riverhounds in a 0-0 draw. While Pittsburgh put heavy pressure on the squad, outshooting their opponent 18-4, FCC rode a solid defending line and Spencer Richey’s fifth clean sheet to take home a point. While this broke FCC’s 10-game winning streak, the draw helped FC Cincinnati match the undefeated run set by Richmond in 2013.
FC Cincinnati may have a record in sight, but Nashville SC still has to work to do. Despite early goals by Matt LaGrassa and Brandon Allen, Nashville gave up two goals to Toronto FC II in the final 15 minutes for a 2-2 draw on Tuesday. This leaves the Music City club in 7th place with one game left and at risk of missing the playoffs. If Ottawa or Bethlehem lose this weekend, Nashville is in. However, if Ottawa wins and Bethlehem gets at least a point, Nashville must avoid a loss.
Despite being two bricks in FC Cincinnati’s wall, Nashville has not lost to the Orange & Blue this season. Both teams played to a scoreless draw back in July at Nissan Stadium, while they drew 1-1 at Nippert in August. In that game, Danni König scored in the first minute, but Nashville equalized on an 85th-minute strike from Tucker Hume. Since that draw, FC Cincinnati has gone 10-0-1, while Nashville has been a flat 4-3-5.
While Alan Koch hasn’t shown all his cards, the team will be without one player, but will welcome back two. Forward Emery Welshman will be off on international duty to play for Guyana in a CONCACAF Nations League qualifier. However, König should return from a yellow-card suspension, while midfielder Richie Ryan is likely to play for the first time since suffering a stress fracture in June. In fact, the entire team should be healthy before Saturday’s match.
Here are five facts for FC Cincinnati’s final regular-season match in the USL.
- If Corben Bone plays on Saturday, it will be his 100th game for the Orange & Blue over all competitions. In 2018 alone, he has scored more goals in the USL (9) than his previous four seasons (3). If Bone can score his 10th on Saturday, FC Cincinnati writes another record. It will be the first time in the USL’s short eight-year history that one team has produced four 10+ goal scorers.
- Goalkeeper Matt Pickens has arguably been Nashville’s best signing. Despite facing 109 shots over 30 games (3rd in the East), he has allowed only 25 goals. That’s an astounding 77.1% success rate. The only goalkeeper in the East to play in at least 20 games and have a higher success rate? That would be Cincinnati’s Evan Newton (56 saves, 16 goals, 77.8% success rate).
- Because of Pickens and his magic hands, Nashville barely allows any goals at home. Manager Gary Smith’s squad has conceded only 11 home goals (2nd in the East) and has 9 clean sheets at home. However, their 24 home goals are 5th-worst in the East. That +13 goal differential at home is decent, but Cincinnati has a +16 goal differential on the road from 31 goals scored.
- Ever since his late equalizer against FC Cincinnati, forward Tucker Hume has experienced a second life with Nashville. Hume started only one match the first 20 games, but since then he has started 11 of the last 13 matches and scored 6 goals. Perhaps the “Big Bird” nickname has wings?
- How does Cincinnati’s 22-game unbeaten streak stack up against Richmond’s? FC Cincinnati has more wins in the same period (17-13) and has scored more goals (49-42). Then again, Richmond’s schedule in 2013 was more strenuous—they had an 8-game road trip during their streak that took them from Orlando to Vancouver over the span of a month. Richmond also had three pairs of games that were played on back-to-back days.
Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of the regular-season finale in Nashville.