Deeper Cuts: Point Taken in the Peachtree State

Photo Credit: FC Cincinnati

Although we turned our clocks forward an hour yesterday, let’s go back in time. Think about it. Several months ago, weeks ago, or even on Sunday morning, if you had offered the FCC players, technical staff and fans the opportunity to earn a point at Mercedes Benz Stadium, all of us would have taken it in a heartbeat.

The key word is “earned”. FC Cincinnati ventured into the Peachtree State in front of 70,000+ Red and Black feverish fans and witnessed the unfurling of Atlanta United’s 2018 MLS Cup Banner. After the 4-1 drubbing in Seattle a week earlier, no one was giving the Orange & Blue a chance in this game, including me.

Lo and behold, a plucky FC Cincinnati put together a memorable performance yesterday. After allowing an early goal to all-time MLS single-season scoring leader, Josef Martinez, FCC settled into the game. They were able to take the one-goal deficit into halftime and use the remaining time to their advantage.

As the pressure built to a kettle-like boiling point, Alan Koch released his second-half substitutes. Each one made an impact and enabled the Orange & Blue to secure a deserved 86th-minute equalizer. Kenny Saief calmly collected a loose ball, dribbled around his mark and played a scintillating through-pass to the surging Roland Lamah. Lamah sped past everyone inside ‘the Benz’ and slotted a left-footed screamer past Guzan. Here is the historic equalizer.

Atlanta, the Peachtree State, and all of MLS were stunned. The newcomers to the league are the first team since Toronto FC to earn a point in Atlanta which was on August 4, 2018.

Let’s look at several factors that contributed to the vast improvement for FCC to taking their first MLS point.

Player Availability and Selected 18-man Roster

One of the key differences between the first two matches, and subsequently their results, was the player availability and selection of the 18-man roster. The two obvious additions to yesterday’s game-day roster were USMNT capped players Saief and Greg Garza. FCC’s newest player, and 4-month loanee Saief, made an immediate impact on the match. In 17 minutes as a substitute, Saief accomplished the following in his MLS debut:

  • Sublime through ball setting up Roland Lamah’s 86th-minute strike
  • Nine successful passes in contrast to only two unsuccessful passes – six inside Atlanta’s half and three within the final attacking third
  • Two timely recoveries in FCC’s defensive half
  • A calming and attack-minded presence

Additionally, Koch’s two midfield changes – Costa Rican Allen Cruz and MLS veteran Kekuta Manneh – were significant net adds to the starting XI. Both players brought a tireless work rate, especially defensively, and quicker pace of play to the line-up.

Compact Defensive Effort

Even though FCC’s 4-2-3-1 shape was the same as the opening match, the tactics (and personnel as mentioned above) were vastly different.

Tactically versus Seattle, FC Cincinnati played a dangerous and sometimes careless high defensive line. They also allowed a ton of flexibility for its outside fullbacks to freely venture up the flanks. This lead to an unbalanced team and individual defensive lapses resulting in an onslaught of Seattle attacking pressure. The graphic below illustrates how much Seattle peppered FC Cincinnati’s box with scoring chances. Total shots (24), shots on target (9), and 15 shots inside the 18-yard box, including all four tallies. Game, set, match.

Shots Allowed – Seattle Sounders

In contrast, in Atlanta, the defensive shape was more compact. The outside fullbacks, Alvas Powell in particular, remained more stable and connected to the center backs. Combined with the midfield changes, FCC was able to absorb pressure despite conceding a lot of possession. Lamah, Manneh, and Cruz used their pace and experience to apply more pressure on the ball outside the defensive third. This acted as the first shield of defense in front of the central defensive midfielders and backline.

Not surprisingly, Koch stated post-match that a big part of the game plan was to not give Josef Martinez and others any space. As a result, scoring chances and shots against improved mightily, against one of the most prolific scoring sides in the league. Total shots (10), shots on target (4), and only 5 shots inside the 18-yard box.

Shots Allowed – Atlanta United

Foundation Building

What a difference a week makes. These personnel and tactical changes enabled FCC to nick a valuable away point in Atlanta. Regardless of whether the Five Stripes were suffering from an early fixture load or a shaky start under new manager Frank de Boer, taking a point from the defending champions is a superb result for FC Cincinnati. The result is a foundation of success that they can build upon.

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press as we prepare you for the 2019 home-opener at Nippert on Sunday.

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