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: Possession in the Final Third, Captain Hoyte, Cup Competitions Loom

A two-game road trip before the Gold Cup break started with a thud for FC Cincinnati. A 3-1 loss in the Centennial State…

Photo Credit: Paul-Michael Ochoa / FC Cincinnati

A two-game road trip before the Gold Cup break started with a thud for FC Cincinnati on Saturday. A 3-1 loss to Colorado in the Centennial State leaves the Orange & Blue with the lowest point total in MLS as they near the midway point of the 2019 season.

Possession in the Final Third

Some may be surprised that FCC maintained a 60%-40% possession* advantage over the Rapids Saturday, their highest possession total this season. However, a closer look suggests that not all possession numbers are created equal, and a more telling metric is possession in the final (offensive) third of the field.

The chart below shows total passes by each team split between the defensive, middle, and offensive thirds of the field. Colorado’s numbers are on the left (orange) and FC Cincinnati’s are on the right (blue).

Graphic via whoscored.com

The Rapids actually completed one more pass than FC Cincinnati in the final third over the 90+ minutes. These numbers highlight that, despite FC Cincinnati’s overall possession advantage, Colorado actually had slightly more possession in their offensive third. 77% of FCC’s possession was held in the non-threatening defensive and middle third.

In another match on Saturday, the New York Red Bulls had a clear advantage in overall possession as well, 62% against Real Salt Lake. However, New York registered a much higher 39% of their possession in the final third in comparison to FC Cincinnati’s 23%. FCC created 8 non-blocked shots against Colorado with that 23%, and only 1 of the 4 on target was a goal. Meanwhile, the Red Bulls created 16 non-blocked shots against RSL, and 4 out of the 9 on target found the back of the net.

Possession even in non-threatening positions does limit the time the opponent has with the ball, which is obviously a good thing. It’s also the platform for the attack, but a team still has to create the chances and convert them.

To keep the short story short, overall possession doesn’t tell much on its own without assessing where possession was held and whether it led to a proportionate number of goal-scoring opportunities.

Hoyte as Captain

Justin Hoyte wore the armband on Saturday in place of the suspended Kendall Waston, who is now on his way to Gold Cup duty for Costa Rica. Hoyte tallied the third-most passes on the team (74) and completed them with a remarkable 96% passing accuracy.

While his passing numbers are nice, the defense’s primary role is to keep the ball out of the back of the net, and that didn’t go so well. Hoyte reflected those sentiments in his post-match comments.

“It’s just disappointing. First half, we’ve done okay in the first 15, 20 minutes, and then we are not sure what happened. Second half, we gave away some silly goals. It was good to come back one-one, and then to concede a goal straight away after we have scored is not good enough. It is just disappointing. We just have to reflect on our performance and we must do better as a team.”

The directness of Hoyte’s comments are refreshing, and they ring more true than narratives about the team being unlucky or not getting rewarded for hard work.

Cup Competitions Looming

The CONCACAF Gold Cup starts in less than two weeks. The group stage begins on June 15th and lasts until the 28th. The knockout stage then extends from June 29th to July 7th.

Key members of the Orange & Blue, including Kendall Waston, Allan Cruz, Darren Mattocks and Alvas Powell, will therefore be unavailable, as soon as Thursday’s contest against NYCFC.

Yoann Damet will have to roll out some makeshift squads during that time-period especially if the injury list doesn’t getter shorter soon. Leo Bertone, Fatai Alashe, Kenny Saief, Przemysław Tytoń, and Greg Garza have all been injuried or ill for multiple games and there’s no clear indication they will return soon.

Of course, these roster limitation will impact FCC for the start of their participation in the U.S. Open Cup. Given the thin squad, it stands to reason that fans will see some of the less-experienced faces for the matchup with rival Louisville City FC, maybe even appearances by SuperDraft picks like Rashawn Dally and Tommy McCabe. That contest is scheduled for Wednesday, June 12th.

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s 2019 MLS season.

*Possession definition – During the game, the passes for each team are totaled. Then each team’s total is divided by the game total to produce a percentage figure which shows the percentage of the game that each team has accrued in possession of the ball.

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.

On The Radar: Second-Round U.S. Open Cup Matches To Watch

Which second-round games should you tune into this week for your U.S. Open Cup entertainment?

Image: Joe Craven

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.

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.

Koch Out as FC Cincinnati Head Coach

Alan Koch is out as FC Cincinnati’s head coach. Assistant Yoann Damet will serve as interim manager until a new coach is hired.

Alan Koch is out as FC Cincinnati’s head coach. Assistant Yoann Damet will serve as interim manager until a new coach is hired.

A press report released on Tuesday morning indicates that the decision was based on management’s perception that Koch had not maximized the talent at his disposal.

This decision is not driven by recent game results themselves, but rather the underpinnings that have led to those results,” said President and General Manager Jeff Berding. “We have not come close to maximizing the talent we have in the dressing room this year, nor have we seen a foundation being built that will set us up for success this year and into next year. Our whole locker room is committed to our club goal of earning an MLS postseason bid, and we need to put them in the best position to do so.”

Koch’s dismissal comes after a streak of 5 consecutive defeats for FCC despite a positive start to the season. The team currently sits at 2-7-2 in 11th place, second from bottom of the Eastern Conference after 11 matches played.

FC Cincinnati will undergo an “international search” for their next head coach.

Deeper Cuts: FC Cincinnati’s Power-Grid Out(r)ages

FC Cincinnati’s fifth consecutive loss comes at a moment where the team could really use the boost in morale. The uplifting feeling…

Image: Joe Craven

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.

Short-Term Blips

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.

Major stats for San Jose (orange) and FCC (blue) before 51st-minute red card
Source: whoscored.com

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.

Major stats for San Jose (orange) and FCC (blue) after 51st-minute red card
Source: whoscored.com

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.

Long-Term Blackouts

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.

MLS scoreless streaks and how the teams finished in standings and goal differential

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 out.

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.

Deeper Cuts: Opposite Halves, Searching for Offense, and the Captain on Frustration

Photo Credit: FC Cincinnati

Despite an improved second-half performance, FC Cincinnati couldn’t recover from a 38th-minute Connor Lade strike and lost the fourth match in their last five outings. This edition of Deeper Cuts takes a look two very different halves, the Orange & Blue’s struggling offense, and the bright spot in the captain’s performance.

Tale of Two Halves

For the second straight match, FC Cincinnati maintained an overall possession advantage (albeit slight) but didn’t score a goal. In this match, New York had the majority of possession (55%) in the first 45 minutes, but the roles shifted in the second half as FCC found a spark and the home side protected a slim lead.

New York had an 8-2 shot advantage in the first half, while FC Cincinnati had a 6-4 shot advantage in the second. The Orange & Blue made 2 successful dribbles in the first half, but 9 in the second. They had only 2 recoveries in New York’s half in the first 45 minutes, but 10 in the second 45.

After the match, Kendall Waston, FC Cincinnati’s captain, bemoaned the team inability to start the game with the same intensity they played with after the break.

“If we start every game the same way we did in the second half, we are going to have more chances to win than to lose,” said Waston. “We’ve just got to continue fighting and the minimum thing is we have to show that we find a togetherness. Second half, we did it.”

Still Searching for Offense

Two months into their 2019 season, FC Cincinnati is still searching for success in the final third. They have been shutout in their last three matches and haven’t scored from open play since Week 4 against the New England Revolution.

The players may feel unlucky not to have scored against the Red Bulls after hitting the woodwork three times. However, after nine matches they have the third lowest goal total in MLS and are lowest in the league in both shots per game, and shots on target per game.

Stats via whoscored.com

Emmanuel Ledesma, who recently returned from a hamstring injury, started this match at forward as a change-up to Darren Mattocks. FCC is still without Fanendo Adi, who did not travel to New Jersey despite being reinstated by MLS last Thursday.

Ledesma had 34 touches, 1 blocked shot, 4 unsuccessful crosses (3 were corner kicks), a 74% passing accuracy, but also 10 unsuccessful passes in the opposition half. The offense wasn’t clicking, and Manu likely needs more time to play into good form. He was substituted in favor of Darren Mattocks in the 63rd minute.

The Jamaican forward injected some pace into FCC’s attack, but produced just 1 off-target shot, which was one of the three that hit the post. He had 17 touches and completed 8 passes at a 50% accuracy. Had his angled shot found the back of the net, the narrative might be more upbeat, but the total offensive numbers are pretty sparse in this game and this season.

The Red Bulls aren’t exactly setting offensive records either. They started Brian White in place of the injured Bradley Wright-Phillips and mustered only 1 shot on target in 12 attempts. That shot from Connor Lade decided the match and brings them up to 9 goals on the season, the fifth-lowest total in MLS.

Waston on Frustration

Not many FC Cincinnati player stats from this match paint a favorable picture, but Waston’s numbers are an exception. He had 92 touches (most on the team) and won 10 aerial duels. He also won 3 tackles, made 3 interceptions and 4 clearances, and completed 7 of 13 long passes. The captain hit the woodwork in stoppage time, in another “almost” moment for FCC.

“We feel frustrated with ourselves because we tried our best,” said Waston after the match. “We were thinking before the game, okay this is the game we have to win . . . Sometimes in football things don’t go your way, but this is where the real character of the individual shows.”

Up next are two more on the road, including FC Cincinnati’s first midweek match against the Philadelphia Union, a team that defeated them soundly one month ago at Nippert. Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of the busy week ahead.

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 Looking to Take Chances Without Adi

Image: Ryan Meyer

Seven games into their season, FC Cincinnati has now played more games without forward Fanendo Adi than with him. They are surviving so far by relying on a goals-by-committee approach and a system that emphasizes the team.

Kekuta Manneh is helping to fill the void left by FC Cincinnati’s primary Designated Player. He has a goal and an assist since March 17th when Adi was injured.

“I think the team has responded well,” Manneh explained. “We’ve scored a few goals while (Adi) was away. Obviously, he’s a big part of our team. He’s our DP and a starter on our team. We miss him. He brings something different for our game. I’ve always said this though, that we have a system in place and we’re going to do that. Adi’s definitely a big miss. We’d be glad to welcome him back in the next week or so.”

Adi didn’t find the back of the net in the three games that he started before his injury, so FCC wasn’t relying on him early in the season. Alan Koch’s side has scored 8 goals total (tied for 5th best in the Eastern Conference) and boasts eight different goalscorers. Five of their eight goals have come without Adi in the lineup.

Times have been tougher recently, however. They’ve only scored once in the past three matches. The good news is that they are still creating enough high-quality chances.

“Obviously he’s a big piece of our attack and our main focus,” said midfielder Victor Ulloa about Adi’s absence. “But I think that Darren (Mattocks) has stepped up really well and I think we have the players and the group to fill that spot and I think they’ve done a great job. We’re missing the goal a little bit right now, but we’re creating chances and that’s the most important thing.”

Based on expected goals (xG) metrics, FC Cincinnati should have scored 1-2 more goals than the single goal they netted against Sporting Kansas City two weeks ago. They also should have bagged at least one against LAFC last week, but were shut out instead. LAFC’s Tyler Miller produced a highlight-reel save in that match to deny Darren Mattocks a goal in first-half stoppage time.

Although the timeline for Adi’s return still remains unclear, he is back in Cincinnati and is now training alongside the team. However, he cannot fully participate until further notice from MLS.

“He’s still doing some rehab, at this time, and we’re still waiting for his situation to be resolved before we can move forward with planning with him,” said Koch. “It’s such a grey area, we’re waiting for any situation to get resolved first before we can do any preparations with him.”

The short story of Adi’s absence so far is that FC Cincinnati is both creating chances and scoring goals without him. They are underachieving recently on their expected goals, however, and need to show that they can finish their chances on home turf this Friday against Real Salt Lake.