FC Cincinnati’s much anticipated 2018 opening-round playoff match has finally arrived. Having secured the most points in USL history to earn a playoff passage for the third time in three seasons, will the Orange & Blue right past inequities and grab their first-ever postseason victory? Will FCC finally overcome Nashville and extend their unbeaten streak to 24 games? Will we see a second-round match come October 27th?
As a lead-up to Saturday’s game, we invited the Orange & Blue Press staff to opine on several USL playoff questions and possibilities. Here are the results…
1. Which team is most likely to knock off FCC in the East?
Michael Walker (Founder/Managing Editor): Louisville City FC
As unpopular as it is for Cincinnatians to accept, Louisville City is still the next best team in the East, and now that John Hackworth has some games under his belt, they’re on a winning streak and banging in the goals.
Geoff Tebbetts (Writer/Editor): Louisville City FC
Louisville City figured FCC out early and often this year, and that hurricane at Slugger really doesn’t count for much in my opinion. I still think FCC can get to Louisville keeper Greg Ranjitsingh a few times, but Lou City’s offense just looks harder to hold back now that Luke Spencer is healthy again.
Stephen Buckeridge (Writer/Editor): Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC
The Riverhounds match up well against Eastern rivals Louisville City and FC Cincinnati. They are compact and stingy on defense, their keeper Daniel Lynd is healthy again, and they know how to effectively apply high pressure on the opposing backlines. Their secret weapon though may be their coach, Bob Lilley. He’s a USL playoff veteran and won the USL Cup with with the Rochester Rhinos in 2015.
Connor Paquette (Contributor/Graphics): Nashville SC
FC Cincinnati earning the 2018 USL Regular Season Title was almost laughably easy. But FCC is not exempt from the Queen City “first-round-and-out” curse that has been plaguing local major league teams for more than two decades. Beyond our playoff curse, FCC failed to produce a win against Nashville all season. If the trend continues and another draw is the finale to this rivalry’s USL chapter, I fear facing Matt Pickens in penalty kicks to decide the match.
Joe Craven (Photographer): New York Red Bulls II
New York Red Bulls II have a recent USL Cup title of their own. With a consistent finish to the regular season, I predict they will pose a hefty challenge for the Orange & Blue.
2. Which team from the Western Conference will FCC play in the USL Championship Game?
Connor: Sacramento Republic FC
One month ago, I would’ve said Phoenix Rising FC. However, though they were once on pace to finish the season as the West’s #1 seed, they dropped their final two games – usually a sign of a burnt-out squad. That in mind, I consider Sacramento Republic FC, who are undefeated in their final eight regular season matches, to be the team to beat in the West. They’re peaking heading into the most important part of the season.
Joe: Sacramento Republic FC
Sacramento Republic FC has a solid defense and a reputation for performing well during the playoffs, winning the USL Cup in their first season in 2014 under Preki. First-year head coach, Simon Elliott, will lead the Republic side back to the Cup Final.
Stephen: Orange County SC
Going against the OB&P grain it appears, I see Orange County muscling through the gauntlet in the West. They have a difficult path, even as a #1 seed. OCSC boasts a prolific attack led by Thomas Enevoldsen (20 goals, 9 assists) and former FCC player Aodhan Quinn (11 goals, 14 assists, and a league high 103 chances created). Not to be outdone by their offense, they have a more than adequate defense that is ranked in the top tier statistically. Hosting each game at home, where they are 10-3-4 this season, may be the clinching factor.
Geoff: Sacramento Republic FC
I am hesitant to stick with my mid-season pick of Orange County SC, so I’ll go with the hotter team, Sacramento Republic. The team has gone undefeated in their last eight games, and Cameron Iwasa has scored 10 goals in his last 15 matches. Sacramento has also managed to beat Orange County twice this year, which helps if they go on the road against them in the conference final. Besides, don’t you want a Sacramento-Cincinnati rematch?!
Michael: Sacramento Republic FC
The West is wild, and the #1 seed has gotten knocked out early the past two seasons, so don’t expect to see OCSC there necessarily. Sacramento Republic hasn’t grabbed headlines lately, but they are the two seed, have a great home field advantage, and their half of the bracket might be more manageable.
3. Who are your dark horse picks for the East and West?
East: New York Red Bulls II. The Red Bulls always produce a steady stream of high-quality talent and have been to the Eastern Conference finals the last two seasons. They won the whole thing in 2016. They’re inconsistent, but when they’re clicking they can beat anyone in the USL.
West: Reno 1868 FC. They’re undefeated in their last 7 including 5 wins. But in truth, whatever Geoff Tebbetts says … he knows that conference better than I do. Can I cheat off of his paper?
East: New York Red Bulls II. In the East, I still think Red Bulls II is a scary team. It’s hard to ignore what they pulled off last year in the playoffs, and coach John Wolyniec continues to stockpile high-octane pieces on offense.
West: Phoenix Rising FC. Well, I had Reno as my dark horse, but it appears there’s not enough room on this bandwagon. Phoenix, despite their last two games of the season, have a talented offense spearheaded by winger Solomon Asante. If Chris Cortez (17 goals) can remain hotter than the Sonoran Desert, I think they could give Didier Drogba a retirement present.
East: Bethlehem Steel FC. I believe Bethlehem Steel FC may surprise people. Their path to an Eastern Conference title won’t be easy for them though.
West: Reno 1868 FC. Reno 1868 FC closed out their season well. Real Monarchs and Reno 1868 FC will be a good match-up in the Conference Quarter-finals.
East: Louisville City FC. I’ve already discussed Nashville and the difficult first round playoff hump, so I’m gonna cheat a little and go with the #2 seed. Louisville experienced growing pains after losing Head Coach James O’Connor. However, they seem to be stabilized again after finishing the regular season with six straight wins. Oh, and their last loss? That would be against FC Cincinnati in the rain. Revenge in the eye of the defending champions vs. the 2018 Regular Season Champs in the Eastern Conference title match? Now that’s a finale worthy of the Dirty River Derby.
West: Reno 1868 FC. Reno is only a year off of setting the single season scoring record. Along with this, I’m sticking to my fear of teams who are hitting their stride heading into the playoffs. Reno is undefeated in their last seven games. They also capped off their season by thumping the #1 seed in the West, Orange County SC, 3-1. Ye be warned.
4. Who will be the FC Cincinnati MVP in the 2018 USL playoffs?
Connor: Forrest Lasso
Though FCC’s entire team has seen plenty of rotation in 2018, our stalwart central defender has remained the anchor securing Cincinnati’s elite defense. At 25 years of age, this is a perfect time for the young defender to hone his leadership skills and cement the defensive wall – just like he did against FC Cincinnati as a member of the Charleston Battery in the 2016 USL Playoffs. If Lasso struggles, you’ll notice. But he hasn’t and that’s a big part of why FC Cincinnati has the best goal differential in the entire USL.
Stephen: Emmanuel Ledesma
Hard to not go with the most influential player on the team and the odds-on league MVP. Success in the playoffs is neither guaranteed nor straight-forward. A clever touch, a timely assist against the run of play, an “Olimpico” or a free kick golazo may be the elixir that sees a Cincinnati sports team win in the playoffs. Manu was the catalyst for this team all season; let’s continue that winning formula to the 2018 USL Cup.
Joe: Forrest Lasso
Keen awareness, hardworking, and willing to sacrifice. Enough said.
Geoff: Corben Bone
Assuming that FCC can go far in the playoffs, I think you ride the Cinderella story that is Corben Bone. Team defenses are going to focus on Emmanuel Ledesma and Fanendo Adi so much that Bone will likely have runs at the goal like he had against Nashville in the final game of the season. It would be the perfect postscript to the season.
Michael: Forrest Lasso
It’s cliché but defense wins championships. A lot of FCC’s recent success has required them to absorb shots and pressure but not concede goals. Remember that header he cleared off the line against Penn FC? Manu and Adi will provide FCC’s goals, but we’ll need heroic defending and Lasso’s aerial dominance to lift the cup.
Have your own thought on how the 2018 USL Playoffs will unfold? Share your opinions with us as you get ready for the “Blue Out” at Nippert Saturday at 4pm.
* Special thanks to all our Orange & Blue Press colleagues and friends for an enjoyable and fun season covering this team. In addition, thank you Connor Paquette for spurring us on to co-author this glimpse into the Orange & Blue staff’s USP playoff predictions.
Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for all of your FC Cincinnati coverage during their 2018 USL Cup playoff run.