Despite FC Cincinnati’s encouraging draw against a Sporting Kansas City squad that had obliterated Montreal 7-1 the week before, a few “what-if” statements still linger. What if FCC had a healthy Manu Ledesma and an available Fanendo Adi? What if Greg Garza and Spencer Richey didn’t miscommunicate? What if Nick Hagglund’s goal was good? What if I didn’t accidentally smear ketchup on my orange suit?
(Okay, that last one is probably not a game-changer.)
However, it might also be wise to ask “what-if” questions in the other direction. What if Sporting KC hadn’t played a CONCACAF Champions League match three days before? What if Peter Vermes wasn’t resting eight players of his Starting XI? In the end, perhaps getting the 1-1 draw in front of a national audience isn’t a bad result.
Two Steps Forward
Statistically speaking, the Orange & Blue held together for a solid attack in the first 45 minutes. Not only did FCC match SKC in shots in the first half (7-7), but they penetrated the box with their attempts and put more on target (3-1). Many of the defensive numbers (clearances, blocks, saves) favored SKC, indicating that Cincinnati was penetrating better than usual.
The first-half possession numbers were also a bit misleading, despite SKC owning a slight advantage (52%-48%). When Sporting KC possessed the ball, they kept it mostly between their center backs and midfield. Much of their passes were relegated to the defensive third and midfield. However, FCC distributed the ball uniformly and depended on Kenny Saief and Leo Bertone to feed Darren Mattocks when the window of opportunity opened. FCC owned a 92-61 advantage in passes in the attacking third of the field.
For the most part, this was an attack that could have pulled off the home shocker had the game ended at halftime. FCC held an 11-5 advantage in forcing loss of possession, while successfully out-dribbling SKC 7-2. Unlike last week against Philadelphia, this could have been the perfect storm.
Of course, games do not end after 45 minutes.
Two Steps Back
Perhaps it was when Roland Lamah came off due to injury at halftime, forcing Alan Koch to substitute earlier than required. Perhaps it was Sporting KC holding the ball long enough to get their own resting substitutes in. No matter how you slice the halftime orange, the second half was a completely different game.
FCC’s inability to finish the attack in open play eventually caught up to the team as Sporting KC slowly reintroduced their normal starters. The possession was dominated by the away squad as SKC brought in midfielder Felipe Gutiérrez and forward Krisztián Németh. Had the blowout at Monterrey midweek been closer, perhaps they don’t see the pitch, but once more familiar players came on, FCC were on their back heels. SKC owned a 59%-41% possession advantage in the second half, as well as an 11-3 shots advantage. Nine of those shots by SKC were in the penalty box, while FCC could only fathom one.
If a second half MVP is to be found, it’s likely the duo of Hagglund and Kendall Waston who kept the draw in check. Both made three solid clearances out of the penalty box in the second half, while Hagglund almost certified himself as a hometown hero with the header in the 83rd minute that was juuuust offsides. Both were also solid at backing the other up and are legitimate reasons why FCC have made it through the first six games with a 2-2-2 record.
No Ground Lost
Over the first six games, it’s not surprising that FCC have experienced some growing pains. The team has settled into one that will not win with possession, as they’ve yet to lead a game in that category. They’re also not winning with their offensive attack—only Columbus (8.3) takes less shots per game than FCC (9.3).
However, this isn’t to say that FCC is the 2019 version of Minnesota United’s maiden voyage. Six games might be a small cross-section, but if we take a look at the “expansion” teams from the past decade, FCC’s not struggling yet.
Yes, the goals are not coming in bushels, but not many teams in the past had more than ten goals by this point. At the same time, not many can say they’ve let in less than ten. Sure, FCC cannot boast a three-game home winning streak like Portland from 2011, but they haven’t struggled on the road to start like Montreal did in 2012.
We knew that this FCC squad wasn’t going to be setting records like last year. Granted, a projected 45 points hasn’t gotten many teams into the playoffs. It’s only happened once in the East since the expansion to a 34-game schedule in 2011. Still, 8 points in the first six games—that’s still a solid start in a conference where dominant teams like Atlanta and NYCFC have stumbled out of the blocks.
Daunting matches against LAFC and New York Red Bulls loom on the horizon, but let’s not lose faith in the team after a draw that felt like a loss. Maybe 45 minutes of magic is all FCC needs.
Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for FC Cincinnati’s upcoming return to the West Coast against LAFC.