The USL Playoffs are here and FC Cincinnati begins their campaign for the 2018 USL Cup against Nashville SC in a 4pm matinee this Saturday at Nippert Stadium. The Orange & Blue, of course, are the USL regular season champions. That means they hold the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference and also have the benefit of home-field advantage throughout the single-elimination postseason tournament.
Their first-round opponent is a familiar foe indeed. FCC and Nashville played to a 3-3 draw last Saturday in Tennessee. Nashville conceded a lot of possession but created more chances in the first half, and took a 1-0 lead into the break. FC Cincinnati stormed back in the second half scoring three goals, but conceding two, including a last minute equalizer to Bolu Akinyode. The match ended at 3-3, and the result ultimately translated into a first round postseason rematch in the Queen City.
FC Cincinnati has played Nashville SC three times this season, and each match has ended in a draw. Even the preseason encounter at Gettler Stadium in March ended in a 2-2 stalemate. There’s been nothing to separate them so far in 2018, but something has to give this weekend.
Alan Koch’s side finished 28 points ahead of a talented but inconsistent Nashville SC squad during the regular season. The Orange & Blue carry a USL-record 23 game unbeaten streak into this first playoff match. They’re in impressive but slightly less-sizzling form of late. After a USL-record ten game win streak, they finished the season with two draws against Pittsburgh and Nashville.
Nashville, the #8 seed, clinched their playoff berth last Saturday, when Ottawa Fury lost and mathematically guaranteed Nashville a playoff spot. They are unbeaten in their last six but only have two wins during that stretch and both were against non-playoff teams.
The FC Cincinnati squad is in good health, and even saw long-time absentee Richie Ryan return to action last weekend. Emery Welshman should also be available after missing last weekend’s match while on international duty. He started in an impressive international call-up for Guyana, where he bagged a hat trick in the CONCACAF Nations League.
Nashville SC can’t report the same good bill of health. The Tennessee outfit is likely to be without South African midfield-star Lebo Meloto, who left a match against the Charleston Battery injured on September 22nd, and hasn’t played a minute since. Moloto leads the team in shots, shots on target, and is tied for the team lead in assists (5). He’s also tied for second on Nashville’s squad in goals (7) and chances created (51).
Interested in Eastern Conference playoff predictions for all of this weekend’s matches? Be sure to check out Geoff Tebbetts article that looks at ALL the matchups, and gives his take on the most likely outcomes.
Here are four fast facts to get you ready for FC Cincinnati’s second-ever playoff match at Nippert Stadium.
FC Cincinnati has a clear offensive advantage in this contest. They scored 30 more goals than Nashville SC during the 2018 regular season, 72 to 42. They earned that advantage by taking only 13 more shots, 431 to 418.
- Nashville is instead known for their defensive prowess, led by standout goalkeeper Matt Pickens. Their 31 goals against is tied for second fewest, and their 15 clean sheets is tied for third most. FCC, however, plays close to their high standard. By comparison, the Orange & Blue only allowed 34 goals against and had 14 clean sheets in 2018.
- Nashville SC only has 4 wins on the road this season. FC Cincinnati has 12 wins at home this season. On paper, that appears to be a hefty home field advantage for the Orange & Blue. Anything can happen in a single-elimination playoff match though.
- The Bengals haven’t won a playoff game since 1990. The Reds haven’t won a playoff series since 1995. It goes without saying that a win in this playoff match would mean a great deal to Cincinnati sports fans.
Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s playoff match versus Nashville SC.