FC Cincinnati: Midseason Pause, Wildebeest Migration, and the Wooden Spoon

FC Cincinnati reaches the midpoint of their inaugural MLS season. Are they more likely to reach the playoffs or earn the Wooden Spoon award?

Image: Joe Craven

As we enter the CONCACAF Gold Cup break and Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup fourth-round action, FC Cincinnati looks to regroup on a challenging inaugural MLS season. Through 16 matches, just under the midpoint mark, FCC has only 11 points. Since starting the season with two promising wins and a draw in the first four matches, they are presently on a 1-10-1 skid.

Insert any metaphorical phrase you’d like—the train is off the tracks, the wheels have come off the wagon, and so on. What comes to mind for me is a a circle-of-life moment my family and I experienced two years ago this month —the great Wildebeest Migration across the Mara River on the border of Tanzania and Kenya. Over two million wildebeest, zebras, and gazelles move through the Serengeti and Masai Mara ecosystems in search of green pasture in an annual pattern.

Although we knew the likely outcome, our eyes were still fixed upon the famished crocodiles picking off the weakest wildebeest and zebras migrating the river. Now, this may seem a bit graphic of an analogy to the Orange & Blue’s 2019 season. However, the search for greener pasture is clearly where this team sits mid-season. The question remains how and if the team can navigate the remainder of the season without further peril. Possibly the Dirty River Derby Wednesday is an opportunity to jump-start the team like 2017?

The original plan for this mid-season piece was to share how close our local squad was to chasing their preseason goal—an Eastern Conference playoff spot. As FCC has not been mathematically eliminated yet, we’ll still bring you the playoff goods and throw in a spoon for good measure.

Eastern Conference Playoff Picture

Earlier this season we highlighted the marks FCC need to hit to reach the MLS postseason. Based on recent historical trends, the playoff waterline mark (seventh place) is likely 1.30 points per game (PPG), or 44 total points.

Looking at the current Eastern Conference standings below, this playoff waterline is right on target with Toronto FC currently sitting in seventh place on 1.27 PPG (as is the last playoff team in the West, currently).

Eastern Conference Standings

Sitting in last place, FCC has a wide and deep river to cross to reach the 2019 playoffs. With eighteen matches remaining, they will need to earn a points clip of 1.83 PPG (a rate that’s higher than any Eastern team currently has this season), or roughly 33 more points. This translates to a second-half record of 9-3-6 or similar. It will certainly help playing 11 of these final 18 games at Nippert.

Realistically though, it’s highly unlikely that FC Cincinnati can overcome the statistical odds and make the 2019 MLS playoffs. Therefore, we will wade into the waters of a different type of competition.

The Wooden Spoon

The “Wooden Spoon” is a prize for finishing last in a sporting event or other competition. It derives from a Cambridge University custom of presenting such a spoon to the person that finished last in the annual Faculty of Mathematics course.

The MLS version was created in 2015 by the Independent Supporter’s Council of MLS.  It is a satirical trophy and ignominious distinction given to the supporter’s group of the club that finishes last in the Supporters’ Shield (full league table) race.

Here are the most recent winners of the Wooden Spoon award—or should we say last-place losers—of the of the 2015-2018 MLS Supporter’s Shield races.

At present, the 2019 Wooden Spoon appears to have a slight Orange & Blue hue. The “fight for the spoon” standings below include the nine MLS teams currently with a 1.2 PPG or worse record.

Wooden Spoon Standings

The recent loss at Colorado certainly did not help matters out. However, if there is a glimpse of hope, FCC plays six of their remaining 18 matches against Orlando City, Chicago, Columbus, and the Bruce Arena-led Revolution. The 2019 version of the “Hell is Real” Derby may have inauspicious hardware implications.

Also of note, the last three Wooden Spoon recipients have either gone on to make the playoffs the following season (Chicago in 2017) or were in the hunt for the last playoff spot in their conference (Galaxy in 2018 and Earthquakes this season). There is hope, Orange & Blue fans!

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for all your Wooden Spoon updates and FC Cincinnati coverage.

Deeper Cuts: Damet Rings the Changes, Shot Conversion, and Player Confidence

Following a tumultuous few weeks in club history, FC Cincinnati returned to Nippert Saturday with a new coach and mindset. Winless in 7 matches …

Image by Ryan Meyer

Following a tumultuous few weeks in club history, FC Cincinnati returned to Nippert Saturday with a new coach and mindset. Winless in 7 matches, and having gone 655 minutes scoreless from the field of play, FCC abruptly made a coaching change Tuesday. The club decided to place their foreseeable trust in the youngest MLS coach ever, previous assistant coach Yoann Damet. That decision was rewarded by the players with a flowing, decisive 2-1 victory over an in-form Montreal Impact. Many adjectives come to mind regarding the team’s performance … refreshing, encouraging, hopeful, enjoyable!  

With less than 100 hours since being named coach, how did Damet and his team turn the tide?

Tactical Changes

Damet made several tactical changes to the formation and line-up from what we’ve witnessed this season. The most significant and impactful change was to the midfield. Instead of rolling out a pair of Central Defensive Midfielders, “Yo” as the team refers to him, changed from a double pivot to a single pivot midfield formation.

He entrusted Victor Ulloa with a field general role that fostered connectivity between the back line and attacking players which FCC has been lacking all season. In Italy, they refer to this deep-lying midfield general as the “regista” – the director. Ulloa looked comfortable and ready to take on the regista role for the Orange & Blue. Ulloa had 93 touches in the match, 43 more than any other midfielder from either team. Here is Ulloa’s dynamic and effective distribution map for the game.

Victor Ulloa Distribution Map (via mlssoccer.com)

This use of the single pivot formation enabled the Orange & Blue to control possession and create fluidity from the back line through the midfield to the attacking third. Both of FCC goals were the result of double-digit pass sequences. The first goal was arguably one of the most patient, methodical team goals in FC Cincinnati history. Each field player gets a touch on the ball and contributes to the one-minute full field build-up resulting in Allan Cruz’s second goal of the season.

Shot Conversion

Over the first eleven matches, FC Cincinnati had a woeful shot conversion rate. Shot conversion rate is calculated as goals scored divided by shots attempted. Prior to Saturday’s contest, FCC had scored 8 goals over 112 total shots attempted, a rate of only 7.1%.

As noted by OptaJack before the game, no other MLS expansion team since 2015 had a season rate under 11.0%. Saturday’s two-goal haul over only six total shots translates to an efficient 33.3% rate for the game. By far the most productive goals per shot ratio of the season, thereby increasing their season average to 8.5%. Note, however, that FC Cincinnati only had 6 total shots.

Confidence in His Players

Possibly as important as the tactical changes unveiled on Saturday was the confidence the manager showed in his squad. Damet was both humble and effusive towards his players in his post match remarks. “The most important pieces are the players. We want to provide an environment that allowed them to express themselves, and the players showed tonight that they are capable of playing football.” He continued, “They deserve fully the credit for the performance of this afternoon.”

One result does not guarantee a continued positive trajectory, but the improved atmosphere and energy surrounding the team is evident.

Happy Mother’s Day to all of our fantastic supporters who are Moms!

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press as FCC travels to Orlando next Sunday to take on former Louisville skipper James O’Connor and his Orlando City SC squad.

The Marks FC Cincinnati Must Hit to Reach the Postseason

With 20% of the season in the books, a look at the watermark FC Cincinnati must hit to make the 2019 MLS Cup playoffs.

Image: Ryan Meyer

FC Cincinnati is already 20% through their inaugural MLS campaign. While they’ve spent the majority of the first six weeks in a playoff spot, they likely have to improve their average point totals to earn a place in the postseason.

FCC’s 34-game season breaks up nicely into five segments of roughly seven matches each. Now that they have completed the first seven-game stretch, it’s time to take an early look at the MLS Eastern Conference playoff picture. Playoff talk already? Why not?

MLS announced changes to the MLS Cup playoff format last December. In previous years, only six teams from each conference advanced to the postseason. In 2019, seven teams from each conference will make a playoff run in a single-elimination format. Additionally, each conference’s table leader will receive a first-round bye.

Historical Trends

Historical trends establish the waterline that FCC needs to reach to make the playoffs. This analysis takes the past four MLS Eastern Conference seasons (2015-2018) into consideration, representing the current MLS expansion era.

MLS Eastern Conference Historical Averages (2015-2018)

The seventh-place finisher in the East (highlighted in blue above) has averaged 1.30 points per game (PPG). This translates to at least 44 points over a 34-match season. Of note, the teams that compete for the final playoff spot are also earning roughly 31-33 points at home (1.80 to 1.95 PPG). A good rule of thumb is that FCC will need to earn at least two-thirds of the season’s points at home. The Orange & Blue will require a home record at Nippert of 8-3-6 (30 points) or similar. The rest they need to cover away from Cincinnati.

MLS Eastern Conference Table

MLS Eastern Conference Standings

FCC currently sits in seventh place after seven games in the Eastern Conference. If the season ended today, they would make the 2019 playoffs and potentially play the Columbus Crew in a “Hell is Real” first-round match. Can you imagine? However, their 1.14 PPG places them on a current path to fall at least 6 total points short of the targeted waterline.

Although the early part of the season has had its share of encouraging moments, including two wins in their first four matches, let’s pump the brakes on the expectations. The early schedule has been challenging overall, but FCC’s two wins came against the last place teams in each conference, Portland and New England. To be fair though, two of their losses came against two of the best teams in MLS. Losing 1,900+ miles away to Seattle and LAFC is not a reason for concern, especially given the fight they showed last week at the Banc.

Foreseeable Challenges

FCC currently falls short on two key metrics, points per game (PPG) and Home PPG. Furthermore, keep in mind that:

  • The club’s primary Designated Player and target striker is currently suspended. Until the MLS concludes its SABH review, no one knows Fanendo Adi’s future with the team.
  • Over the next 7-match segment, four games are away from Cincinnati, including three-straight outside of the comfy confines of Nippert. Looking out to the end of June, FCC will play 7 of 11 games away from home.
  • The depth of the club will be tested with the potential of 13 matches over a 71-day window. This includes two hopeful 2019 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup games in June. That amounts to a game every 5.5 days.
  • Two Eastern Conference giants, currently beneath FCC in the table, are starting to stir — the 2018 Supporters’ Shield holders, New York Red Bulls, and the 2018 MLS Cup champions, Atlanta United.

The purpose of this article is not to dash your FCC playoff hopes, but to provide a realistic view of the marks FCC must hit to reach the postseason. Up to this point, the grit of the players and coaching staff has been admirable. They are a tough team to play against. However, from a macro perspective, after 1/5th of the season, they are trending just outside of the playoffs and close to where we predicted they would finish.

Look for more playoff updates as the season unfolds and stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of the 2019 season.

Deeper Cuts: FCC Doused by a Union Monsoon

FC Cincinnati’s attempt to extend its three match unbeaten streak yesterday evening at Nippert Stadium was doused by the Union Monsoon.

Image by Joe Craven

Saturday evening’s match doused the fans and FC Cincinnati’s three-match unbeaten streak. Before we take a peek under the hood and see what sputtered in last night’s 2-0 loss, let’s give due where it’s deserved. Shout out to the announced crowd of 25,867 for braving the cold, windy and monsoon-like elements. Having played and attended hundreds of games since 1972, last night had some of the worst conditions I’ve ever experienced. Well done, Orange & Blue fans!

On Their Heels

The stats and final score certainly matched what we witnessed on the soggy Nippert pitch, a complete performance by the Union. From the beginning whistle, Philadelphia dominated possession (56 to 44%), total passes (532 to 408), shots (16 to 5) and, of course, the score line (2 to 0).

The Union’s high pressing, creative 4-4-2 diamond midfield placed FCC back on their heels all night. The “bend-but-not-break” FCC defense finally capitulated early in the second half after going 312 minutes without conceding a goal. Considering they were under a deluge of shots (and rain), it’s not surprising the damn broke in the 47th minute. Here is Philadelphia’s shot chart last night.

Union shot chart

They peppered Spencer Richey and the back line with 16 total shots from all directions. Although only three were on target, two found the back of the onion sack.

Now in comparison, let’s view FC Cincinnati’s heat map illustrating where their possession occurred on the field.

FC Cincinnati heat map vs. Philadelphia Union, via WhoScored.com

Note the lack of yellow and green color to the right side of the field. The Orange and Blue didn’t come anywhere near the Union’s 18-yard box. The team spent the majority of the evening to the left of the screen scrambling to cover the attacking runs by Phily’s front six forwards and midfielders.

Fabian the Game-Changer

A major contributor to the Union’s success last night was Mexican central attacking midfielder Marco Fabian. Philadelphia completed a transfer in February for the two-time “El Tri” World Cup veteran with German Bundesliga side Eintracht Frankfurt.

Although just 5′ 7″ in height, his stature was quite large and influence great throughout the match. Not including defenders, Fabian had the most touches on the ball of any player – 75. In comparison, Allan Cruz and Roland Lamah only combined for 68 touches total. Below is a map of his night’s work.

Marco Fabian’s touches vs. FC Cincinnati

In addition to his game-winning tally, he consistently drew the attention of two to three FCC players at a time. This resulted in the ability for the outside midfielders, Brenden Aaronsen and Ale Bedoya, to successfully combine with the Union forwards, Fabrice-Jean Picault and David Accam, and effectively and frequently penetrate FCC’s defensive seams and back line.

One-off or Trend?

What can we take from last night? Was the weather a factor? The line-up? Do we simply throw out the performance and reset for Sporting KC next Sunday? Before we do that, let’s look at last night’s game in perspective to the first four games this season. The following table summarizes multiple statistical areas from Saturday’s match in comparison to FCC’s average from the first four matches.

FCC statistical comparison between Union match and 2019 season average

Consider that FC Cincinnati has now played 15% of their inaugural 2019 MLS season. This should be enough games to consider trends of play. What stands out?

  • FCC is willing to concede the majority of possession, which leads to less touches and passes overall.
  • The Orange & Blue play a counter-attacking style looking to maximize their opportunities and shot selection in transition.
  • A by-product of this playing style results in additional pressure on the back line that forces them to make a formidable amount of clearances each match.
  • On average before last night, FCC out-performed its expected goals for and goals against numbers (+2.4 and +1.7 respectively). Last night, the law of averages caught up to them.

Yesterday evening’s performance did not vary from the team’s style of play, or in reality most of their season’s average statistical figures. However, it might be a warning light of sorts of what to expect when they face in-form high pressing opponents with talented and creative attacking front lines [see Seattle and Philadelphia results]. Don’t panic, but Sporting Kansas City placed a 7-spot on the Montreal Impact yesterday and are coming to town next Sunday. In summary, the margin of error in the MLS is razor thin between earning a result and suffering a loss.

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

Deeper Cuts: Point Taken in the Peachtree State

A deeper look at FC Cincinnati 1-1 draw against Atlanta United, including player availability, a compact defense, and a foundation for future success.

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.

The Impact of Five Signings on the Senior Roster and Expansion Draft

After the announcement of five player signings from the 2018 USL roster, FC Cincinnati’s positional needs in the Expansion Draft become more clear.

Yesterday FC Cincinnati posted the following “Home for the Holidays” message across their social media platforms.

Today the meaning of these “Good tidings” was made clear to all. FC Cincinnati officially announced the MLS signings of the following five returning ULS players.

The timing of these roster moves was certainly strategic. They occurred a day after the league blackout period and the day before the Expansion Draft. The curious and highly debated direction of the team as they head into their inaugural MLS campaign is now clear.

So where does this leave FCC’s roster going into tomorrow’s draft? Below is an updated Senior Roster showing that 11 of the possible 20 spots are filled by returning players.

FC Cincinnati Senior Roster Matrix

Our recent roster building and preparing for the Expansion Draft article highlights positional needs. The updated matrix above shows obvious player gaps in the goalkeeper, central defender, fullback, central defensive midfield and winger positions. This chart may foretell the direction FC Cincinnati takes on Tuesday in New York.

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press as we highlight eligible Expansion Draft players that may fit these needs. 

MLS Half-Day Trade Window Is in the Books

Image: Ryan Meyer

The MLS Half-Day Trade Window started with a whimper and ended in a trickle. 

This window is unique in that it’s a four-hour affair sandwiched between the MLS Cup and the Expansion Draft. Unlike other typical sports trade windows, it is not usually a highly-interactive affair. Despite this fact, recent expansion teams Los Angeles FC and Atlanta United made significant moves during this window in the past two seasons.

FC Cincinnati was not expected to be overly active on Sunday. However, they did take care of some expected business. As initially reported by Jeff Rueter of The Athletic, FCC acquired Spencer Richey from the Vancouver Whitecaps. The Whitecaps were the busiest team on Sunday taking part in four separate transactions.

Sunday’s MLS Trades

  • FC Cincinnati acquired goalkeeper Spencer Richey from Vancouver Whitecaps FC (VWFC) in exchange for a third-round pick in the 2020 MLS SuperDraft.
  • Montreal Impact (IMFC) acquired forward Maxi Urruti from FC Dallas in exchange for a first-round pick in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft (10th overall) and $75k of Target Allocation Money (TAM).
  • VWFC acquired goalkeeper Zac MacMath from Colorado Rapids in exchange for midfielder Nicolas Mezquida and $100k of TAM. 
  • VWFC acquire goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau from IMFC in exchange for a third-round pick in the 2020 MLS SuperDraft and $50k of TAM.
  • Orlando City SC (OCSC) acquired forward Tesho Akindele from FC Dallas for $100k in 2019 TAM and $50k in 2020 General Allocation Money (GAM).
  • VWFC acquired left fullback / winger Victor “PC” Giro from OCSC for a third-round pick in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft.
  • Chicago Fire acquired forward Fabian Herbers from the Philadelphia Union in exchange for a second-round pick in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft.

Attention now shifts to FC Cincinnati and the MLS Expansion Draft which is scheduled for Tuesday at 2 PM Eastern. The league will release the list of eligible players for FC Cincinnati’s final review tomorrow, Monday, December 10th. Here is what to expect on Tuesday and how FCC may approach their selection of five roster spots.

FC Cincinnati Roster Building: Preparing for the MLS Expansion Draft

Also, make sure to check our article featuring Alicia Rodriguez and what lessons FC Cincinnati can learn from LAFC’s successful 2017 Expansion Draft.

MLS Expansion Draft – LAFC Lessons

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of the expansion draft and FC Cincinnati’s MLS roster build.

FC Cincinnati Roster Building: Preparing for the MLS Expansion Draft

Image: Joe Craven

FC Cincinnati made another major roster announcement Monday, officially signing center back Forrest Lasso. Props to the club for now cleverly announcing #19 Corben Bone on the 19th of November and #3 Lasso on the 3rd of December. This brings the current Senior Roster to 5 players, one week away from the MLS Expansion Draft.

Five additional roster spots are up for grabs during the Expansion Draft December 11th at 2pm. Assuming no additional roster announcements are made prior, it’s logical to think that one-half (10 of 20) Senior Roster spots will be spoken for by this time next week.

We recently asked via our Discussion Thread series what strategy the team may make during the Expansion Draft. To better understand how best to answer this question, let’s review the following roster graphic.

FC Cincinnati Senior Roster Matrix

The above table illustrates a realistic approach to how FCC may fill out their inaugural 2019 MLS Senior Roster over the next few weeks. Green highlights a higher proposed target opportunity, yellow a mid-level and red a lower probability.

Players Signed (5 players)

The first handful of FC Cincinnati MLS signees represent a great foundation of talent, consisting of:

  • Fanendo Adi, Designated Player – a proven MLS forward with 50 goals in 120 appearances for the Portland Timbers
  • Emmanuel Ledesma, International – the reigning USL Most Valuable Player
  • Forrest Lasso – the reigning USL Defender of the Year
  • Fatai Alashe – a central defensive midfielder with recent MLS experience in San Jose
  • Corben Bone – a fan favorite and FCC original with MLS credibility

Expansion Draft (5 players)

The club has the unique opportunity given to expansion sides to make a significant impact in shaping their roster next Tuesday. As the list of available players will not be released by the MLS until the day before, it’s nearly impossible to predict the best talent available. Additionally, teams will protect their top 11 players, specifically in high impact positions, such as central defenders, center midfielders and forwards.

Therefore, we’ve taken a theoretical approach to what may be available. We highlight below the higher probability positions and a few players that may just be sitting there for the taking on the 11th.

Goalkeepers

Although it’s not likely that a first team keeper will be on the board, there will be several former starters and back-ups available, such as:

  • David Ousted, DC United – the 33-year-old, 6’ 4” Danish keeper has 159 MLS starts (42 shutouts) for DC United (2018) and Vancouver Whitecaps (2013-2017). Yes, Ousted provides the Vancouver connection we’ve witnessed Alan Koch dip into frequently. The return of club legend Bill Hamid to DC United last summer makes Ousted (Oh-sted) expendable and available. Achievable for right around $500k.
  • Brad Stuver, NYCFC – former Dayton Dutch Lion and Columbus Crew SC, 27-year-old greater Cleveland native. With only 4 MLS starts, Stuver could be a possible back-up if the team feels they have a bona-fide starter in Spencer Richey or Evan Newton.

Central Defenders

High quality center backs are in high demand and pivotal for an expansion side. Look for FCC to seek an experienced MLS veteran to shore up a young and MLS inexperienced duo of Lasso and Paddy Barrett (yes, I went there).

  • Tim Parker, RBNY – my O&B Press colleagues will not be surprised with this one. As a self-professed Tim Parker fan, this would be a gigantic pick-up by FCC. Not only is he another former Whitecaps player (2015-2017), he was also Spencer Richey’s first roommate on the road with the Whitecaps FC 2 USL franchise in 2015. Additionally, the 26-year old Parker, and former 2011 High School Gatorade Player of the Year, has two USMNT caps and 105 MLS appearances in 4 seasons. He is out of contract with the Red Bulls and just might be available in the Expansion Draft.
  • Kofi Opare, out of contract with DC United – the Ghanaian born, U.S./Canadian duel national played collegiately at University of Michigan. He has over 6,500 MLS minutes between stops with LA Galaxy and DC United. A recent foot injury may be a concern but will also keep his salary demands in budget.

Outside Fullbacks

This is a position that is a high target need for the Orange & Blue to fill in the upcoming few weeks.

  • Ronald Matarrita, NYCFC – the 24-year-old, Costa Rican international Matarrita should be left unprotected next week. He is the current back up to former Crew and Dayton Dutch Lion Ben Sweat in NY. Matarrita has played over 4,000 MLS minutes with NYCFC the last 3 seasons. He has 23 caps for the Ticos and is versatile as a left winger as well. He would likely require TAM to buy down his salary to fit within the individual player max budget charge. Matarrita would be dynamic in Orange & Blue.
  • Greg Garza, Atlanta United – the 27-year-old former Liga MX player is signed to a multi-year deal for the MLS Cup bound Five Stripes. However, if he is left unprotected by Atlanta, FCC need to jump on the versatile left back/midfielder. He has 10 USMNT caps and would be a great fit for FC Cincinnati.
  • Jordan Harvey, out of contract with LAFC – the 34-year old, eleven-year MLS journeyman would bring tons of experience at left back for a reasonable price. You guessed it, he’s another player with Vancouver connections having played for the Whitecaps from 2011-2017. Harvey could be a low risk, inexpensive roster filler. He certainly knows what to expect on a new expansion side.

Wingers

Alan Koch has shown a desire to have a stable of wingers that burn pass opponents on the flank. Having a true #9 like Adi in the line-up will also predicate the need for outside midfielders/wingers to get service into his path.

  • Juan Agudelo, out of contract with NE Revolution – although I’ve not been a huge Agudelo fan over the years, he has re-invented himself as a winger of late. Only 26-years-old, the upside here is potentially grabbing a savvy player with 175 MLS appearances. For the right price, Aqudelo may be worth a look.
  • Zoltan Stieber, DC United – the 30-year-old Hungarian has bounced around the top European leagues including stops at Aston Villa, Mainz 05, Hamburger SV and FC Kaiserslautern. He has made 35 appearances for DC United the past two seasons scoring 6 goals. Stieber has UEFA Europa League experience and 22 caps for the Magyars.

Keep in mind, FCC can only take one player from each of the 18 available unprotected team rosters. Toronto FC, Columbus Crew SC, Sporting Kansas City, Seattle Sounders, and the San Jose Earthquakes are all exempt from the Expansion Draft as LAFC chose players from their rosters in the last Expansion Draft.

The positional tactics above appear to align with some of the incoming but unsubstantiated rumors of possible FCC open market transfer targets.

Transfer Rumors

  • Alfredo Morales, recent media reports state that both FCC and NYCFC are interested in the 28-year-old former USMNT center midfielder. Morales currently plays in the Bundesliga for Fortuna Düsseldorf. His club placed a $1M transfer fee price tag on any potential transfer.
  • Ozvaldo Alonso, the Seattle Sounders announced two weeks ago that they would not re-sign their 33-year-old veteran defensive midfielder. The storied Cuban national and former Charleston Battery player will be a hot commodity in the MLS free agent market. His age and recent injuries raise a few doubts, but the “Honey Badger’s” experience and clever play could be a much-needed asset for an expansion side.
  • Matias Campos López, MLS Transfer News reported this week that FCC are targeting the 27-year-old Chilean striker. He has scored 13 goals in 26 appearances this season for Palestino of the Chilean Primera Division.

Who do you see FC Cincinnati targeting, position, and player-wise, in the upcoming Expansion Draft?

Following the completion of the Expansion Draft, FC Cincinnati needs to fill the remaining half of their Senior Roster from a combination of the following: MLS Free Agency, the Waiver Draft, the Re-Entry Draft, the SuperDraft, the international transfer market and from their former USL roster.

Stay tuned to the Orange & Blue Press for your continued off-season coverage and Transfer News.

FC Cincinnati MLS Roster Building and Key Dates

Photo by Joe Craven

Now that #CrestGate is waning and “Gary the Knifey Lion” is a thing, it’s time to focus attention on FC Cincinnati’s 2019 MLS roster.

As background, MLS active rosters comprise of up to 30 players. Anyone of these players are eligible for selection on an 18-man match day roster. However, there are various levels of roster spots available to FCC, with the following distinct parameters.

FC Cincinnati Senior Roster – spots 1 – 20

  • these player slots count against the club’s salary budget (cap) which was $4,035,000 in 2018.
  • spots 19 & 20 are not required to be filled, meaning the salary cap can be spread against 18 players, if desired.
  • a single player can carry a maximum budget charge ($504,375 in 2018). Note that allocation money (General and Targeted) can be used to buy down this amount per player.
  • exceptions to these spots include Season-Ending Injury ReplacementsDisabled List, and Loans.

Supplemental Roster, spots 21 – 24

  • these roster spots may be filled with (i) Senior Minimum Salary Budget Charge Players ($67,500 in 2018) including Homegrown Players, (ii) Generation Adidas Players, or (iii) any specifically Designated Players eligible for the MLS SuperDraft; or (iv) Homegrown Players earning more than the Senior Minimum Salary subject to the  Homegrown Player Subsidy.
  • all Generation Adidas players are considered Supplemental Roster players until they graduate from the program.
  • all players on the Supplemental Roster must be paid a base salary equal to the Senior Minimum Salary ($67,500).

Reserve Roster, spots 25 – 28

  • roster slots 25-28 may be filled with players earning either (i) the Reserve Minimum Salary (US$54,500 in 2018) or (ii) Homegrown Players earning more than the Reserve Minimum Salary subject to the Homegrown Player Subsidy.
  • Reserve Minimum Salary Players must be 24 years or younger during the League Year (age of a player is determined by year, not their actual day of birth).
  • these slots may not be filled with Senior Minimum Salary Players or Generation Adidas Players.
  • these player spots must be paid a base salary equal to the Reserve Minimum Salary ($54,500).

Reserve Roster, spots 29 and 30

  • roster spots 29 and 30 must be Homegrown Players. They will also follow the same roster and budget rules as Homegrown Players occupying spots 25-28.

The pressing question now is how, when and where the club will fill these roster spots?  For simplicity purposes, the following breakdown and discussion centers around the Senior Roster spots.

Currently, Fanendo Adi, Fatai Alashe, and the just awarded 2018 USL MVP Emmanuel Ledesma are signed to MLS contracts. We have also seen credible media reports stating that FCC is bringing back inaugurals Corben Bone and Jimmy McLaughlin, as well as 2018 USL Defender of the Year Forrest Lasso. Let’s check-in with the Orange & Blue Press FCC Roster graphic that illustrates the current MLS roster moves (which we’ll be updating and sharing with each signing).

FCC Roster Mission-Control
Graphic: Connor Paquette

With six Senior Roster spots spoken for, where will the next 14 senior players come from?

Alan Koch joined Sirius XM FC’s the United States of Soccer host Jason Davis on Wednesday. He remarked that the club will be relatively aggressive in the off-season, but will also take a sound, fiscally responsible approach. They are looking to fill the remaining roster spots from the following mechanisms:

  • the current group of USL players
  • unprotected MLS players available in the upcoming Expansion Draft (see below)
  • open market transfers / free agency from “Planet Earth”
  • the college draft – MLS SuperDraft
  • trades

Alan Koch, Luke Sassano, and the scouting team are scouring the world looking for talent to add as possible free agents. Closer to home and upcoming over the next five weeks are several upcoming MLS draft events, including:

Expansion Draft – Tuesday, December 11th at 2 pm

FC Cincinnati will have an advantage as the lone expansion team entering the 2019 season. They will have the ability to pick up to 5 players from the eligible Expansion Draft player pool (players left unprotected by their current 2018 teams). FCC may only select one player from a given team.

Added to the mix this year is that the five teams that this season’s MLS newcomer LAFC selected 2018 Expansion Draft players from are exempt from the 2019 Expansion Draft – Columbus Crew SC, Seattle Sounders FC, Sporting Kansas City, San Jose Earthquakes and Toronto FC. The other 18 returning MLS clubs are able to protect 11 players between their Senior, Supplemental and Reserve Rosters. Their remaining players are eligible for selection by FCC in the Expansion Draft.

The Orange & Blue will not fully know which players will be available in this draft until a player Blackout Period begins on December 9th at 1 pm.

We will label these 5 Expansion Draft opportunities as Roster Slots 7 – 12. Two additional December drafts will allow FCC to add current MLS talent to help fill the remaining eight senior slots.

2018 MLS Waiver Draft  – Wednesday, December 12th at 4 pm

The Waiver Draft consists of players who have been waived by their clubs but don’t meet the minimum years of service requirement for the Re-Entry Draft or Free Agency – mostly young players who are relatively new to MLS.

Under contract players who are selected in the Waiver Draft will be automatically added to the drafting club’s roster. Clubs that claim out-of-contract players must issue a genuine offer to the selected player. FCC will get the final selection opportunity in the Waiver Draft but are not required to make a selection.

2018 Re-Entry Draft – Stage 1, Friday, December 14th at 3 pm; Stage 2, Thursday, December 20th at 2 pm

The Orange & Blue are able to select and sign up to two players, one during Stage 1 and one in Stage 2. There is no requirement to select a player in either stage, however. The player pool will consist of players that either have not had their options picked up or players that are out of contract with their current club. Additionally, these eligible players must be:

  • at least 23 years old and have a minimum of 3 years of MLS experience (available at their current club 2019 option salary).
  • at least 25 years old with a minimum of 4 years of MLS experience (available at a minimum of their current club 2018 salary).
  • or Free Agents that choose to participate.

As the expansion team, FCC will have the 24th and final selection spot during each stage of the 2018 Re-Entry Draft.

Contingent on the player pool availability and their December draft selections, FCC will need to fill any remaining 2019 Senior Roster spots with transfers or during the upcoming MLS SuperDraft on January 11th. However, the SuperDraft is routinely used to fill Supplemental and Reserve Rosters. The Primary Transfer Window opens in February, although agreements can be negotiated earlier and finalized during the window.

Possibly you’re now understanding the complexity that each and every roster move carries going forward. It’s not necessarily a straightforward decision on whether to bring back your favorite current player or not. Each player is being evaluated and compared against the talent available in the upcoming MLS drafts and the open market. We may not hear any additional substantial player announcements until after these forthcoming December player drafts.

Remain patient fans and stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press and our Transfer News as we update you on all of FC Cincinnati’s 2019 MLS player movements.

Deeper Cuts: One Down, Three to Go for FC Cincinnati

Photo by Ryan Meyer

The City of Cincinnati was able to witness a long overdue home playoff celebration at Nippert Saturday. Nervy moments over a tense evening were overcome by an exciting and jubilant 6-5 penalty kick victory by FC Cincinnati. The Orange & Blue now move onto the Eastern Conference semifinals next Saturday with a 24-game unbeaten streak in tow.

Even with the best record in the league this season, we knew the path to the 2018 USL Cup would be difficult. The single-match elimination format of the USL playoffs allows any team on a given day to be victorious. FCC’s fate could just have as easily been reversed Saturday evening. Let’s review the stellar work, the challenges, and what’s next in the playoffs for the Orange & Blue.

Stellar Goalkeeping

The Man of the Match was certainly Spencer Richey. His five saves were critical to the outcome of the match, and all were worthy of a highlight reel. Possibly a surprise to some, Richey got the starting nod over USL 2018 Golden Glove winner Evan Newton. Richey’s recent fine form proved Alan Koch’s selection was well made.

One of the strengths of this side’s strong season has certainly been its goalkeeping depth. Goalkeeper coach Jack Stern has brought an innovative and healthy competitive approach to the team’s three keepers (Newton, Richey, and Mark Village). The result has seen a remarkable improvement in the team’s goals against average (GAA) from 1.55 in 2017 down to 1.00 in 2018. In addition to Newton’s Golden Glove award, FCC’s keepers are ranked 6th in the league with 14 clean sheets and 4th best with just 35 goals conceded. We can have confidence with whichever keeper starts for the Orange & Blue.

Let’s relive one of Spencer Richey’s point blank saves from the 48th minute that kept the Orange & Blue in line to advance deeper into the playoffs.

Shooting Challenges

Uncharacteristically, especially of late, was the shooting woes the Orange & Blue incurred in the match. FC Cincinnati led the league in conversion rate this season. In Saturday’s match they scored 1 goal over 17 shots not blocked, a 5.9% conversion rate that was significantly below their season average of 21%.

In addition, one of the only statistical categories that Nashville SC were better on during the match was shooting accuracy. The visitors in yellow placed 6 shots on target, out of 16 total, for a 37.5% accuracy. Thankfully, as noted above, Richey was up to the task to save five of their six shots on target. However, FCC was only able to place 5 of 22 shots on target for an anemic 22.7% accuracy.

The following shot chart illustrates the difficulty FCC had in finding clear lanes and delivering accurate shots on the Nashville goal. The red circles and rays represent the twelve shots off target (and not blocked). The blue circle around the number 19 outside the box was Corben Bone’s clever side-step laser that beat Matt Pickens in the first stanza of extra time.

FC Cincinnati Shot Chart

Fortunately, when it really mattered during the penalty kicks, all six FC Cincinnati players converted their spot kicks with style and accuracy.

Updated USL Playoff Brackets

In the East, two of the four games went to sudden-death penalty kicks. In addition to FC Cincinnati’s 6-5 penalty kick edge over Nashville, Bethlehem Steel beat host Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC 8-7 in PKs. The Steel will go on to meet Louisville City, who dispatched USL newcomers Indy Eleven without difficulty, 4-1.

For the second year in a row, the New York Red Bulls II went to Charleston and upset the higher-seeded Battery in the first round. An early goal by Tom Barlow was enough to see the Baby Bulls through to the conference semifinals. New York will visit Nippert for the second time this season to take on the Orange & Blue.

Below is an updated Eastern Conference playoff bracket.

Graphic by Connor Paquette

Across the nation in the Western Conference, a real shocker occurred late into the night when the 7th seed Swope Park Rangers knocked out a surging Sacramento Republic FC 2-1. Many had predicted Sacramento to make a deep run in the playoffs. SPR will now visit Phoenix Rising in the conference semifinals, who handled Portland Timbers 2 easily 3-0 Friday night.

The other conference semifinal will send Reno 1868 FC to Orange County SC. Reno was able to find a 92-minute stoppage time winner to beat the slumping Real Monarchs in Salt Lake City. Orange County’s high powered offense benefited from a hat trick by Michael Seaton as they clobbered a 10-man (21st minute red card) Saint Louis FC 4-0.

Here is the updated Western Conference playoff bracket.

Graphic by Connor Paquette

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s 2018 USL Cup playoff run and Saturday’s match versus New York Red Bulls II.