Deeper Cuts: First 30, Lapses, and Roster Questions

Image: Ryan Meyer

The ‘new manager bump’, or an uptick in form following the arrival of a new head coach, might have already worn off for Yoann Damet’s squad. Orlando SC’s 5-1 rout over Cincinnati highlighted how FCC’s problems may go beyond a simple coaching change.

Of course, it is important to note the adversity the Orange & Blue faced. Family emergencies, injuries, and extreme heat all impacted both the lineup selection and the game plan. Despite these hurdles, the score was deadlocked at halftime amid a competitive – yet sluggish – Sunday afternoon affair. What went wrong for Cincinnati in the Sunshine State?

First 30 Minutes

Fans may have wanted to watch the fast, possession-oriented style of play Damet teased them with in his coaching debut. Perhaps due to the limited roster, he opted for a lower line of confrontation and a more defensive approach in Orlando. The conventional belief behind this strategy is to play safe and limit mistakes, and to hit strong on the counter.

FC Cincinnati did this relatively well the first 30 minutes. Frankie Amaya and Emmanuel Ledesma were receiving the ball, turning, and dribbling up the field with pace before making defenders commit. Darren Mattocks did well on the day to create an opportunity for Ledesma which blasted off the crossbar, and to clinically finish a half-chance into the roof of the net surrounded by four purple defenders. Truthfully, Mattocks was lucky to never be closed down on his goal, and Robin Jansson dived in when all he had to do was contain and push out wide.

Costly Lapses

The positives stop there. Mattocks had only 11 touches before his substitution. After the first goal, FCC began to sit back and afforded Orlando more opportunity to dictate play. Some players, meanwhile, switched off at critical moments.

After the deflected goal from Tesho Akindele put Orlando on the scoreboard, FC Cincinnati looked shell-shocked in defense as James O’Connor’s side tallied 10 shots after half-time and over 200 more passes throughout the match.

FCC was also second best on three separate corners. The first mistake, Kendall Waston’s WWE maneuver leading to Nani’s rebound penalty conversion, was the epitome of the type of defense that landed Cincinnati in its rough predicament.

The 2-1 score line gave Orlando all the momentum it needed to bury FC Cincinnati with pace, possession, and set pieces, while Cincinnati looked toothless in attack. Fitness may have been an issue, as numbers rarely supported the player on the ball, and attackers were not tightly marked with conviction in crucial moments as the match progressed. Getting a point or three on the road looked very unlikely at that stage, and the late game substitutions did little to quell these fears. Spencer Richey did well to keep the game as close as he did.

Roster Questions as Gold Cup Looms

Damet finds himself in one of the toughest coaching environments in the country right now. He must, as the youngest MLS coach in history, find a way to inspire a limited roster of players while Jeff Berding scours the planet looking for his inevitable replacement.

Alan Koch may have lost the locker room, and with it, his job. An interesting development after his departure is that some of the team’s highest profile players are still not starting. Are there injury issues at play or do recent choices in player selection go beyond that? Will Damet have the support of the dressing room and front office to make these tough calls?

Fanendo Adi, the star striker and highest-earning player on the team, was not brought to the Queen City as a backup. It remains to be seen how Damet will utilize Adi, but there is little evidence to suggest he provides a spark off the bench.

Where does USMNT player Kenny Saief fit into this club’s short-term or long-term plans? Is Greg Garza reliable enough to build around given his very unfortunate but continued injury troubles?

Has Justin Hoyte overtaken Nick Hagglund as Waston’s center back partner, despite the funds the organization gave up obtaining Hagglund? Additionally, the club is currently using an international spot on the second-string keeper.

Selecting strong matchday squads will only get harder for Damet as the Gold Cup approaches and players leave for international duty. It will give other players an opportunity to shine, and luckily for Cincinnati, there is a still a lot of season left to be played.

At this point in the season, however, a four-goal loss to 10th place Orlando is a big blow to a club aiming for a playoff berth.

Match Program: FC Cincinnati at Philadelphia Union

FC Cincinnati square-off against the Philadelphia Union in a midweek clash marking the Orange & Blue’s first ever rematch versus an MLS opponent.

Design: CSDIV / Image: Joe Craven

FC Cincinnati square-off against the Philadelphia Union in a midweek clash marking the Orange & Blue’s first in-season rematch versus an MLS opponent. After taking 7 points from the first four games, Cincinnati suffered defeat to Philadelphia at Nippert Stadium by a score of 2-0.  Since then, FCC has only managed 1 point from the following four games.

That winless stretch is highlighted by the complete absence of goals. FC Cincinnati has not scored a goal from the run of play in 475 minutes. Even for a team that prioritizes strong defense and counterattacking soccer, the lack of offensive production is very troubling. Only Atlanta United and Vancouver Whitecaps FC have scored fewer goals this season. In turn, the defense bears a greater burden as they must be perfect for 90 minutes. Head coach Alan Koch is now left to determine what changes are needed to get his team back on track.

Fanendo Adi, Corben Bone, and Greg Garza are all listed as questionable for this match. The Union also have injuries problems. They look likely to miss star goalkeeper Andre Blake. In addition, Marco Fabian may not be fully fit as he just returned to training yesterday after an ankle injury.

Kickoff at Talen Energy Stadium is at 7:30 PM.

Fast Facts

  • Philadelphia (4-3-2) are sitting in 3rd place in the Eastern Conference. Since these two sides last met, the Union have picked up 7 points in four games. They can go top of the Eastern Conference with a win.
  • Will Fanendo Adi dress for Wednesday’s game? He returned to training last week but did not make the bench against the New York Red Bulls. Off-field issues aside, Adi’s experience and goal-scoring expertise are sorely missed right now.
  • Last time Cincinnati faced Philadelphia, 4 players had played every single minute. Now just three players have that honor: Nick Hagglund, Mathieu Deplagne, and Leo Bertone. Like their FCC counterparts, Haris Medunjanin, Alejandro Bedoya, and Jack Elliot have all racked up 810 minutes of total playing time.
  • On the flip side, Nazmi Albadawi is the only field player to not have earned playing time under Alan Koch this season. Of course, this does not include loaned players (such as Emery Welshman) or injured players (such as Jimmy McLaughlin).
  • Kendall Waston and Leo Bertone both have 4 yellow cards putting them in dangerous territory. MLS rules state that after 5 yellow cards players must serve a 1 game suspension.

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of Philadelphia Union versus FC Cincinnati.

What FC Cincinnati Needs to Improve for RSL Win

As FC Cincinnati looks to Friday night’s clash versus Real Salt Lake, Alan Koch’s squad understands they must improve a few key aspects…

Image:Joe Craven

As FC Cincinnati looks to Friday night’s clash versus Real Salt Lake, Alan Koch’s squad understands they must improve key aspects of their game in order to take all three points.

Cincinnati (2-3-2) finds themselves hovering mid-table in a balanced Eastern Conference after a defeat to league-leaders Los Angeles Football Club.

“To keep them [LAFC] to 1-0 until the 90th minute was a testament to the defensive work we did out there,” said Victor Ulloa. “It was unfortunate to give up that first goal on a set piece, something that we can control.”

“We created chances,” Ulloa continued. “We created clear chances and you have to put them away. I think we could be talking today about walking away with a point, but we take the positives and we grow.”

The attitude that FCC must acknowledge and move on from last Saturday’s shortcomings is prevalent throughout the team.

“I thought we were very unfortunate not to get a result,” said Kekuta Manneh. “We had our chances and we didn’t take them. It’s something to build on.”

The next game week occurs at a time in which both Cincinnati and Real Salt Lake reside on the fringes of a playoff picture that is just starting to emerge. Real Salt Lake (2-4-1) travels to Nippert Stadium looking for two wins in a row following a home victory against Orlando City SC. The opening run of games has not been kind to RSL overall, as they have fallen to 2019 title-contenders such as Seattle Sounders, D.C. United, and LAFC.

“They’re a tough team that works really hard,” Victor Ulloa said. “They are going to come in here and try to get a result away. So, we have to get back to our winning ways at home and give the fans what they deserve and that’s three points.”

Although not expected to earn a result away to LAFC, arguably the hottest team in MLS, the same cannot be said for the upcoming home matchup against RSL. Alan Koch’s side should attempt to dictate the tempo against a Real Salt Lake side that often concedes possession.

“It’s interesting,” Koch said, “because when I say possess the ball better, people criticize it and say, ‘You’re a transition team. Why are you trying to possess the ball?’ But when we do possess the ball, then it doesn’t give the opposition a chance to try to break us down.”

“Yeah, of course we’re going to focus on transitioning moments because we’re good at those when we attack,” Koch continued. “We want to reinforce being good in attacking transition, but I do think that if we can possess the ball more, it takes away from the team that we play against too.”

Determining the appropriate balance between possession and counterattacking football is essential in ensuring Koch can set up his team to succeed.

From there, it is up to Cincinnati’s attacking threats to be clinical in front of goal.

FC Cincinnati’s First-Month Rollercoaster

As FC Cincinnati concludes their first month of play, let’s take a moment to recognize their accomplishments and “firsts”.

Five games down, twenty-nine to go. As the inaugural month of MLS play concludes for the Orange & Blue, let’s recap what FC Cincinnati has accomplished in the Eastern Conference. A lot has happened in a short amount of time, leaving room for statements like, “If you had told me [insert interesting fact] a few weeks ago, I’d say you’re crazy!” and “Is it too soon to start thinking playoffs?” So, let’s try to make sense of the most exciting month in Cincinnati soccer history to date.

Notable “Firsts”

Look at these notable ‘firsts’:

  • First MLS goal, courtesy of a Leonardo Bertone wonder-strike
  • First MLS point, at Atlanta, the reigning MLS Cup champs no less
  • First-ever MLS win against the Portland Timbers in the home opener

Let’s take a look at that first goal one more time.

Bipolar Narrative

Simply put, this doesn’t tell the whole story. The FC Cincinnati narrative, in the media and public perception, has been bipolar. 

Here’s a team that got soundly defeated by a (we know now) still-undefeated Seattle side, and even the most optimistic fans were worried. Were the pundits correct? Is the roster not constructed well? Are we Minnesota 2.0?

Surprise, surprise, then came 7 points in the next 3 games, momentarily lifting FCC to second place in the table. They did it by grinding out results and effectively using counter-attacks when opportunities allowed. They did it by controlling the tempo at Nippert. And they did it due to Koch’s tactical flexibility against different types of opposition. He utilized multiple 4-back formation variations and entrusted 19 different with playing time in these three matches.

The narrative flipped. A few weeks prior, the Orange and Blue looked defensively unorganized and offensively inept. Now? The defense is stable, the team selection stronger, and the offense balanced with seven different goalscorers. There even appears to be some depth, allowing FCC to survive international breaks.

March of All Marches

The march to the stadium before the Portland game forced even the most skeptical voices to take note of, and appreciate, the incredible soccer culture in the Queen City. Perhaps even more impressive were the supporters who stuck out miserable conditions to watch Philadelphia bring Cincinnati back down to Earth.

Has Koch’s side cemented its place in the Eastern Conference as a threat, or only capitalized off the poor form of recent dominant sides like Atlanta and Portland? Only time will reveal FC Cincinnati’s true level. For now, they rest in 5th place in the Eastern Conference.

Alan Koch summarized it best in his comments in training about the start of the season

“We knew we were going to have some tough moments, and we’ve had them already, and we’re going to continue to have tough moments. Saturday night was one of those moments. But we’ve also had some very positive moments too . . . It’s been a rollercoaster of a start and it’s going to continue to be a rollercoaster as we go through the next few months.”

Awards

Here are the unofficial first month awards as voted on by yours truly.

MVP – Spencer Richey

Richey is the only USL holdover to get significant playing time in the first month of action, primarily due to Tyton’s hamstring tendonitis which has kept the Polish keeper out since the Seattle match. Determined not to be a placeholder, Richey has made the most of his opportunity. He has kept two clean sheets in four starts, and earned MLS Team of the Week honors for his performance against the Timbers in Week 3. Although far from flawless, Richey has been a strong shot-stopper in the net. In my opinion, he picks up this month’s MVP award as he has played more consistently than any of FCC’s field players.

Most Improved – Alvas Powell

After getting slated following a poor inaugural match outing, Koch showed faith in the pacey, attack-minded fullback by giving him two more starts. He may not always prove to be first choice in a system without natural wing backs, but Powell rebounded and has improved considerably.

Most Disappointing – Fanendo Adi

An expansion side is normally reliant on its Designated Players. Adi has a very specific playing-style that some may construe as lazy, slow, and one-dimensional if he’s not producing goals. Once he went down injured during the home opener, Adi has not been part of the 18-man game day squad. Now his future with FCC is in peril due to his own reckless behavior, and it’s anyone’s guess as to what happens from here.

Most Promising – Greg Garza

The quality is evident any time Garza starts or is subbed on, and when healthy, he instantly makes FC Cincinnati a more threatening team. If he can stay fit, expect some big performances from the MLS veteran.

Do you agree with these awards? What do you make of the season so far?

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for all of your 2019 FC Cincinnati coverage.

Match Program: FC Cincinnati vs. Portland Timbers

Orange & Blue Press’ Match Program provides an infographic and the fast facts you need to get ready for FC Cincinnati vs Portland Timbers.

Graphics: CSDIV

I may not speak for everyone, but I’m guilty of letting my mind jump directly to this Sunday’s match against the Timbers when FC Cincinnati’s schedule was released. The stands will be packed, and the Bailey will be roaring.

The Cincinnati faithful grabbed the nation’s attention, earning the title of Soccer City, USA, during FCC’s magical U.S. Open Cup run. Ultimately, the supporters are the reason FCC hosts Portland in their MLS home debut this weekend. Now, for the first time, fans have the chance to reap the rewards and enjoy the highest level of professional soccer right in their own backyard.

Portland, of course, will be looking to spoil the party and both sides are eager to tally their first win of the season. However, the Timbers will be without Colombian midfielder Diego Chará, who collected two yellows last weekend against LAFC. If you’re at Nippert Stadium, bundle up and enjoy the electric atmosphere. If you’re watching at home, FS1 will carry the game.

Fast Facts

  • The main storyline of the week: Fanendo Adi and Alvas Powell square-off against their former club for the first time. With 247 combined games in the Portland green and white since 2013, these two are known well by the opposition. Also of note: Darren Mattocks (49 games) and Eric Alexander (31 games) also are former Timbers, but further removed.
  • FCC’s 1-1 draw against Atlanta United on Sunday was possible thanks to an improved defensive shape from Alan Koch’s side. That defensive progress must continue, as Portland are averaging 18 shots per game, led by Sebastian Blanco with 5.5 shots per game.
  • Newly acquired midfielder Kenny Saief already has one game and one assist under his belt in Major League Soccer. With Saief’s Europa League and Champions League experience at their disposal, Alan Koch’s staff is hoping Saief is fit to start this weekend. The player says he’s ready.
  • Portland are currently last in the league with 8.5 aerial duels won per game. This could spell good news for Adi up top. His first goal of the year, a header, was disallowed in Atlanta after being called offside by just a whisker.
  • The Timbers attack could spell danger for the expansion side, as Portland have three set-piece goals in two games already. The team from the Northwest is already dangerous from the run of play, so FCC must stay alert if they want to get a result.

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati versus Portland Timbers this Sunday.

Match Program: FC Cincinnati at Atlanta United FC

Orange & Blue Press’ Match Program provides an infographic and the fast facts you need to get ready for FC Cincinnati at Atlanta United.

Graphic: CSDIV / Image: Noah Riffe

It’s not as if we weren’t expecting the growing pains, right?

FC Cincinnati’s 4-1 defeat to Seattle last Sunday may have been a historic day for the club, but it also served as a wake-up call to the current players and staff. This isn’t the USL anymore. Gone are the days where Cincinnati can expect to be favorites heading into every match. Perhaps that day will come. Until then, fans may be subjected to ultra-defensive performances and discouraging results at times.

And let’s be honest—this team hasn’t “clicked” yet. We don’t even know the best starting eleven at head coach Alan Koch’s disposal. It’s a difficult job for Koch, and it’s about to get that much harder. FC Cincinnati is set to face reigning MLS Cup champions, Atlanta United, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. In another nationally televised game, this time on ESPN, the Orange & Blue hope to earn their first MLS points.

Fast Facts

  • Although they have never met Atlanta United’s MLS squad, FCC battled Atlanta United 2 in the 2018 USL regular season. Cincinnati was victorious 4-2 last May thanks to an Emmanuel Ledesma brace. Two goals from Nazmi Albadawi led FCC to a 5-1 away win in late August.
  • Similar to FCC’s roster overhaul, there’s a “new look” Atlanta United this year. Newcastle’s blockbuster transfer Miguel Almiron and MLS Coach of the Year Gerardo Martino are gone. In their places are big-name signings Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez, Eric Remedi, Brek Shea, Florentin Pogba, and head coach Frank de Boer.
  • During Atlanta’s inaugural match of the season versus DC United, 42% of all their attacks came down the left flank (accessible at Whoscored.com). FCC may want to consider changing the right-sided partnership of Alvas Powell and Eric Alexander this Sunday, as it was a clear weakness against Seattle.
  • The original goalkeeping hero for FC Cincinnati, Mitch Hildebrandt, retired this offseason after failing to feature for Atlanta’s first team. After leading the USL in saves for FCC in 2017, Hildebrandt struggled to claim Brad Guzan’s spot in the lineup while also dealing with knee injuries. As far as current connections are concerned, former Atlanta all-star Greg Garza was able to practice with the team on Thursday and should be available on Sunday.
  • Late Wednesday night, Atlanta faced C.F. Monterrey on the road in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals. The “Five Stripes” subsequently lost 3-0 while being outshot 17 to 5. Pity Martinez was the focus of most of Monterrey’s attention, getting fouled 10 times during the game. Atlanta fielded a strong lineup and could be subject to squad rotation this weekend.

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage as Atlanta welcomes FC Cincinnati to their home opener and banner-raising ceremony.