Deeper Cuts: Historic Defeat, Formation, Bertone’s Beauty, and MLS Opta

FC Cincinnati huddles during their game on Saturday, Mar. 2, 2019 at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, Washington. Credit: Noah Riffe.

Editor’s Note: Orange & Blue Press will not write traditional match recaps this season. There are several media outlets, including FC Cincinnati and MLS, who are writing reports that specify all the match details. We will instead focus on interest pieces, images, analysis, and other things we find interesting.

History & the Result

The significance of yesterday’s match is much more about being the beginning of a journey than what people take away from the scoreline. It was obviously a historic match. It was the reward for many people who worked very hard to get FC Cincinnati to this point. FCC fans will do their best to quickly forget about the details of Saturday night and remember it as the beginning of the club’s MLS era.

Give the Sounders credit. They shed the label of “slow starters” and did exactly what they should have done, which was ruthlessly punish a team not yet at their level. In overall talent, and from a playing-as-a-unit standpoint, they are far ahead of FC Cincinnati right now. That’s fine, as long as FCC can begin to make up ground over the course of the season.

Some people are going to panic. I learned in 2016 when I started writing about FC Cincinnati that telling people to relax isn’t effective. Those who think the sky is falling in some ways enjoy it and like to talk about how bad it’s going to be. So let them panic.

Personally, I’m not worried yet, but yesterday was about as brutal as I thought it could be. FCC seems to be built with a defense-first mindset, and that defense looked very porous on Saturday. We knew the team might struggle to create chances, and they did. There are explanations, including injuries, lack of familiarity, and playing players out of position. This team needs time, and we need to see a bigger sample set before we can make sense of the problems.

Return to the 4-2-3-1

A big talking point in this match was a return to the 4-2-3-1. That formation has been used regularly by Alan Koch over the two USL seasons he’s coached FC Cincinnati. After experimenting with permutations of a 3-man back line all preseason, he returned to the tried and true against Seattle. Stuart Holden during the pregame television broadcast commented that the change was made Monday following the Crew defeat in Charleston.

The late change underlines that this is a work in progress and that the technical staff is still working to understand how to best utilize and organize the pieces at their disposal.

Bertone’s Beauty

That was one hell of a first MLS goal. Leo Bertone goes into the record book as the team’s first top-flight scorer, delivering a thunderbolt volley that beat Stefan Frei 13 minutes into the match. We described the right foot of Bertone as noteworthy for set pieces when he signed for FCC. It lived up to the billing against Seattle.

Midfielder Leonardo Bertone (6) Celebrates after scoring FC Cincinnati’s first MLS goal during their match on Saturday, March 2, 2019 at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, Washington.

If you’re into trivia, yesterday’s first MLS goal joins a list that includes Andrew Wiedeman’s strike against Bethlehem Steel on April 3rd, 2016, FCC’s first league goal. The first-ever goal was scored by Cincy native Luke Spencer during preseason against KR Reykjavik on February 20, 2016.

Let’s watch Leo’s strike one more time.

MLS Opta

The MLS version of Opta is a full-service application, and you should give it a test drive if you like the numbers side of the game. There’s a Stats tab, Boxscore tab, and the Audi Index, which is a player scoring system that is a little confusing to the average soccer fan, but one that contains some valuable nuggets.

Most of the stats in this game spell out what people already know, Seattle’s clear domination. The Sounders claimed 64% possession with an 85% passing accuracy. They created 16 non-blocked shots, 9 of which were on target, and 4 of those resulting in goals.

In contrast, FCC clocked in with 36% possession and 73% passing accuracy. They had 4 non-blocked shots, 3 of which were on target. Bertone’s scoring strike stands out as an anomaly on a night that was very short on opportunities (0.34 xG).

The Sounders had 16 total shots in the box compared to just 2 for FC Cincinnati. Dominance.

Here’s a look at the expected goals metric which clearly shows it was the Sounders’ night, but both teams actually outperformed their xG.

Expected Goals – Seattle vs Cincinnati

By taking a look at the Audi Index, you can see that Roland Lamah was one of the few FCC players to have a decent match in terms of numbers. Lamah completed 20 of 23 passes in the opposition half, created two chances (passes that lead to a shot), and delivered the cross from the left that ultimately led to Bertone’s goal.

Roland Lamah’s distribution in the opposition half vs. Sounders

Statistics aren’t quite as fun when they are used to support the specifics of a heavy defeat, so we’ll leave it at that.

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s 2019 season. Next stop, Mercedez Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

FC Cincinnati huddles during their game on Saturday, Mar. 2, 2019 at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, Washington.

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