After 45 minutes of hard work and rough play, FC Cincinnati let New York Red Bulls escape from the Queen City with a 2-0 victory, …
After 45 minutes of hard work and rough play, FC Cincinnati let New York Red Bulls escape from the Queen City with a 2-0 victory, sending the Orange & Blue to their eighth loss in their last ten games. While the team managed to hold an advantage in shots on target and kept possession largely 50/50, the second half was again a letdown. A turnover by Matthew Deplagne led to a swiped goal by Kaku in the 78th minute, and Omir Fernandez’s first MLS goal punctuated the loss in stoppage time.
While FCC’s roster was depleted from nine injuries and illnesses, the game featured the MLS debut of Nazmi Albadawi in the late stages of the game.
Which second-round games should you tune into this week for your U.S. Open Cup entertainment?
With the second-round matches of the U.S. Open Cup underway this week and the third-round matches on deck, Orange & Blue Press’s Connor Paquette and Geoff Tebbetts take a look at the higher-profile games you should be watching this week.
Las Vegas Lights FC (USLC) vs. Cal FC (UPSL) Tuesday, May 7th, 10:30 PM
Welcome to the “WynalDerby”, ladies and gentlemen. (Okay, so that doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.)
National Soccer Hall of Famer Eric Wynalda was one of the key figures that led amateur-squad Cal FC to immense success in 2012 as its head coach. After making it to the Open Cup tournament and knocking off Kitsap Pumas in the first round, Cal FC went on to slug the USL’s Wilmington Hammerheads, 4-0. They then outlasted Portland 1-0 in the next round, one of the biggest shockers by an amateur qualifier against an MLS squad to date. (Seattle would smother the dream run, 5-0, on their own path to the finals.)
Wynalda’s departure to Atlanta Silverbacks the next year derailed all that momentum, but Cal FC has qualified numerous times since then. Their return to the limelight was interrupted in qualification last year—literally—by the stadium’s lights going out before the game ended, but the replay win against Cal United brought them back to prominence. Their win over FC Mulhouse means they have their first advancement past the first round since that 2012 squad. Veteran midfielders from that 2012 team, Richard Menjivar and Danny Barrera, have rejoined the club, perhaps for one more run to USOC stardom.
It’s only fitting that the team has to go through Wynalda to get to the next round. Las Vegas managed to get to the third round last year, only to stumble against PDL squad FC Golden State. Now Las Vegas has hired Wynalda to retool its offense with ex-Cal FC forward Irvin Parra leading the squad in scoring. With so many common denominators between the teams, this matchup could be far from formulaic.
Orange County SC (USLC) vs. Orange County FC (NPSL) Wednesday, May 15th, 10:30 PM
Place your bets! FC or SC—which pseudo-Americanized moniker for clubs of the beautiful game is truly the best? Despite calling the same pitch home in Irvine, California, Wednesday at sundown will be our first-ever chance to find out.
Both Orange County clubs were founded roughly one decade ago, but they have travelled much different paths leading to their own unique successes. Orange County FC has steadily risen from the sixth-tier SoCal Premier League in 2007 to the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) in 2017, earning Elite-Eight playoff finishes over the last two seasons. In 2018, the team accomplished an eyebrow-raising 3rd-place finish among the 94 teams.
Orange County SC, recently transitioned to the USL Championship, is helmed by 2018 MVP finalist and ex-FC Cincinnati midfielder Aodhan Quinn. Last season, they dominated their way to finish atop their conference table, tied for second overall in the league. Unfortunately, second place would become a theme as OCSC would eventually fall to Phoenix Rising FC in the Western Conference finals.
While both OC teams made it to the second round of the U.S. Open Cup last year, OCFC stumbled against USL-level Fresno, and OCSC were thumped at home by FC Golden State. Two sour endings to promising seasons. Two chips, one for either shoulder. One County to claim. A rivalry is born.
Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (USLC) vs. Dayton Dutch Lions (USL2) Tuesday, May 14th, 7 PM
What year is it? No matter—you probably forgot that these
two teams once were league competitors. (Don’t worry; we did too.)
Back in the day, when USL Championship was still known as USL Pro, Dayton and Pittsburgh were close rivals in the League’s National Division. Starting in 2011, Dayton specifically wasn’t much of a threat. They posted an abysmal two wins and 16 losses that year, but of the few teams they managed to overthrow, the elusive first win was against Pittsburgh. And yet surprisingly, it was Dayton who made it to the quarterfinals of the 2012 U.S. Open Cup, even going so far as to knock out the Columbus Crew along the way.
Since their last head-to-head meeting, Pittsburgh has reinvented their soccer identity; in 2018, they adopted a new crest, matched their colors to the city’s iconic yellow and black, and tagged an “SC” to the end of their name to cap it off. The hire of Bob Lilley has brought them back to a competitive level, but they’ve yet to make a significant impact in the Open Cup. The Riverhounds haven’t gotten past the 4th round since 2001, when they almost beat Chicago in the quarterfinals.
These two clubs have a brief but competitive history against one another. Amazingly, it’s Dayton who holds the head-to-head advantage, having a 4-2-2 record against the Riverhounds during their four-year USL Pro stint. Thus, if Pittsburgh wishes to continue their evolution and reach the pinnacle of lower division soccer, they must first smite their ancient rival.
Greenville Triumph SC (USL1) vs. Charleston Battery (USLC) Wednesday, May 15th, 7 PM
There hasn’t been much competition in South Carolina over the past few decades. Charleston has enjoyed a healthy 25 years as the preeminent soccer club in The Palmetto State. The Battery have arguably been the strongest lower-tier team in the U.S. Open Cup during the MLS Era, twice making it as far as the semifinals and finishing as runners-up to D.C. United in 2008. The last time they faced another South Carolina team in the U.S. Open Cup was back in 2002 when they beat the Greenville Lions, 3-0.
Speaking of Greenville, when the Triumph joined USL League One this year, the team rolled high to hire former FC Cincinnati head coach John Harkes to the same position. It probably was the biggest splash in a league that has started a little like a ripple. But while Greenville itself is in the middle of the table after ten games, the Triumph’s big win against rival South Georgia last week set up an interesting matchup.
Picture it—Cincinnati, 2016. Harkes had just led upstart FC Cincinnati
to the USL playoffs. In the team’s first ever playoff game, the Orange &
Blue were dealt a devastating 2-1 loss to…the Charleston Battery, the same team
Harkes faces this week.
Perhaps both sides wouldn’t consider this to be a revenge
game, but this is the first USL Championship squad Harkes has faced since then.
In addition, he’s brought in a few players from that 2016 FCC team (goalkeeper
Dallas Jaye, defenders Evan Lee and Tyler Polak) who probably still remember
that loss pretty well too.
OKC Energy FC (USLC) vs. NTX Rayados (North Texas PSA) Tuesday, May 14th, 8:30 PM
There could arguably be bigger games this week between beefier USL squads, but none are as intriguing as this David and Goliath battle in which you don’t know who is who.
Surprisingly, the local qualifier teams have done well to get past the first round this year. Five of the eight qualifiers won their matchups last week, but the Rayados possibly had the hardest route to get there. Due to heavy rains, the Rayados found their flight cancelled, forcing the team to drive 320 miles to play the Little Rock Rangers. Despite an early lead, the Rayados were down 2-1 at halftime to the Rangers. After going down to 10 men from a late red card, the Rayados pulled off a miracle equalizer in stoppage time, then won the shootout to advance.
The miracle stoppage-time equalizer is exactly how these two teams played their game last year. Down 2-1 to the Energy, the Rayados managed a 90th-minute penalty kick to save their tournament, then pounded three extra-time goals to stun the USL squad 5-2. The second-round loss was OKC’s earliest exit ever in the tournament, so it’s pretty evident the Energy will want to exact revenge on their own turf this time.
Phoenix Rising (USLC) vs. New Mexico United (USLC) Wednesday, May 15th, 9:30 PM
Phoenix has taken their name to heart and lit the lower division soccer world on fire in recent years. As a player-owner, Chelsea legend Didier Drogba showed the good people of Arizona an electrifying atmosphere that most sports can’t imagine reaching at this level. They continued their charge in atmosphere on the field, making the 2018 USL finals only to fall to the defending Champions, Louisville City FC. But although successful in the community and in their own league, the squad has yet to do serious damage in Open Cup play; they’ve only made it to the 4th round once, back in 2014 when they were Arizona United SC.
To spite Phoenix further, the hottest story in the Southwest now resides in New Mexico United. One of seven expansion teams in USL Championship, NMU have taken the league by storm, bringing in over 12,000 fans per game at Isotopes Field in Albuquerque. The newest team sporting yellow and black has come out swinging, dropping only one game on the season. They’re led by the high-octane forwards Kevaughn Frater and Santi Moar; each of whom are tied for the Western Conference lead in goals scored possess both Player-of-the-Month and Goal-of-the-Month honors to start the season.
How will their neighbors respond? For the most part, Phoenix
has enjoyed isolation of marketplace in the Southwest, as their closest true
rivals were in the distant lands of Texas and California. But with Phoenix’s
slow start to the season and New Mexico rising to the East, a new threat has emerged.
Yellow and Black versus Red and Black—the border war begins.
Third-round matchups will be played on or around May 29th, with fourth-round matchups (and FC Cincinnati’s game) announced the following Thursday, May 30th.
The U.S. Open Cup begins again. What lower-tier teams are expected to go far this year?
It has been almost one year since FC Cincinnati was accepted into Major League Soccer’s grandest stage. There have been perks from the call to the expanded field—scintillating match-ups against deeper talent, travel to bigger cities, the meaty prospects of a “Hell Is Real” Derby rematch twice a year—but a major downgrade is the fact that the Orange & Blue are no longer the underdogs. That also means we’ll have to wait before we see a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup match that matters.
Fans in the Queen City owe a lot to the tournament that shined a light on the underdogs the brightest. FCC’s miracle run in 2017 was amplified even more by teams such as Miami FC blazing through Orlando and Atlanta, Sacramento Republic crushing Real Salt Lake, and local-qualifier darlings Christos FC rattling D.C. United. While there still hasn’t been a non-MLS team in the finals since 2008, each year another lower-tier team makes us believe.
For now, those “underdog” days are over for FC Cincinnati. The Orange & Blue now join the competition in the fourth round with 20 other MLS teams. However, we cannot forget that the Open Cup lifted our profile even higher than before, and that’s why we should be following the 106th edition of the Cup from the first round (which is still easy to do with the games all on ESPN+). We owe a lot to those phantasmic games in 2017.
But which teams could make a similar run for the Cup this year? This article will cover the lower leagues involved and the teams that could make the deepest invasion in the open competition.
Local Qualifiers – NTX Rayados
Since 2014, there has been at least one amateur team that had survived qualification rounds and climbed all the way to the fourth round to face an MLS squad. While a “local qualifier” has not managed to get further than this, last year’s highest-advancing amateur club, NTX Rayados from Dallas, TX, could likely repeat the run.
The glut of MLS, USL, and NPSL squads means that only 8 local amateur teams make the competition this year (compared to 13 last year). However, the Rayados have been a powerhouse in the United States Adult Soccer Association and have qualified the last eight years. Granted, they have only gotten out of the first round twice, but last year’s squad scored three times in added extra time against Oklahoma City Energy FC for the second-round upset.
While the team was hammered 5-0 by eventual champions Houston Dynamo, the team has pulled in help from a national junior-college champion team to keep the squad young and talented. It took two long penalty-kick wins to make it this far this year, including one that went eleven rounds, but NTX could easily find themselves in a rematch against OKC if they can get past Little Rock in the first round.
Remember when FC Cincinnati had a mini Ohio derby against AFC Cleveland in 2017? If Cleveland didn’t get past the first round, FCC would have had to travel to face the Menace in the second round. While Des Moines missed qualifying last year, their 13-1-0 record in 2018 gets them back into the tournament for the 11th time in 18 years.
Although the Menace failed to make it past the quarterfinals in the USL PDL tournament last year, the team returns a great deal of talent. The team has brought in Mark McKeever to helm the team this year, who led the Mississippi Brilla to the third round in the Open Cup last year. The Menace also bring back 2018 USL PDL MVP Ryosuke Kinoshita—the University of Louisville forward scored 17 goals for the Menace last year. He could be key in helping the team reach heights they haven’t seen since 2005, back when they beat USL1 teams Pittsburgh, Charleston, and Atlanta to get to the fourth round.
The run might not be easy though—a win means the Menace would have to host St. Louis FC in the second round. Considering they lost to St. Louis back in 2015, perhaps there’s an opportunity for an upset.
Is there really a team in the USL’s brand-new Division III league that could go far in the Open Cup? Only six of the ten teams are unaffiliated and can compete, so the pickings are slim in the first place. Much of the meat in the league would have to face the top teams in the USL (Nashville SC, Charleston Battery, Indy Eleven), and Forward Madison would have to send an untested team 1,400 miles to face El Paso.
We threw a dart at a map of the U.S., and it landed nearest to Richmond. Why not roll with the team that won it all way back in 1995 and reached the semifinals in 2011? Granted, they have a steep challenge ahead of them in drawing NCFC if they get to the second round, but young striker Joe Gallardo has done well to start the season with 3 goals in his first six games with the Kickers. Maybe lighting strikes a few times in a row?
While USL League Two (then PDL) has been considered the developmental half of Division IV soccer, the NPSL has to be considered the more regionally competitive half of the tier. The league has the most semi-pro representation in the U.S. Open Cup this year (14 teams), and it’s likely that the former NASL giants Miami FC could progress the furthest in the tournament this year.
Miami FC took major steps back last year in more ways than
one. Forced to flee to NPSL when the NASL collapsed, the semi-pro squad was
unable to get out of the USOC second round last year. However, the team still
rode the hot feet of midfielder Dylan Mares and striker Ariel Martinez to win
the 2018 NPSL Title, and the team’s only gotten better by signing ex-Red Bulls
pro Lloyd Sam and former Toronto goalkeeper Mark Pais.
Can Miami FC repeat the success that got them past Orlando
and Atlanta in 2017? That might be a bit of a harder challenge, but Miami
FC’s 10-0 win over division rivals Storm FC this past week ought to strike
fear in the USL Championship and League One teams. Miami FC should be able to
trounce local-qualifiers Florida Soccer Soldiers on their way to facing a shaky
Charlotte Independence squad next week. The step beyond that, however, could
lead to a clash of ex-NASL giants…
Part of me says that I shouldn’t play my chips this way.
Tampa Bay has had that rock-star persona over the past few years with big names
like Joe Cole and Marcel Schäfer gracing the pitch. However, this incarnation
of the Rowdies has not gotten far in Open Cup play. Their biggest win was a
third-round upset of Seattle in 2013, but they’ve never gotten past the fourth round
since starting in 2010.
Why should this year be any different? First of all, it
feels like the facelift to personnel has finally made the team younger and
hungrier. 2018 felt like a sendoff to multiple players heading into retirement
(Cole, Schäfer, Michael Nanchoff, Georgi Hristov), so it became the right time
for new coach Neill Collins to stockpile talent. MLS discards such as
midfielder Andrew Tinari and goalkeeper John McCarthy have fit in well, while
forward Sebastián Guenzatti is leaving his mark as the new strike force.
Talented USL standouts such as Zach Steinberger and Antoine Hoppenot have
filled out the rest of the roster.
With that complete roster, Tampa Bay has started the season
as one of two USL teams still undefeated. Considering they have the weekend off
before their second-round matchup against local USL League Two talent, as well
as a home stretch after that, Tampa Bay could go far in the Open Cup. If the
luck of the draw means they don’t have to travel great distances, I could see
them upsetting an Orlando City or Atlanta United squad down the line.
The immense explosion in USL expansion has created scenarios
where USL Championship squads will likely face each other or a USL League One
squad in the second round, so predicting an easy route to the third round isn’t
so simple this year. Six teams in the Western Conference for the USL
Championship will have to slug it out against each other, leaving some room for
the untested teams.
The most intriguing of those teams appears to be Las Vegas. Their
inaugural 2018 season was more circus than soccer with pre-game
llamas, money-drop promotions, and a
head coach who smoked in the stands during a preseason tilt against
Vancouver. However, the hiring of MLS stalwart Eric Wynalda suggested that the
team was ready to be taken seriously. Midfielder Irvin Parra has come back to
the USL revitalized, scoring five goals in the last five games, while
goalkeeper Thomas Olsen has started the season with four clean sheets.
Las Vegas will take on a relative lightweight in either FC Mulhouse (NPSL) or Cal FC (UPSL), and either team will have to travel far to get there. If Las Vegas win and get paired against Reno 1868 FC in the third round, the in-state rivalry could spark a streak.
Are the Lights ready for MLS competition? Perhaps. The 5-1 victory over Toronto in the preseason might be a measuring stick for such matters. If Vegas can make it to the fourth round and avoid matchups against the Los Angeles teams, I see an upset in the cards.
What teams in this year’s competition will go the furthest? What
giant-killing opportunities lurk on the horizon? The only way we’ll find out is
by letting it all play out to completion.
FC Cincinnati’s fifth consecutive loss comes at a moment where the team could really use the boost in morale. The uplifting feeling…
FC Cincinnati’s fifth consecutive loss comes at a moment where the team could really use the boost in morale. The uplifting feeling from starting hot against some of the strongest teams from last season has now given way to sullen acceptance that achieving the playoffs might be a pipe dream if something doesn’t change. It’s getting harder to locate the good coming from the games when the team is struggling to get healthy and cohesive.
It is hard to say if the team hit rock bottom from their 1-0 loss at San Jose, but a better team would have found a way to win with the advantages presented to them. The first 51 minutes of the match were understandably in San Jose’s favor. FCC has found it difficult to out-possess teams this season, and Saturday was no different. The ‘Quakes had hefty advantages in possession and pass success, as well as a 9-3 advantage in shots.
Suffice to say, had Cristian Espinoza not gotten his red card in the 51st minute, we may have seen more of the same. However, the man advantage did flip the statistics—FCC enjoyed a possession advantage after the red card that brought the overall possession to a 52/48 split for San Jose. Despite not finding the net, FCC had their own 9-2 advantage in shots.
Perhaps the hardest pill to swallow is that, even with a man advantage over 40 minutes in the second half, FCC weren’t able to break through with the goal they so dearly miss. Despite substituting in players with offensive potential—Manu Ledesma, Roland Lamah, and the returning Fanendo Adi—the zero was hung for another game. Only two shots were attempted on frame in the second half, and both were from midfielder Fatai Alashe.
The tide could still be turning. The big number that stood
out when FCC beat Portland for their first win this year was the number of
shots taken inside the 18-yard box (12/6). Even with the penalty kick factored
in, seven of FCC’s eight goals have been from inside the box. However, despite
having eight shots inside the box to San Jose’s four, the results have been
threadbare. And perhaps that is where Adi can finally produce now that he’s
healthy and hopefully ready for full 90-minute games.
So far, the Orange & Blue have failed to score in five
games and a total of 501 minutes. Those numbers have been announced repeatedly
and are starting to build. FCC has been shut out in six games already this
season, something that happened only five times last year.
Stretches of play without a goal is, fortunately, not as much a rarity in MLS play as people would imagine. Matthew Doyle pointed out the longest stretches of inefficiency when Montreal was undergoing a small stretch of their own last year. While the Impact figured out their issues and almost made the playoffs in 2018, history doesn’t paint a rosy picture for FCC.
The worst stretch belonged to Toronto FC in their inaugural 2007 season. Not only did they start their first season with four straight clean-sheet losses, but they eventually went nine games without scoring a goal, losing seven and drawing two. That TFC squad won only 6 times in 30 games, ending the season with only 25 goals and a -24 goal differential. Expectedly, both of those numbers put them dead last in their first year in the league.
Of note, both Toronto FC and Real Salt Lake opened their
first season with longer scoreless streaks, and both finished near the bottom
of the MLS table. Their goal differentials also were believably bad, which is
to be expected from teams that could not produce offense.
However, if there is any sort of bright spot, Colorado had a similar scoreless streak in 1999, but still managed to make the playoffs. Yes, the number of teams in the league is now double that of the league in 1999, but it’s still a positive sign. There is time to turn the ship around, especially now that FCC gets two home games and two (hopefully) winnable road games against Orlando and Colorado.
Of note, this power outage is affecting the entire state of Ohio. Columbus have lost their last five games, having scored only 2 goals of their own.
The Bright Bulbs
At least this game gave us a chance to analyze Frankie Amaya in his first professional start with FC Cincinnati. Given the chance to work before his substitution in the 67th minute, Amaya was efficient when he had the opportunity with the ball. He led the starters in pass success (95%) and tied with Kenny Saief in team-high for tackles (4). However, his possession numbers were still relatively low (2.5%), as the ball was primarily controlled by Ulloa (10.5%), Waston (5.5%), and Lasso (5.1%).
The other positive is that this was the first game where both Adi and Ledesma were on the pitch at the same time, albeit both in a substitution role. Ledesma had a significant amount of possession (2.3%) and was 4th on the team in Audi Index numbers for only 25 minutes of play. While Adi’s numbers were hard to monitor, getting him onto the pitch was the first step.
It’s a small victory in itself, but considering that both last
year’s USL MVP and major DP signing have only played 24% and 18% of the minutes
this season, it was good to get them back to Square One. If Greg Garza is able
to return to full health and the best midfield tandem can be decided, maybe Koch
can crank out the fullest, most effective lineup and bail this sinking ship
Until the next goal for FCC can be scored, however, the fans will be wondering when the lights will come back on.
Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press as FCC prepares for their home tilt against Montreal next Saturday.
Despite FC Cincinnati’s encouraging draw against a Sporting Kansas City squad that had obliterated Montreal 7-1 the week before …
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.
Orange & Blue Press’ Match Program provides and infographic and the fast facts you need to ready for FC Cincinnati versus Sporking KC this Sunday.
After a sunny start to the season, reality delivered a damper to FC Cincinnati last week. The 2-0 loss to Philadelphia left the Orange & Blue in 5th place in the East with a depleted lineup and a potentially dangerous opponent on Sunday.
The first of three straight Western Conference opponents, Sporting Kansas City come to Cincinnati with momentum in league play. SKC feasted on the Montreal Impact last Saturday, 7-1. SKC are also the only MLS club remaining in the current edition of the CONCACAF Champions League. However, Peter Vermes and company suffered a demoralizing 5-0 defeat to Monterrey in Mexico on Thursday and come into Sunday’s match wounded and looking to rebound.
Both teams come into the match with some injury concerns. FCC will definitely be without Fanendo Adi (ankle/suspension) and could also be without forward Kekuta Manneh and midfielder Emmanuel Ledesma (hamstring). SKC will be without right back Jaylen Lindsey (knee), while Dániel Sallói (ankle) is questionable.
Here are five facts for FC Cincinnati’s first match against the team once called the “Kansas City Wiz”.
Although much of their offense came last week, Sporting Kansas City’s attack has been bolstered by Krisztián Németh’s resurgence. Over all competitions, the Hungarian forward has scored eight goals in seven matches.
FC Cincinnati have had to tap into their roster depth early. 19 players have received starts over the first five matches. Only Orlando City and the New York Red Bulls have started more in the Eastern Conference, as both have played 20 players. Two additional FCC players, Caleb Stanko and Frankie Amaya, have made appearances coming off the bench as substitutes.
SKC manager Peter Vermes is currently the longest-tenured head coach in Major League Soccer (314 games). He is the all-time leader in games coached with one club in league history and is fourth in all-time wins as a coach (133). Additionally, Vermes has won four major trophies as a manager—three US Open Cups and one MLS Cup—the second most of all active coaches in MLS.
With FCC potentially missing three attackers (Adi, Ledesma, Manneh), it’s likely that midfielder Kenny Saief sees his second start of the season. Even though he has only been on the pitch for 125 minutes, Saief leads the team in combined points with one goal and two assists.
SKC demolished Montreal Impact 7-1 at home last week, matching the biggest win in their 23-plus-year history. However, history has shown that the next game is not a guaranteed win. In April 2018, SKC defeated Vancouver 6-0 at home, only to lose at New England the next week 1-0. Also, in June 1999, back when they were known as the Kansas City Wizards, the team beat the New York Metrostars 6-0, only to lose 3-0 to D.C. United the following week.
Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press as FC Cincinnati tries to weather another storm at Nippert Stadium this weekend.
Orange & Blue Press’ Match Program provides an infographic and the fast facts you need to get ready for FC Cincinnati vs New England Revolution this Sunday.
Congratulations on the morale-boosting win, FC Cincinnati. A week removed from the hard-earned point in Atlanta, you deconstructed Portland 3-0 with a solid, full-team effort. Taking four points from last year’s MLS Cup matchup is an impressive feat. Doing it in front of a sold-out Nippert Stadium with the entire nation watching is even sweeter.
Oh, you were expecting a reward? Now you get to hit the road for the third time in four games during a roster-carving international break. Kendall Waston and Allan Cruz head to the Costa Rican team, Darren Mattocks and Alvas Powell join the Reggae Boyz in Jamaica, and Frankie Amaya heads to the USMNT U-20 team camp. You also don’t have your top starting striker, as Fanendo Adi is doubtful with a leg injury.
You also have to make your first trip into New England, playing against a demoralized Revolution team seeking their own first win this season. Coach Brad Friedel’s team hit a road block in Canada, losing 3-2 to Toronto last week, despite a solid offensive showing. While the weather appears to be clean and crisp, what was once perceived to be a winnable road game doesn’t feel like a certain thing.
Welcome to the league, Rookie.
Although New England possesses some players who have USMNT exposure (forwards Teal Bunbury and Juan Agudelo), Cincinnati will be losing much more of their lineup to the international break. The departure of Waston, Powell, Cruz, and Mattocks means that FCC loses 26% of their minutes played (786). Compare that to New England, who loses only 1.5% (45 minutes lost).
One of these teams will have to possess the ball for the majority of the match. FC Cincinnati (42.5%) and New England (42.2%) are at the bottom of the league in possession. However, both teams were able to salvage draws in games with their lowest possession numbers.
Despite having a team built for defense, FC Cincinnati has been disciplined in their fouling. FCC commits only 10.7 fouls per game (5th lowest in the MLS), while New England leads the league (17.3). The difference is also reflected in the number of yellow cards (FCC with 3, New England with 7). New England’s Wilfried Zahibo is only one of two players who have received a yellow card in each of the first three games of the season.
New England’s newest designated player Carles Gil has been the team’s workhorse so far. The Revolution’s #10 has scored 3 goals off of 9 shots, which accounts for 100% of their goals and 33% of their shots taken. Considering that 27 of their 49 goals came from the forward position last year, the Revs will be anxious to return to that form.
With half of the starting back line missing, FCC will have to perform with untested talent. Nick Hagglund will have a bigger role to play, and so far, he’s recovered from a shaky start. His 5 blocked shots are third in the league. Waston’s void could likely be filled by Forrest Lasso if he makes his first start of the season. The big man from Wofford led the USL in clearances last year (239).
Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for coverage of FC Cincinnati’s first visit to New England.
It’s probably not lost to some that we now have two writers with different spellings of the same first name on board. Geoff Tebbetts has been writing for O&BP for the past two years, while Jeff Bull comes to us on loan from Conifers & Citrus, a blog on many things related to the Portland Timbers.
Because their styles of writing are a bit diametrically opposed, and because Cincinnati and Portland are scrapping at each other this weekend to kick off MLS competition in the Queen City, we thought it would be fun to put the two in the squared circle for a round. “Geoff vs. Jeff” will (hopefully) be a periodic head-to-head column that pits these two minds against each other for random soccer-related topics. There won’t be a true clear-cut winner on the topics, but it will at least give our writers the chance to get each other in mental wrestling holds to see which one taps.
Because it’s Cincinnati vs. Portland this week, the topic for Round 1 will be basic and clean:
What will Cincinnati or Portland need to do to take all three points? What might make Cincinnati or Portland drop points to the other squad?
Geoff: Why Cincinnati will take all 3 points
Yes, like Seattle, Atlanta had many of the statistics at The Benz in their favor when the final whistle blew. Cincinnati was fairly outplayed when it came to possession and attack. However, for all the numbers Opta churns out, only one set makes a difference. If your team’s number of goals matches the other team’s number of goals, it’s a big fat point that will spawn confidence. (The tongue-in-cheek celebratory shirt is optional.)
For much of the early season, Koch has been hard in the workshop to craft a back line that fits his need. In the end, he may have only needed the right help to return to form. The 4-man line failed at Seattle when Alvas Powell played a bit too high, revealing a spot vulnerable to the cross when the remaining three defenders scrambled back. This time around the defense stayed solid enough to keep crosses out, and the later addition of Greg Garza brought consistent stability on both edges of the pitch. Despite the discrepancy in possession, Atlanta’s attack (10 shots / 4 shots on goal) was not as threatening as Seattle’s (24/9).
A defense that is not a liability should generate a pathway to a stronger offensive weapon. Leo Bertone and Victor Ulloa appear to be gaining confidence in the middle, and if Kenny Saief and Allan Cruz have grown to trust Koch’s system, the build-up to the front line should produce more fruit. Most importantly, Fanendo Adi’s production was much sharper at home last year, and a vocal near-sell-out crowd should get the team excited to excel at a higher level.
Jeff: Why Portland will take all 3 points
The Timbers aren’t your run-of-the-mill defending champions missing a key player (Miguel Almirón) and going through an identity crisis straight outta The Netherlands. No, this is your 2018 MLS CUP runner-up that returned every single key player from a line-up that built two massive unbeaten streaks last season. All the newer players have had another year to get in sync with the core group, but the player to flag is Andy Polo, a winger now actually playing as a winger where he can stretch a defense vertically and/or spread the attack horizontally.
The overall seeing-eye familiarity allows Portland to transition with precision and speed that both teams they’ve faced so far struggled to contain. The attack is also unconventional, with the bulk of the string-pulling and even the scoring coming from dueling midfield maestros Diego Valeri and Sebastian Blanco. They play a forward, of course—Jeremy Ebobisse—who has been scoring steadily in 2019, but he’s equally important as a foil for the maestros. The Timbers can strike from distance or break a defense down. Expect the game to look more like the opener against the Seattle Sounders (Nicolas Lodeiro—BOO!) than the aimless meandering that Cincinnati had to “contain” against Atlanta. Portland will win this game by scoring more goals than FC Cincy. That’s my marker.
Geoff: Why Cincinnati will drop points
One could easily point out that the first two games have not been easy for Cincinnati and that the team will experience growing pains at many times this season. Yes, this could be Cincinnati’s best opportunity to squeeze a win against a team on a long road trip with its key player missing. However, we’re still not sure if Garza and Saief still need time to gel or if the 4-2-3-1 formation stays in place.
Ultimately, Koch’s urgency to push forward may hurt the team’s ability to penetrate the scoring column. Despite doing better with their possession against Atlanta, FC Cincy was caught offside eight times to Atlanta’s zero. (In comparison, FCC was offside only once against Seattle.) The engine was ready, but Atlanta’s own defense was effective at forcing Cincinnati to stall. Maybe Adi’s goal in Atlanta counts at home, but the team needs to be more observant and disciplined on the attack.
The other major issue that has plagued FCC since the preseason is the tendency to let the opposition head into halftime with the lead. Of the seven games played against MLS teams, FCC has had to start the second half trailing in five of them, while the other two were draws after 45 minutes. Yes, preseason means little, but playing from behind is that much harder when possession is dominated by the opposition. Granted, Portland is playing with a depleted squad, but two poor road performances by the Timbers means they’ll want to reverse their own poor opening defense and be the first to draw blood.
Jeff: Why Portland will drop points
The stupid suspension of Diego Chara puts a massive crack in Portland’s already-existing glass jaw. (Google Portland’s record without him.) As for the glass jaw, that’s a defense that has averaged 3.5 goals per game so far this season. To anyone who argues, “But that was Los Angeles FC,” I would respond, “Yes, but it was also the Colorado Rapids.” (At which, they’d point to the snow and the coldest game in league history as a tertiary assist for the Rapids.) One of the bigger items on the off-season punchlist was upgrading central defense—and that sort of happened. The Timbers picked up Claude Dielna from a New England Revolution defense that covered itself in a series of prat-falls rather than glory. Left with no brighter options, head coach Giovanni Savarese has started Julio Cascante next to the team’s one confirmed center-back, Larrys Mabiala.
The results, um, speak for themselves.
To make matters worse, FC Cincinnati pilfered a pair of (pickled) Portland players, in Alvas Powell and Fanendo Adi. This necessarily hands FC Cincy a cheat-code or two. Adi alone makes me nervous, but the idea of him finding a seam in the trouble area between Cascante and left-back Jorge Villafana just dumps in some more butterflies.
Put all the above together, and the cumulative concern goes something like this: Cincinnati will struggle if Adi (or, face it, Roland Lamah) can’t get service, but the best means of denying both players service comes with cutting it out in midfield and—whoops! No Diego Chara. Bottom line, if Portland’s attack sputters the way Atlanta’s did, I’d expect a similar result for Portland, and I am bracing for a worse one.
Did either Geoff or Jeff score a hit on their observations, or did this bout end in a double KO? Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of Cincinnati’s home debut vs. the Timbers.
The day you never imagined would come is finally almost here. It’s 6:59 AM on Christmas Day, and you’re lined up at the bedroom door to rush out to see what Santa brought you.
The MLS season is about to begin.
FC Cincinnati is ready to play its first-ever MLS match, cobbling together a team only 9 months after the formal welcome into top-tier play. However, the schedule makers have had the last laugh, throwing nine playoff-caliber matchups in the Orange & Blue’s way in the first 10 games.
Their first opponent is “MLS 2.0” powerhouse Seattle, owners of an MLS Cup, a Supporters’ Shield, and four U.S. Open Cup titles in only ten seasons of Major League Soccer existence. Seattle finished second in the crowded Western Conference, only to stumble in both games against rival Portland in the playoffs. Seattle welcomed LAFC to the league and their home stadium last year, but lost 1-0 in a chippy affair.
No pressure, right?
While FC Cincinnati has only been in existence since 2015, the Sounders have been through three incarnations in the NASL, USL, and MLS. However, since their dawn in 1973, the Sounders have only ever played against one team from the Queen City—the Cincinnati Riverhawks. Between 1998 and 2002, the teams played five times, with Seattle winning three matches.
The last match between the Sounders and Riverhawks was on August 4th, 2002—a USL A-League match that ended in a 4-1 win for the Sounders. The Sounders would end up claiming two USL titles before they joined MLS in 2009, while the Riverhawks would disband in 2003.
Individually, Cincinnati’s forwards have done decently against the Sounders. Fanendo Adi has scored 8 goals against Seattle as a Portland Timber, while newly-acquired Kekuta Manneh scored a hat trick over Seattle for Vancouver back in 2013.
The most dangerous piece in Seattle’s attack is likely Raúl Ruidíaz. Despite playing in only 14 games in 2018, the Peruvian forward scored 10 goals. Only Josef Martinez (0.91) and Zlatan (0.81) scored goals at a higher goal-per-match clip than Ruidíaz last year. With Jordan Morris back from a devastating ACL injury, Seattle’s offense should be vastly improved.
Although FCC is the newest team in the league, the average age of their roster (26.9) is one of the oldest. Only D.C. United (27.5) and Minnesota United (27.2) have a higher average age. However, Seattle is no spring chicken, either (26.8). (For the record, FC Dallas is the youngest, around 24 years of age.)
Since being traded to Seattle in 2013, goalkeeper Stefan Frei has only missed 6 matches in 5 years. Despite allowing only 7 clean sheets last season, Frei was arguably the team MVP, allowing only 34 goals in 33 games. Only the Red Bulls’ Luis Robles started at least 30 games with a lower goals-per-game average (30 goals in 31 games).
Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s maiden voyage into MLS, leading to their home opener on March 17th.