The City of Cincinnati was able to witness a long overdue home playoff celebration at Nippert Saturday. Nervy moments over a tense evening were overcome by an exciting and jubilant 6-5 penalty kick victory by FC Cincinnati. The Orange & Blue now move onto the Eastern Conference semifinals next Saturday with a 24-game unbeaten streak in tow.
Even with the best record in the league this season, we knew the path to the 2018 USL Cup would be difficult. The single-match elimination format of the USL playoffs allows any team on a given day to be victorious. FCC’s fate could just have as easily been reversed Saturday evening. Let’s review the stellar work, the challenges, and what’s next in the playoffs for the Orange & Blue.
The Man of the Match was certainly Spencer Richey. His five saves were critical to the outcome of the match, and all were worthy of a highlight reel. Possibly a surprise to some, Richey got the starting nod over USL 2018 Golden Glove winner Evan Newton. Richey’s recent fine form proved Alan Koch’s selection was well made.
One of the strengths of this side’s strong season has certainly been its goalkeeping depth. Goalkeeper coach Jack Stern has brought an innovative and healthy competitive approach to the team’s three keepers (Newton, Richey, and Mark Village). The result has seen a remarkable improvement in the team’s goals against average (GAA) from 1.55 in 2017 down to 1.00 in 2018. In addition to Newton’s Golden Glove award, FCC’s keepers are ranked 6th in the league with 14 clean sheets and 4th best with just 35 goals conceded. We can have confidence with whichever keeper starts for the Orange & Blue.
Let’s relive one of Spencer Richey’s point blank saves from the 48th minute that kept the Orange & Blue in line to advance deeper into the playoffs.
48' @spencerichey18 comes up with a big save to keep things level!
— FC Cincinnati (@fccincinnati) October 20, 2018
Uncharacteristically, especially of late, was the shooting woes the Orange & Blue incurred in the match. FC Cincinnati led the league in conversion rate this season. In Saturday’s match they scored 1 goal over 17 shots not blocked, a 5.9% conversion rate that was significantly below their season average of 21%.
In addition, one of the only statistical categories that Nashville SC were better on during the match was shooting accuracy. The visitors in yellow placed 6 shots on target, out of 16 total, for a 37.5% accuracy. Thankfully, as noted above, Richey was up to the task to save five of their six shots on target. However, FCC was only able to place 5 of 22 shots on target for an anemic 22.7% accuracy.
The following shot chart illustrates the difficulty FCC had in finding clear lanes and delivering accurate shots on the Nashville goal. The red circles and rays represent the twelve shots off target (and not blocked). The blue circle around the number 19 outside the box was Corben Bone’s clever side-step laser that beat Matt Pickens in the first stanza of extra time.
Fortunately, when it really mattered during the penalty kicks, all six FC Cincinnati players converted their spot kicks with style and accuracy.
Updated USL Playoff Brackets
In the East, two of the four games went to sudden-death penalty kicks. In addition to FC Cincinnati’s 6-5 penalty kick edge over Nashville, Bethlehem Steel beat host Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC 8-7 in PKs. The Steel will go on to meet Louisville City, who dispatched USL newcomers Indy Eleven without difficulty, 4-1.
For the second year in a row, the New York Red Bulls II went to Charleston and upset the higher-seeded Battery in the first round. An early goal by Tom Barlow was enough to see the Baby Bulls through to the conference semifinals. New York will visit Nippert for the second time this season to take on the Orange & Blue.
Below is an updated Eastern Conference playoff bracket.
Across the nation in the Western Conference, a real shocker occurred late into the night when the 7th seed Swope Park Rangers knocked out a surging Sacramento Republic FC 2-1. Many had predicted Sacramento to make a deep run in the playoffs. SPR will now visit Phoenix Rising in the conference semifinals, who handled Portland Timbers 2 easily 3-0 Friday night.
The other conference semifinal will send Reno 1868 FC to Orange County SC. Reno was able to find a 92-minute stoppage time winner to beat the slumping Real Monarchs in Salt Lake City. Orange County’s high powered offense benefited from a hat trick by Michael Seaton as they clobbered a 10-man (21st minute red card) Saint Louis FC 4-0.
Here is the updated Western Conference playoff bracket.
Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s 2018 USL Cup playoff run and Saturday’s match versus New York Red Bulls II.