FC Cincinnati Rings in an Action Packed New Year

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FC Cincinnati fans have a lot to be optimistic about as they head into their third season as a professional franchise. The regular season doesn’t kick off until March, but the Orange and Blue will create plenty of headlines before then. Here’s what we’re most looking forward to in FC Cincinnati’s New Year.

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Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first. All eyes will be on Cincinnati’s bid for MLS expansion in January. After MLS announced Nashville’s expansion spot on December 20th, they delayed announcing the second expansion team without much explanation other than it will be announced in the “new year.”

The situation still looks promising for Cincinnati though. Detroit is still handicapped as the least likely to win a bid this round. Additionally, Sacramento’s ownership group recently revealed the departure of investor Meg Whitman and are now searching for additional equity partners. Both situations recently led to Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl predicting that the next spot will come to the Queen City.

 “Cincinnati will be awarded an MLS expansion team, beating out a Sacramento bid that couldn’t get its financial backing fully in order in time.”

The latest rumors suggest that all that remains for FC Cincinnati to do is to get through the legal paperwork with MLS. We won’t know for sure until Don Garber is standing in Fountain Square with an announcement to make. Who’s ready to party?

Koch’s Roster

Last season, Alan Koch was playing with a squad mostly assembled by John Harkes. The manager moved a number of players in and out of the team throughout the season in an attempt to find the right recipe. This year, he’s revamping the roster with a lineup built to his liking.

FC Cincinnati acquired eleven new players shortly after the close of the 2017 season. They added two goalkeepers, three center backs, two midfielders, three forwards, and Lance Laing who can play both left back and left wing. However, 17 players left the squad for various reasons. That leaves six roster spots still to fill if they want to match their 2017 roster size of 26 players.

Look for the transfer activity to heat up again once the MLS situation is resolved. If a spot in the top division of on tap for FC Cincinnati, it will change the complexion of who they can sign, especially if they begin play in 2019. Let’s not put the cart before the horse though.

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USL Schedule Release

The much anticipated USL schedule release gives us the chance to earmark all the key dates and best matchups of the new year. We’ll highlight rivalry matches, plan away trips, and circle dates when teams we’ve never seen before will visit Nippert.

The rapidly growing USL will look markedly different again this year. The Western Conference adds Las Vegas and Fresno in 2018 but loses the dissolved Vancouver Whitecaps 2. The Eastern Conference adds Atlanta United’s “2 team”, Nashville SC, and North Carolina FC but sees the departure (hiatus) of the Rochester Rhinos. Note that some teams could shift conferences, as we’ve seen in past USL seasons.

The season will be longer with the addition of two games for a total of 34 matches. Those games will span 31 weeks, starting March 16th and ending October 14th. Last season the schedule release was delayed until January 31st due to the second division sanctioning drama. There’s drama in US Soccer yet again, so it’s likely that the schedule release date will be similar this year.

Preseason in Florida

February will see Alan Koch’s side once again head to the Sunshine State to prepare for the season ahead. We know they’ll take on the New England Revolution in Bradenton on February 6th. They’ll also likely participate in a full slate of games at the IMG Academy’s annual preseason tournament. Details on the full schedule at that tournament have yet to be announced. If March is too long to wait for your fix of the Orange and Blue, a trip to Florida in February can cure that and your Cincinnati winter blues.

FC Cincinnati won the IMG preseason tournament in 2016 prior to their inaugural season.

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Photo Credit: FC Cincinnati

USL Opener at Nippert?

Of course, what we’re all really waiting for is a chance to get back to Nippert and cheer on our favorite team with our favorite people. In the past two seasons, FC Cincinnati started their USL campaign with multiple consecutive road games. In both cases, Nippert was under construction; first to lay down new turf in 2016 and then to expand the width of the field in 2017. Since Nippert is now ready for play, we may finally get a USL opener at home in March, and not have to wait until April to see all the new players in action.

There’s certainly a lot to look forward to, and we didn’t even get to the regular season, the existing Louisville rivalry, the new competition from Music City, and the US Open Cup. What are you most looking forward to in 2018?

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s 2018 season.  Happy New Year!

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Huge Semifinal Ticket Demand: Down Goes Glitnir

Due to the volume of fans seeking tickets to FC Cincinnati’s semifinal match, the ticketing website Glitnir crashed on Tuesday.

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Photo courtesy JES Photography / Joe Schmuck

The newest success of FC Cincinnati, their berth into the semifinals of the U.S. Open Cup against the New York Red Bulls, is also their latest issue. Tickets released to the public for the upcoming match crashed FCC’s online ordering system, Glitnir; “Unfortunately, their system has gone down and we have not been able to facilitate orders since shortly after 1:00 pm today,” said President and GM, Jeff Berding. Officially, the game is not sold out, but ticketing has been delayed at least a day, a week before kick off. The official Twitter page of FC Cincinnati also took time to assure those who had tickets stating, “if you managed to get through…your tickets are absolutely valid.”

UPDATE: Just after 8pm on Tuesday, August 8th, the server issues causing the problem with the ticketing site were resolved. Access was opened up again an fans have been able to purchase tickets successfully since. Reports indicate that the game is close to selling out, but the exact number of tickets remaining is hard to determine.

10,000 tickets, more than a fourth of the total capacity of Nippert Stadium, have already been sold to season ticket holders as of last week, but the rest will not be available via phone, email, online, or on social media until the team releases more information; the only place to currently find seats is on secondary market sites, like StubHub. While bad news for ticket seekers today, this moment is a good indication of the ever-growing local support. More people than ever want to buy seats to the most successful professional team in Cincinnati in recent years.

The attendance of FC Cincinnati soccer matches has long been highlighted by fans and league officials; the largest crowd recorded for a competitive FCC game was against Chicago Fire just a few weeks ago, 32,287. Want to break that number? Then this is a good thing. Having a site, that as Berding said was prepped “following our win against Miami FC,” crash shows a bit about the technology employed, but more so about the passion and excitement surrounding this semifinal.

Winning games gets this team closer to MLS, but the local enthusiasm shown means Cincinnati can bring in just as many marching fans as the West or East coast, putting more dollars in MLS pockets if they give the Queen City the green-light. Games like the upcoming match against New York Red Bulls are tests to the homegrown fandom, and though the technology let them down today, supporters are once again showing why they deserve to cheer on this team in the top flight of professional soccer in America.

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CVG Homecoming: Where FCC Goes, Fans Follow

The FC Cincinnati squad landed at CVG, in northern Kentucky today, to a greeting of over a hundred raucous supporters in baggage claim.

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All photos courtesy JES Photography / Joe Schmuck

Draped in flags, wrapped in scarves, and wearing all manner of orange and blue, the supporters of FC Cincinnati followed up with the US Open Cup semi-finalists at CVG airport. They gathered and greeted the Queen City boys as they arrived back from their 1-0 victory over Miami FC. As FCC’s official Twitter page put it, “Not that we should be surprised, but an awesome crowd has gathered at CVG.”

Over a hundred Cincinnati supporters turned up at baggage claim to welcome the rising USL stars back home. For an hour, the crowd stood by, chanting Bailey favorite cheers, becoming so raucous at one point that security at the airport had to step in and quiet everyone until the team arrived.

But as the men made their way in, the crowd broke into chants again, giving the quarter-final victors more reason to smile; they took video of the fans’ welcome as fans took video of their entrance, a telling display of the bond between team and supporters here in Cincinnati. The significance of the gathering was not lost on Coach Alan Koch, saying on Twitter, “Just another moment of why we love our fans so much. You are the reason.”

FC Cincinnati’s next US Open Cup test will be home, at Nippert, on Tuesday, August 15th, against the fourth ranked team in MLS’ Eastern Conference, New York Red Bulls. A win and a Sporting Kansas City loss mean a Nippert US Open Cup final. But for now, the players are settling back into their USL schedule, with a match at home this Saturday against Orlando City B; their fans will be right there with them.

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s cup run and 2017 season.

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Blog: Subplots, Chicago Fire US Open Cup Victory

Subplots from FC Cincinnati’s US Open cup victory including scary selection, Hoyte’s central role, and Wiedeman’s glorious disallowed goal.

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Photo courtesy of JES Photography / Joe Schmuck

There are so many storylines from Wednesday night’s triumph at Nippert. I jotted down a few thoughts on the smaller narratives that people aren’t talking about enough in my opinion. The majority of the chatter is about Mitch’s master performance, the games implications on the MLS bid, what it meant to Austin Berry and Corben Bone, and even what it means for American soccer. All valid topics, but some of the less obvious talking points are more interesting to me. Screw clicks, right?

Ballsy Lineup

Alan Koch set the team up in a 3-4-3 formation that looked like a 5-4-1 when Chicago had the ball. Critically, HE MADE SIX CHANGES from the strong eleven that started last Saturday in USL action. If you didn’t gulp when that lineup was announced, to match-up against a Schweinsteiger-led Chicago Fire, you’re one of those overly-positive people I’ll never understand.

Everyone expected some rotation. Everyone expected König to play a role. Djiby of course was hurt. But six changes and no Jimmy Mac, no Kenney Walker, no Corben Bone, no Wiedeman? Koch started Stevenson and Dominguez, both players I like, but both young players that haven’t figured much in the starting eleven this season.

The beauty is that it worked, somehow. He put a lot of trust in the squad and it paid off. They certainly needed the spark and possession-play from McLaughlin, Bone, and Wiedeman as substitutes. They needed a game-of-your-life performance from Mitch Hildebrandt to pull off the victory, but wow. It could have backfired. In light of the result, you have to tip your hat to the coaching staff. I’m still not sure whether it was genius or crazy.

Hoyte Steps into the Back Three

Justin Hoyte started in the center of the back three, and combined with Berry, Delbridge, and defense-minded wingbacks to keep the Fire at bay for 120 minutes. Surely Hoyte is a quality defender, and we know he has the ability to play center back. But we’ve only seen him at fullback or wingback this season, and Nico’s been a rock there recently. Was now the time to experiment? In arguably the biggest match in club history to date? Again, it worked. Hoyte was stingy in defense. Berry was everywhere, and the best at the back in my opinion. Bahner cleared a sure goal off the line. Delbridge was a monster in the air as always. In truth, the entire defense had a great performance.

Wieda One Bad Call Away from All the Headlines

Every article you’ve read about this match has one man on the cover photo, Mitch Hildebrandt. And rightly so. His performance during the game, and in the shootout was at a different level.  I’m not trying to minimize that at all. One should also point out that Mitch was quick to heap praise on his teammates and give them all the credit in post match interviews.

However, Andrew Wiedeman’s extra time goal was SO onside. It should have been the game winner and if that had happened, think about how different the dialogue and the headlines might be. Who would be on the cover photos? Also think about the outrage that would have ensued about that incorrect offside call if Chicago had won the shootout. We talk a lot about statistical trends, aggregate numbers, and the like to analyze matches. But individual moments and decisions, by players and officials, usually define matches. It’s part of why this game is so unpredictable, and why we love and hate this sport all at the same time.

Danni and Kadeem’s Effort

Thursday was truly a team performance. Danni König and Kadeem Dacres don’t get many mentions in the write-ups, but I thought they absolutely ran their socks off, especially in the earlier portions of the match. The Fire were pressing for the opening goal, and these two were a big part of a defend-from-the-front approach, that made life difficult enough to keep the Fire off the score sheet. Effort isn’t everything, but these guys really laid it out there on Wednesday night. Staying in the game despite Chicago’s early onslaught was a key part of this US Open Cup success.

No Djiby, No Kenney, No Problem

If I had to write down the starting eleven for any FC Cincinnati match, Djiby Fall and Kenney Walker would likely be the first two names I would write down. The fact that we beat an almost full strength, in-form Chicago Fire team without those two players is incredible. The depth of this roster, which has been touted since preseason, paid off on Wednesday. We’ll continue to need that depth as the Orange and Blue will play six matches in the first 15 days of July. That run starts tomorrow against Orlando City B. Just one more day left to savor that historic US Open Cup win.

So many storylines, which is one of many reasons why this match will live on in FC Cincinnati legend for some time.

Any underreported storylines that I missed? Let me know in the comments section or on social media.

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more news, analysis, and color commentary on FC Cincinnati.

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Blog: Martinez, König, and FC Cincinnati in the Community

It’s been a busy week off the field for FC Cincinnati with the addition of Cristian Martinez and speculation about Danni König. Plus, FCC in the community.

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It’s Saturday, it’s match day, and FC Cincinnati is in Richmond for a matchup with the 12th place Kickers. The big news ahead of today’s match is the loan of 20 year old Panamanian Cristián Martinez from Columbus Crew SC to the Orange and Blue. The deal is on a game-by-game basis, and provides some cover while Djiby Fall and Andy Craven serve multiple game disciplinary suspensions.

It’s unclear quite where Martinez fits into the picture for FC Cincinnati. The press release refers to him a forward. However, Crew SC lists him as a midfielder and the reports out of Panama about his signing for Columbus refer to him as the same. He may be able to play forward, but seems more likely to play elsewhere in an attacking three, or behind the lead striker. Saturday’s match will provide some answers if Koch is bold enough to put him into the lineup straight away.

Martinez was acquired permanently by Crew SC in January after being on loan there from Chorrillo of Liga Panameña de Fútbol in 2016. He’s made a handful of appearances with Crew SC, scored one goal in MLS, and was also loaned to the Pittsburgh Riverhounds where he made eight appearances. Here’s the video of his MLS goal.

The announcement comes on the heels of a report via Soc Takes on Thursday night that FC Cincinnati is in the process of signing veteran forward Danni König from OKC Energy. The 30 year old Danish striker is known for his breakout 22 goal season with OKC in 2015.

FC Cincinnati currently has eight attacking players on the roster if you include the wingers. Martinez’s short term signing provides an additional attacking option while two are suspended and certainly makes sense. It will also be interesting to see if Martinez might stick around further into FC Cincinnati’s season.

If they do in fact sign König to a permanent deal, it raises additional questions. What does that mean for the playing time of Omar Cummings if König comes into the fold? Will Victor Mansaray get any chances to start as a lead striker? Are any of the current attacking options on the way out? Could König and Djiby both start once he’s back, and if so who sits? Time will tell.

FC Cincinnati in the Community

FC Cincinnati has been on the unfavorable side of some recent news given the red cards, suspensions, and a lukewarm start to the season. It was good to see them on the positive side as a result of their work in Cincinnati’s community.

On Tuesday they were at Cincinnati Children’s visiting with kids, signing autographs, and on the air at Seacrest Studios.

On Friday, they announced the FC Cincinnati Community Fund, a partnership with the CRC to “create soccer and futsal courts in various areas throughout the city as well as run soccer clinics to engage underprivileged children in the Greater Cincinnati area.” More on the FC Cincinnati Community Fund here.

Good stuff. Hopefully all of this fine work will generate good karma and translate into a winning result tonight.

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Blog: Combing the Opta Stats

A look inside FC Cincinnati’s team and individual Opta stats on the USL site, with examples that look at the team’s midfield.

The blog section of Orange & Blue Press is new and will feature less formal writing about whatever’s going on with the club at the moment, or whatever strikes the author as interesting to write about. It will be more words, less multi-media, more about opinions and conversation, and less about facts and news. More personal, less objective. Think of it as scratching ideas on the back of the napkin rather than writing an essay you’d turn into a teacher. You know, a blog (like I had to explain).

USL’s relationship with Opta Stats is new this year and the information and features available on their site are impressive. The most commonly used stats are contained in the Match Center, where you will find data in real time for a match that’s in progress (or has concluded). There is also a stats page for each team, which aggregates match data at the team and individual levels (click on Player Stats) over the course of the season. Some events like red cards (topical?) can skew the stats of a particular game, but meaningful patterns often emerge in the aggregated data when you look over a longer time period.

Here are a couple of examples of the kind of information you can glean from this page.

Corben Bone leads FC Cincinnati midfielders in passing accuracy (PA) at 77.7% for players with over 100 passes. Andrew Wiedeman’s PA is actually higher but he’s played midfield, forward, and on the wing, so we’ll exclude him. What’s interesting is that Bone’s passing accuracy does not decline in the opposition’s half. His PA is 78% in his own half and 77% in the opposition’s half. Most other midfielders are about 20% less accurate in the opponents half than their own. Aodhan Quinn’s PA for example is 90% in his own half but 66% in the opponents half. Quinn’s overall passing accuracy is almost the same as Bone’s at 77.1%, but he achieves it in a different way. Quinn typically plays deeper and attempts more long passes. Bone is statistically a more accurate passer in forward positions. He keeps the ball moving and is more likely to look for interplay with nearby attackers.

Another example. Kenney Walker’s contributions both with and without the ball show up in the individual player stats. Walker leads the team in chances created at 14, which is 4 more than any other player. He also has been involved in considerably more tackles than any player on the team. He’s attempted 31 total tackles, and won 27 of them (87%). The next highest number of tackles attempted is 17, a tie between Bahner and Quinn.

It seems odd that the central defenders on the team don’t have more tackles right? Their defensive efforts often show up as duels and interceptions in addition to tackles. Duels are more complicated and we’ll look at those in a future post.

This brings up a good question, what the hell do all of these terms mean? One of the more complete descriptions of the terms used can be found on the Opta Event Definitions Blog. Below are the definitions of some of the terms we’ve used.

Passing Accuracy – This is simply a formula where successful passes are divided by total attempted passes.

Tackles – A tackle is defined as where a player connects with the ball in a ground challenge where he successfully takes the ball away from the man in possession. A Tackle Won is deemed to be where the tackler or one of his team-mates regains possession as a result of the challenge, or that the ball goes out of play and is “safe.” A Tackle Lost is where a tackle is made but the ball goes to an opposition player.

Chances Created Assists plus key passes, where a key pass is the final pass or pass-come-shot leading to the recipient of the ball having an attempt at goal without scoring.

If you’ve read Orange and Blue Press in the past, you’ll know that I like stats and that I cite them frequently. Why?

There’s a lot about soccer and its analysis that is subject to interpretation. For example, whether someone is playing well, fouls, red cards (topical?), what tactics the coach is trying to employ and whether they’re effective. All of this drives good and relevant dialogue, but two people can argue about this subjective stuff and often never get to any meaningful conclusion. I like statistics because they have the ability give you a more concrete understanding of what happened. Further, they can validate or refute what you “think” you saw while you were watching a match.

Most people take in soccer matches as entertainment. And unless you’re analyzing the match from the press box, they’re likely to be subjected to a series of distractions during the match. You might have had four beers before you went in and spend 15 minutes of the match waiting in line to void your bladder (my mom is a nurse and used to make me say “void my bladder” when I was little…messed up right?) You’re subject to the comments and biases of the people around you, and they can affect your perception of the game. Stats allow you to bounce your perception up against data to see if how you perceived things jibes.

Stats aren’t arguable (assuming reliable data collection, which Opta is). They are what happened. That being said, the interpretation of those statistics can be used to support many ends. Some stats can be misleading or, more often, are just not relevant to the outcome of a match. My opinion however is that on balance, they help me to better understand what happened after I’ve watched with my own two eyes.

There’s a lot of good information out there, comment below or on Twitter with anything you find on Opta that piques your interest.