With 20% of the season in the books, a look at the watermark FC Cincinnati must hit to make the 2019 MLS Cup playoffs.
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 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.
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
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.
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 1/5thof 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.
Despite FC Cincinnati’s encouraging draw against a Sporting Kansas City squad that had obliterated Montreal 7-1 the week before …
Despite FC Cincinnati’s encouraging draw against a Sporting Kansas City squad that had obliterated Montreal 7-1 the week before, a few “what-if” statements still linger. What if FCC had a healthy Manu Ledesma and an available Fanendo Adi? What if Greg Garza and Spencer Richey didn’t miscommunicate? What if Nick Hagglund’s goal was good? What if I didn’t accidentally smear ketchup on my orange suit?
(Okay, that last one is probably not a game-changer.)
However, it might also be wise to ask “what-if” questions in the other direction. What if Sporting KC hadn’t played a CONCACAF Champions League match three days before? What if Peter Vermes wasn’t resting eight players of his Starting XI? In the end, perhaps getting the 1-1 draw in front of a national audience isn’t a bad result.
Two Steps Forward
Statistically speaking, the Orange & Blue held together for a solid attack in the first 45 minutes. Not only did FCC match SKC in shots in the first half (7-7), but they penetrated the box with their attempts and put more on target (3-1). Many of the defensive numbers (clearances, blocks, saves) favored SKC, indicating that Cincinnati was penetrating better than usual.
The first-half possession numbers were also a bit misleading, despite SKC owning a slight advantage (52%-48%). When Sporting KC possessed the ball, they kept it mostly between their center backs and midfield. Much of their passes were relegated to the defensive third and midfield. However, FCC distributed the ball uniformly and depended on Kenny Saief and Leo Bertone to feed Darren Mattocks when the window of opportunity opened. FCC owned a 92-61 advantage in passes in the attacking third of the field.
For the most part, this was an attack that could have pulled off the home shocker had the game ended at halftime. FCC held an 11-5 advantage in forcing loss of possession, while successfully out-dribbling SKC 7-2. Unlike last week against Philadelphia, this could have been the perfect storm.
Of course, games do not end after 45 minutes.
Two Steps Back
Perhaps it was when Roland Lamah came off due to injury at
halftime, forcing Alan Koch to substitute earlier than required. Perhaps it was
Sporting KC holding the ball long enough to get their own resting substitutes
in. No matter how you slice the halftime orange, the second half was a
completely different game.
FCC’s inability to finish the attack in open play eventually caught up to the team as Sporting KC slowly reintroduced their normal starters. The possession was dominated by the away squad as SKC brought in midfielder Felipe Gutiérrez and forward Krisztián Németh. Had the blowout at Monterrey midweek been closer, perhaps they don’t see the pitch, but once more familiar players came on, FCC were on their back heels. SKC owned a 59%-41% possession advantage in the second half, as well as an 11-3 shots advantage. Nine of those shots by SKC were in the penalty box, while FCC could only fathom one.
If a second half MVP is to be found, it’s likely the duo of Hagglund and Kendall Waston who kept the draw in check. Both made three solid clearances out of the penalty box in the second half, while Hagglund almost certified himself as a hometown hero with the header in the 83rd minute that was juuuust offsides. Both were also solid at backing the other up and are legitimate reasons why FCC have made it through the first six games with a 2-2-2 record.
No Ground Lost
Over the first six games, it’s not surprising that FCC have experienced
some growing pains. The team has settled into one that will not win with
possession, as they’ve yet to lead a game in that category. They’re also not
winning with their offensive attack—only Columbus (8.3) takes less shots per
game than FCC (9.3).
However, this isn’t to say that FCC is the 2019 version of Minnesota United’s maiden voyage. Six games might be a small cross-section, but if we take a look at the “expansion” teams from the past decade, FCC’s not struggling yet.
Yes, the goals are not coming in bushels, but not many teams
in the past had more than ten goals by this point. At the same time, not many
can say they’ve let in less than ten. Sure, FCC cannot boast a three-game home
winning streak like Portland from 2011, but they haven’t struggled on the road to
start like Montreal did in 2012.
We knew that this FCC squad wasn’t going to be setting
records like last year. Granted, a projected 45 points hasn’t gotten many teams
into the playoffs. It’s only happened once in the East since the expansion to a
34-game schedule in 2011. Still, 8 points in the first six games—that’s still a
solid start in a conference where dominant teams like Atlanta and NYCFC have
stumbled out of the blocks.
Daunting matches against LAFC and New York Red Bulls loom on the horizon, but let’s not lose faith in the team after a draw that felt like a loss. Maybe 45 minutes of magic is all FCC needs.
Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for FC Cincinnati’s upcoming return to the West Coast against LAFC.
As FC Cincinnati concludes their first month of play, let’s take a moment to recognize their accomplishments and “firsts”.
Five games down, twenty-nine to go. As the inaugural month of MLS play concludes for the Orange & Blue, let’s recap what FC Cincinnati has accomplished in the Eastern Conference. A lot has happened in a short amount of time, leaving room for statements like, “If you had told me [insert interesting fact] a few weeks ago, I’d say you’re crazy!” and “Is it too soon to start thinking playoffs?” So, let’s try to make sense of the most exciting month in Cincinnati soccer history to date.
Look at these notable ‘firsts’:
First MLS goal, courtesy of a Leonardo Bertone wonder-strike
First MLS point, at Atlanta, the reigning MLS Cup champs no less
First-ever MLS win against the Portland Timbers in the home opener
Let’s take a look at that first goal one more time.
Simply put, this doesn’t tell the whole story. The FC Cincinnati narrative, in the media and public perception, has been bipolar.
Here’s a team that got soundly defeated by a (we know now) still-undefeated Seattle side, and even the most optimistic fans were worried. Were the pundits correct? Is the roster not constructed well? Are we Minnesota 2.0?
Surprise, surprise, then came 7 points in the next 3 games, momentarily lifting FCC to second place in the table. They did it by grinding out results and effectively using counter-attacks when opportunities allowed. They did it by controlling the tempo at Nippert. And they did it due to Koch’s tactical flexibility against different types of opposition. He utilized multiple 4-back formation variations and entrusted 19 different with playing time in these three matches.
The narrative flipped. A few weeks prior, the Orange and Blue looked defensively unorganized and offensively inept. Now? The defense is stable, the team selection stronger, and the offense balanced with seven different goalscorers. There even appears to be some depth, allowing FCC to survive international breaks.
March of All Marches
The march to the stadium before the Portland game forced even the most skeptical voices to take note of, and appreciate, the incredible soccer culture in the Queen City. Perhaps even more impressive were the supporters who stuck out miserable conditions to watch Philadelphia bring Cincinnati back down to Earth.
Has Koch’s side cemented its place in the Eastern Conference as a threat, or only capitalized off the poor form of recent dominant sides like Atlanta and Portland? Only time will reveal FC Cincinnati’s true level. For now, they rest in 5th place in the Eastern Conference.
Alan Koch summarized it best in his comments in training about the start of the season
“We knew we were going to have some tough moments, and we’ve had them already, and we’re going to continue to have tough moments. Saturday night was one of those moments. But we’ve also had some very positive moments too . . . It’s been a rollercoaster of a start and it’s going to continue to be a rollercoaster as we go through the next few months.”
Here are the unofficial first month awards as voted on by yours truly.
MVP – Spencer Richey
Richey is the only USL holdover to get significant playing time in the first month of action, primarily due to Tyton’s hamstring tendonitis which has kept the Polish keeper out since the Seattle match. Determined not to be a placeholder, Richey has made the most of his opportunity. He has kept two clean sheets in four starts, and earned MLS Team of the Week honors for his performance against the Timbers in Week 3. Although far from flawless, Richey has been a strong shot-stopper in the net. In my opinion, he picks up this month’s MVP award as he has played more consistently than any of FCC’s field players.
Most Improved – Alvas Powell
After getting slated following a poor inaugural match outing, Koch showed faith in the pacey, attack-minded fullback by giving him two more starts. He may not always prove to be first choice in a system without natural wing backs, but Powell rebounded and has improved considerably.
Most Disappointing – Fanendo Adi
An expansion side is normally reliant on its Designated Players. Adi has a very specific playing-style that some may construe as lazy, slow, and one-dimensional if he’s not producing goals. Once he went down injured during the home opener, Adi has not been part of the 18-man game day squad. Now his future with FCC is in peril due to his own reckless behavior, and it’s anyone’s guess as to what happens from here.
Most Promising – Greg Garza
The quality is evident any time Garza starts or is subbed on, and when healthy, he instantly makes FC Cincinnati a more threatening team. If he can stay fit, expect some big performances from the MLS veteran.
Do you agree with these awards? What do you make of the
season so far?
Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for all of your 2019 FC Cincinnati coverage.
Here we are just four weeks into Major League Soccer’s 2019 regular season (well, five weeks in for eight teams), and Week 4/5’s Form Guide ULTRA, the source material for these narratives, is already busily spinning off the kinds of sweet, subtle caveats that cause a man to question everything he thinks he knows. It’s also predicting the future, if only the very near future, or at least suggesting it. With that, time to dig in.
To start with the latter, say someone asked you to opine on whether the Chicago Fire or the New England Revolution will build on their first wins of the season, or whether Real Salt Lake might crawl out of the never-ending paddle-wheel that’s been wailing on their fannies for the past three weeks. The answers to all of the above are the same: oh, hell no – because they face Toronto FC, Columbus Crew SC, and the Seattle Sounders, respectively, and on the road in every single case. That doesn’t mean none of those three teams will recover by the end of the season, it just means they’re highly unlikely to do it next weekend. Going the other way, what kind of signal would it send if all three of those teams yanked unlikely wins from unsavory places in those games? (For what it’s worth, I’d start to take the hype a little more seriously on Chicago if they win, but it’ll take more to re-write the sorry scripts the other two teams have written for themselves so far.)
Basically, whatever happens in the three games above, the result will either reinforce a narrative (e.g., weak teams in bad circumstances losing), or they won’t be enough to create a new narrative on their own. That doesn’t apply to all of this weekend’s games, fortunately, and that’s how I chose which games I decided to treat as “important” by giving them extended commentary down below. By my reckoning, DC United v. Los Angeles FC and the Philadelphia Union v. FC Dallas have evolved into the marquee match-ups of MLS Week 5/sorta 6. In the latter case, you’ve got two teams who’ve started…reasonably well (i.e., Dallas has started well, while Philly’s only come on recently), while the former pits two teams widely regarded (if in my own tiny circle) as the best in MLS in 2019. And this is where the Form Guide ULTRA does double duty – specifically by putting sharp questions to exactly which teams DC has beaten so far this season, versus all the teams from which LAFC have stolen many points. They’ve both been perfect so far, or close to it – and they both pummeleda vulnerable team by the same, shameful 5-0 score-line – but something tells me LAFC will go farther in 2019, scare more teams, etc. That said, no matter what happens between them next weekend, I expect both teams go far this season, and to cause problems for the teams around them. The same goes for Dallas and Philly, even if their fates/upsides look less settled than the other two.
That’s not to say there aren’t some damned solid under-cards ahead – among them, e.g., Vancouver Whitecaps v. Los Angeles Galaxy (a race to get their sh*t together), New York City FC v. Montreal Impact (will the least wounded team please stand up), and Red Bulls New York v. Minnesota (how bad is Red Bull, really?). And, because I follow them both, the Portland Timbers and FC Cincinnati have equally interesting Week 5/6’s ahead, but for the opposite reason. For obvious reasons, Portland had better [placeholder for very naughty words] have no trouble tagging in and continuing the embarrassing beat-down LAFC started last weekend. As for FC Cincy, they’re staring down a game that every single thought worth minding says they’ll lose, maybe even badly. At the same time, both Cincinnati and Portland are freaky precisely because it’s too early to be either sure or surprised at either result. In other words, I’d be no less surprised to, say, see Cincinnati wrestle SKC to a draw than I would to see the Timbers fall apart against the San (the worst set of words you’ve ever heard, no worse) Jose Earthquakes.
Golly, that is a lot of preamble, and I hope you got as much out of it as I did. Down below is brief commentary on all the games I chose to focus on this weekend, and for the reasons hinted at and alluded to above. Just like every week, I posted extended commentary on the weekend’s games for Portland and Cincinnati and, for the first time in 2019, I was happier with the Timbers. Anyway, let’s dissect 2/9ths of some games.
“The best that could happen for San Jose right now is…just for this first half to end. Regroup. Come out in the second and see what you can do.”
I’m not sure who called this game, but, holy crap, did he find all the ways to kick San Jose (the above comment came about 33-35 minutes after the same guy went off-and-on for 3+ minutes about San Jose’s “amateur mistakes”). That guy never let up, not least because the ‘Quakes never gave him cause. So went this game, so goes the season that feels unrelentingly, even pathologically hopeless for San Jose. They’ve literally given up one more goal in every game so far this season, if nothing else, and that’s closer to concept art than professional sports, people. To close out the intro, LAFC rather cruelly declined to give San Jose that chance to regroup, because Carlos Vela scored his second goal, LAFC’s third, about a minute before the first half ended – and that’s one hell of an assist by the generally effective Diego Rossi. And to drag “amateur mistakes” out of the parentheses, Vela scored his first goal off one of them and, to float a theory, this is what dunking looks like in soccer. (Also, with an eye to the sub-theme, that was a hat trick for Vela). There’s not a lot of mystery to this game: LAFC is good, San Jose is whatever you call the historically bad opposite of good. For what it’s worth, I gasped “Oh my God” out loud while checking the box score, because that was an ass-whuppin’ in number form, and hide the children. I guess what I wanted to see by watching this was the scope of Vela’s role in the win. I caught up on Vela’s goals via ExtraTime Radio You Can See, or whatever the hell MLSSoccer.com calls their weekly recap show, but this was the kind of dominant performance you’d expect when a good team meets [other].
I’ve always been squeamish(?) about watching Orlando play, but I at least have a good reason in 2019: it breaks the heart to watch a team fight hard and fall short. And that looks like such a happy and colorful supporters group down there. They deserve a win, you want them to win…and then they don’t, and with some reliability. They don’t lack for ambition – see, Portugal’s Nani, if nothing else, but Dom Dwyer, Sacha Kljestan, and Uri Rossell don’t come cheap – but, until they stop falling short on results, who gives a crap where Nani played? Both Dwyer and Chris Mueller have done more for Orlando so far (and, to second MLS’s Armchair Analyst, Mueller should start). After watching the condensed game, the box score was the first thing I wanted to see, Orlando looked awfully busy, etc. Sure enough, they put up a good number of shots – far more than little league darlings, DCU; they lobbed in a hefty number of crosses* too, and maybe that says something about their chances, even if they scored off a cross. (* I don’t like crosses, so I ignore them, so I don’t know how many crosses is a lot, also I’ll get better.) On a deeper level, a lot of those shots came late and my 2/9th knowledge tells me Orlando had D.C. under real, if chaotic pressure late in the game. Orlando had a plausible shot at holding onto at least one point till the end, basically. From DC’s side, hell of a goal by Wayne Rooney, obviously, even if controversy lurks in the alpha (was that a foul? (yes)) and omega (was Orlando’s Brian Rowe obstructed on the play? (….yes?)) of that goal. After glancing at D.C.’s line-up, I was less surprised to see that defense cope under pressure. Oh, and it’s when you’re watching a team coming back against DC that you realize how good Bill Hamid can be. Now that I’ve reminded myself about D.C.’s defense/spine, the hype makes a little more sense. Still, caveat lector because, again, it’s also not beyond the realm of possibility that D.C. is coasting on a soft schedule, circumstantially or otherwise.
I’d call surviving the five minutes after Minnesota equalized and pushed for the go-ahead goal the first little victory of New England’s 2019 season; during that time, had Ethan Finlay poked home the ball that suddenly appeared at his feet, or if Cody Cropper didn’t save the header tripped over its heels, God knows how much panic would have seeped into the hearts of a team that has known nothing but panic and an angry coach lately. It looked like it took the Revs 10 minutes to contain the surge and they ultimately pushed back long and hard enough to find the game-winning goal themselves off what turned out to be a fortunate miss by Teal Bunbury. Credit where it’s due, the run Bunbury made and the pass that new (literal) kid DeJuan Jones hit to find it where your focus should go. New England found a way past Minnesota’s defenders in something like the same way several times on Saturday, most often with Carles Gil doing the hunting/probing. It’s just one win at home, and New England’s first three points of the season, but they really do seem to have landed something special with Gil (dude can find a needle in a damn haystack so long as he’s got a ball at his feet), and so long as Bunbury, Jones, and Brendan Bye (who scored the second), the Revs have the upside if they can figure out how to use it. As for Minnesota, they don’t need to panic – playing .500 ball on a road trip (one more game to go!) – but the asterisks after those firsttwo wins become bolder with each successive stumble.
Just because I happened to look at, I have to say I don’t see a great defensive midfield player in Toronto’s lineup. Seems to be working out so far in 2019, but I caught a stray comment that said this was TFC’s first clean sheet since July 28, 2018 (checks out too). NYCFC came close to keeping that trend alive somewhere around 50’, but nothing about the condensed game makes a case they would have held onto any points – so says the TFC’s shots on goal as well. They made all those shots by making BMO Field look about twice as big every time they had the ball; NYCFC’s defenders seemed miles away far too often, and they failed to do much to slow down TFC when they were around (see TFC’s 4th goal; and does Dome Torrent have NYCFC playing zonal?). If you’ve tuned into any MLS reporting at since Friday, you’ve already seen the Alejandro Pozuelo’s second goal, and he looked as good as advertised over 2/9th of the game I saw (his work in creating Toronto’s game-winner impressed me more, honestly). Had NYCFC’s Alexandriu Mitrita showed bigger than he did, this had real “battle of the stars” potential, but Mitrita’s apparent contribution toward only as high as failing to put due enthusiasm around two opportunities (that they didn’t make the highlights…). As laid out in the Form Guide ULTRA, this loss feels like NYCFC finally falling all the way down after stumbling through the open weeks of the season. They finally succumbed to the pressure…maybe of their own incoherence. It’s not unlike how they broke completely after giving up the penalty (Alexander Callens; good call) that lead to TFC’s second. As for Toronto, they look pretty impressive…you gotta wonder when the hype train will get rolling…
I’ll start by thanking the folks who splice the condensed games for giving Brian Dunseth’s half thoughts the under card of that video/audio experience (see “whatever the narrative with regard to PRO when it comes to ‘clamping down…’” And? What?). As for the game, it pissed me off a little that I’ve watched and half-watched (through one eye) the Officially Sanctioned Video around this game and at no point did something see fit to mention that RSL’s Deimar Krielach got sent off at the 17th minute. When a red card happens that early that is, and always will be, top-of-the-inverted-pyramid kind of information. That makes some sense of why Dallas more than doubled RSL in passes, but even if they got out-shot (and with particularlydevastating timing every team they experiencedhope) and smothered in passes, none of that came through in the condensed game. Sure, I still think Everton Luiz isn’t the solution to RSL’s problems, but it’s also possible that their alarmingly consistent problem with red cards could have as much to do with their record as anything. It’s also true that all of Dallas’ goals, their depantsing-equivalent first goal notwithstanding, came after Kreilach’s departure, but I also saw enough in the condensed game to make this present as the same bad day at the office RSL was destined to have, even with eleven dudes present and accounted for. In spite of their lowly ranking in the Form Guide ULTRA, not to mention the generally low regard in which they’re generally held, RSL does have some good players – e.g., Albert Rusnack, Brooks Lennon, and Jefferson Savarino, especially – the talent around them shows no sign of holding up. Dallas, meanwhile, feels like a different team under Luchi Gonzalez than it did under Oscar Pareja. If nothing else, putting the guy who knows “the kids” best in charge of “playing your kids” feels like a wise choice. To pose a question I haven’t heard, is FC Dallas one of the teams in MLS most willing to ship its players, whether within or outside of the league, and on the grounds they’ll reliably have replacements handy? The only two people I have in mind to back up that statement are Walker Zimmerman and Maximiliano Urruti, only wait, I just remembered Roland Lamah and Victor Ulloa. How many players did Dallas lose in the off-season? And where are they? After finally seeing Paxton Pomykal tear it up (the thing to note is where he took that ball with his first touch), it seems like something they can afford…but can they win titles on it?
And that’s all for this weekend. To wrap up the sub-theme, I’m mostly counting new, high(-ish) profile players successful, but with Nani and Mitrita as the highest profile outliers. We’ll see how I do with calling the games that will really matter next weekend.
FC Cincinnati’s attempt to extend its three match unbeaten streak yesterday evening at Nippert Stadium was doused by the Union Monsoon.
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.
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.
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.
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 Aaronsenand 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.
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.
Many downgraded FC Cincinnati’s chances for success this season after the 4-1 drubbing in Seattle on March 2. Three weeks later, the Orange & Blue occupy second place in the Eastern Conference, and the outlook has changed. That lofty ranking may be irrelevant this early in the season, but after a 2-0 road victory over the New England Revolution, optimism is high.
Late Arrivals Pay Dividends
Fanendo Adi made noise in preseason about the team not having enough attacking options. Since then, technical director Luke Sassano landed Kekuta Manneh on February 14th and Kenny Saief via loan on March 6th.
Those late additions had had a key role in helping a squad limited by international call-ups take maximum points in Week 4.
Kekuta Manneh had a goal, an assist, two key passes, and an 81% passing accuracy in the opposition half.
Kenny Saief matched Manneh’s goal and assist totals against the Revs, and now has two assists and a goal in only 94 minutes played in an FC Cincinnati jersey.
Both made MLS Team of the Week, albeit during a week without a full slate of matches. Greg Garza earned a spot on the bench after his first FCC start, and Alan Koch claims coach of the week honors for the second week in a row.
Expected Goals (xG)
Also for the second week in a row, FC Cincinnati outperformed their expected goals metric. This week they scored two goals based on an xG of 1.49.
New England outshot FCC, but had only 2 shots on target out of 17, and a lower xG of 1.25. Despite that low expected-goals number, the Revs should have bagged at least one. Spencer Richey was a difference maker again with an inspired double-save in the 61st minute.
The Hydra* is Back
No opponent has kept a clean sheet against FC Cincinnati yet. Furthermore, FCC has scored 7 goals in 4 games, and each one was provided by a different player.
Leo Bertone, Roland Lamah, Kendall Waston, Allan Cruz, Mathieu Deplagne, Kekuta Manneh, and Kenny Saief have all hit the back of the net.
FC Cincinnati’s 2018 USL roster featured a hydra-attack that could hurt opponents in many different ways. That model was a highlight of their title-winning season, even though the goal scorers became more concentrated as the team settled into an identity. Alan Koch will want his bona-fide strikers like Adi and Mattocks in on the action soon, but right now the goals by committee approach is working.
“It Means Absolutely Nothing”
Given FC Cincinnati’s difficult three-game start, few predicted such a high point total after four matches. Alan Koch is now in temper-expectations-mode while still handing out praise for the team’s fast start.
“If you had said to me that at the start of the season after four games, and after having to play these particular four games that we’ve had, that we would have seven points, I would have said you’re crazy. So full credit to the players, full credit to the staff. Everyone is buying into what we are asking them to do. They are willing to be selfless. They are working for each other and we continue to improve. But we are not going to get carried away. It’s still early. You don’t gain anything in this league by being anywhere in the table after four games. It means absolutely nothing. It’s a long, long season. But I am happy for the players, they will take a lot of confidence from this which will help them continue to grow as a group.”
Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s 2019 season.
This week’s edition of Deeper Cuts focuses on topics that were meaningful from Sunday’s match but didn’t quite make the headlines. The story starts with Cincinnati’s favorite French fullback.
Deplagne influenced Sunday’s match even though he didn’t earn Team of the Week or Man of the Match honors. The Montpellier native posted an 87% passing accuracy, 3 shots on goal, 1 key pass, scored the final goal and helped secure a first MLS clean sheet for FCC.
Deplagne’s influence has been important in each of the first three matches. The 27-year-old had a good performance in Atlanta and secured the side of the field where Julian Gressel roamed. Additionally, his interplay with Lamah in Seattle was one of only a few bright spots in that match. What is more impressive is that Deplagne is not a natural left back, although Koch highlighted his versatility when he signed. Deplagne spoke after Tuesday’s practice about his first experience at Nippert Stadium.
Expected Goals (xG) — #CINvPOR
The xG from Sunday’s match shows that FC Cincinnati slightly outperformed their expected goal metric of 2.49, while the Timbers underperformed on their xG of 1.15. Thus, the final tally was a little flattering for FC Cincinnati, but the xG metric reinforces that a win was well deserved based on the chances FCC created.
Portland’s expected goal graphic below also highlights Spencer Richey’s work to keep a clean sheet, especially considering the big chance that Dairon Asprilla had in the 32nd minute (the big blue circle on the left).
If you’re not familiar with Opta’s expected goals metric, it measures how many goals each team should have scored based on the quality of the chances they created. While the calculation of the metric is complex, the concept is straightforward and you can read more about it here if interested.
Adi Injury, International Absentees and New England
The prognosis doesn’t look good for Fanendo Adi after suffering a leg injury during the first half of Sunday’s match. Alan Koch did not provide specifics but said today that “it’s almost certain he won’t be good to go” for New England this weekend. Another medical evaluation on Tuesday afternoon should reveal more about the severity of the forward’s injury.
This upcoming Sunday will be a big test of FC Cincinnati’s depth. Aside from Adi, five players will miss the New England match due to international duty including Kendall Waston, Allan Cruz, Darren Mattocks, Alvas Powell, and Frankie Amaya.
Alan Koch was positive about the situation at Tuesday’s practice. He said the competition is intense for a spot in starting 11 amongst the players still with the squad.
“It’s a great opportunity for the other guys in the group to show what they can do. In some respects, it makes my job a little bit easier as a manager, because the guys have played well the last 2 games. We probably would not have made any more changes, but now the players get an opportunity. I have to make some changes, and now they are fighting for opportunities to see who can step up to the plate this weekend.”
Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s 2019 season.
It’s probably not lost to some that we now have two writers with different spellings of the same first name on board. Geoff Tebbetts has been writing for O&BP for the past two years, while Jeff Bull comes to us on loan from Conifers & Citrus, a blog on many things related to the Portland Timbers.
Because their styles of writing are a bit diametrically opposed, and because Cincinnati and Portland are scrapping at each other this weekend to kick off MLS competition in the Queen City, we thought it would be fun to put the two in the squared circle for a round. “Geoff vs. Jeff” will (hopefully) be a periodic head-to-head column that pits these two minds against each other for random soccer-related topics. There won’t be a true clear-cut winner on the topics, but it will at least give our writers the chance to get each other in mental wrestling holds to see which one taps.
Because it’s Cincinnati vs. Portland this week, the topic for Round 1 will be basic and clean:
What will Cincinnati or Portland need to do to take all three points? What might make Cincinnati or Portland drop points to the other squad?
Geoff: Why Cincinnati will take all 3 points
Yes, like Seattle, Atlanta had many of the statistics at The Benz in their favor when the final whistle blew. Cincinnati was fairly outplayed when it came to possession and attack. However, for all the numbers Opta churns out, only one set makes a difference. If your team’s number of goals matches the other team’s number of goals, it’s a big fat point that will spawn confidence. (The tongue-in-cheek celebratory shirt is optional.)
For much of the early season, Koch has been hard in the workshop to craft a back line that fits his need. In the end, he may have only needed the right help to return to form. The 4-man line failed at Seattle when Alvas Powell played a bit too high, revealing a spot vulnerable to the cross when the remaining three defenders scrambled back. This time around the defense stayed solid enough to keep crosses out, and the later addition of Greg Garza brought consistent stability on both edges of the pitch. Despite the discrepancy in possession, Atlanta’s attack (10 shots / 4 shots on goal) was not as threatening as Seattle’s (24/9).
A defense that is not a liability should generate a pathway to a stronger offensive weapon. Leo Bertone and Victor Ulloa appear to be gaining confidence in the middle, and if Kenny Saief and Allan Cruz have grown to trust Koch’s system, the build-up to the front line should produce more fruit. Most importantly, Fanendo Adi’s production was much sharper at home last year, and a vocal near-sell-out crowd should get the team excited to excel at a higher level.
Jeff: Why Portland will take all 3 points
The Timbers aren’t your run-of-the-mill defending champions missing a key player (Miguel Almirón) and going through an identity crisis straight outta The Netherlands. No, this is your 2018 MLS CUP runner-up that returned every single key player from a line-up that built two massive unbeaten streaks last season. All the newer players have had another year to get in sync with the core group, but the player to flag is Andy Polo, a winger now actually playing as a winger where he can stretch a defense vertically and/or spread the attack horizontally.
The overall seeing-eye familiarity allows Portland to transition with precision and speed that both teams they’ve faced so far struggled to contain. The attack is also unconventional, with the bulk of the string-pulling and even the scoring coming from dueling midfield maestros Diego Valeri and Sebastian Blanco. They play a forward, of course—Jeremy Ebobisse—who has been scoring steadily in 2019, but he’s equally important as a foil for the maestros. The Timbers can strike from distance or break a defense down. Expect the game to look more like the opener against the Seattle Sounders (Nicolas Lodeiro—BOO!) than the aimless meandering that Cincinnati had to “contain” against Atlanta. Portland will win this game by scoring more goals than FC Cincy. That’s my marker.
Geoff: Why Cincinnati will drop points
One could easily point out that the first two games have not been easy for Cincinnati and that the team will experience growing pains at many times this season. Yes, this could be Cincinnati’s best opportunity to squeeze a win against a team on a long road trip with its key player missing. However, we’re still not sure if Garza and Saief still need time to gel or if the 4-2-3-1 formation stays in place.
Ultimately, Koch’s urgency to push forward may hurt the team’s ability to penetrate the scoring column. Despite doing better with their possession against Atlanta, FC Cincy was caught offside eight times to Atlanta’s zero. (In comparison, FCC was offside only once against Seattle.) The engine was ready, but Atlanta’s own defense was effective at forcing Cincinnati to stall. Maybe Adi’s goal in Atlanta counts at home, but the team needs to be more observant and disciplined on the attack.
The other major issue that has plagued FCC since the preseason is the tendency to let the opposition head into halftime with the lead. Of the seven games played against MLS teams, FCC has had to start the second half trailing in five of them, while the other two were draws after 45 minutes. Yes, preseason means little, but playing from behind is that much harder when possession is dominated by the opposition. Granted, Portland is playing with a depleted squad, but two poor road performances by the Timbers means they’ll want to reverse their own poor opening defense and be the first to draw blood.
Jeff: Why Portland will drop points
The stupid suspension of Diego Chara puts a massive crack in Portland’s already-existing glass jaw. (Google Portland’s record without him.) As for the glass jaw, that’s a defense that has averaged 3.5 goals per game so far this season. To anyone who argues, “But that was Los Angeles FC,” I would respond, “Yes, but it was also the Colorado Rapids.” (At which, they’d point to the snow and the coldest game in league history as a tertiary assist for the Rapids.) One of the bigger items on the off-season punchlist was upgrading central defense—and that sort of happened. The Timbers picked up Claude Dielna from a New England Revolution defense that covered itself in a series of prat-falls rather than glory. Left with no brighter options, head coach Giovanni Savarese has started Julio Cascante next to the team’s one confirmed center-back, Larrys Mabiala.
The results, um, speak for themselves.
To make matters worse, FC Cincinnati pilfered a pair of (pickled) Portland players, in Alvas Powell and Fanendo Adi. This necessarily hands FC Cincy a cheat-code or two. Adi alone makes me nervous, but the idea of him finding a seam in the trouble area between Cascante and left-back Jorge Villafana just dumps in some more butterflies.
Put all the above together, and the cumulative concern goes something like this: Cincinnati will struggle if Adi (or, face it, Roland Lamah) can’t get service, but the best means of denying both players service comes with cutting it out in midfield and—whoops! No Diego Chara. Bottom line, if Portland’s attack sputters the way Atlanta’s did, I’d expect a similar result for Portland, and I am bracing for a worse one.
Did either Geoff or Jeff score a hit on their observations, or did this bout end in a double KO? Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of Cincinnati’s home debut vs. the Timbers.
A deeper look at FC Cincinnati 1-1 draw against Atlanta United, including player availability, a compact defense, and a foundation for future success.
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.
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.
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.
Putting FC Cincinnati 4-1 defeat in context, more on Bertone’s beauty, and and we take the MLS Opta stats for a test drive.
Editor’s Note: Orange & Blue Press will not write traditional match recaps this season. There are several media outlets, including FC Cincinnati and MLS, who are writing reports that specify all the match details. We will instead focus on interest pieces, images, analysis, and other things we find interesting.
History & the Result
The significance of yesterday’s match is much more about being the beginning of a journey than what people take away from the scoreline. It was obviously a historic match. It was the reward for many people who worked very hard to get FC Cincinnati to this point. FCC fans will do their best to quickly forget about the details of Saturday night and remember it as the beginning of the club’s MLS era.
Give the Sounders credit. They shed the label of “slow starters” and did exactly what they should have done, which was ruthlessly punish a team not yet at their level. In overall talent, and from a playing-as-a-unit standpoint, they are far ahead of FC Cincinnati right now. That’s fine, as long as FCC can begin to make up ground over the course of the season.
Some people are going to panic. I learned in 2016 when I started writing about FC Cincinnati that telling people to relax isn’t effective. Those who think the sky is falling in some ways enjoy it and like to talk about how bad it’s going to be. So let them panic.
Personally, I’m not worried yet, but yesterday was about as brutal as I thought it could be. FCC seems to be built with a defense-first mindset, and that defense looked very porous on Saturday. We knew the team might struggle to create chances, and they did. There are explanations, including injuries, lack of familiarity, and playing players out of position. This team needs time, and we need to see a bigger sample set before we can make sense of the problems.
Return to the 4-2-3-1
A big talking point in this match was a return to the 4-2-3-1. That formation has been used regularly by Alan Koch over the two USL seasons he’s coached FC Cincinnati. After experimenting with permutations of a 3-man back line all preseason, he returned to the tried and true against Seattle. Stuart Holden during the pregame television broadcast commented that the change was made Monday following the Crew defeat in Charleston.
The late change underlines that this is a work in progress and that the technical staff is still working to understand how to best utilize and organize the pieces at their disposal.
That was one hell of a first MLS goal. Leo Bertone goes into the record book as the team’s first top-flight scorer, delivering a thunderbolt volley that beat Stefan Frei 13 minutes into the match. We described the right foot of Bertone as noteworthy for set pieces when he signed for FCC. It lived up to the billing against Seattle.
If you’re into trivia, yesterday’s first MLS goal joins a list that includes Andrew Wiedeman’s strike against Bethlehem Steel on April 3rd, 2016, FCC’s first league goal. The first-ever goal was scored by Cincy native Luke Spencer during preseason against KR Reykjavik on February 20, 2016.
Let’s watch Leo’s strike one more time.
The MLS version of Opta is a full-service application, and you should give it a test drive if you like the numbers side of the game. There’s a Stats tab, Boxscore tab, and the Audi Index, which is a player scoring system that is a little confusing to the average soccer fan, but one that contains some valuable nuggets.
Most of the stats in this game spell out what people already know, Seattle’s clear domination. The Sounders claimed 64% possession with an 85% passing accuracy. They created 16 non-blocked shots, 9 of which were on target, and 4 of those resulting in goals.
In contrast, FCC clocked in with 36% possession and 73% passing accuracy. They had 4 non-blocked shots, 3 of which were on target. Bertone’s scoring strike stands out as an anomaly on a night that was very short on opportunities (0.34 xG).
The Sounders had 16 total shots in the box compared to just 2 for FC Cincinnati. Dominance.
Here’s a look at the expected goals metric which clearly shows it was the Sounders’ night, but both teams actually outperformed their xG.
By taking a look at the Audi Index, you can see that Roland Lamah was one of the few FCC players to have a decent match in terms of numbers. Lamah completed 20 of 23 passes in the opposition half, created two chances (passes that lead to a shot), and delivered the cross from the left that ultimately led to Bertone’s goal.
Statistics aren’t quite as fun when they are used to support the specifics of a heavy defeat, so we’ll leave it at that.
Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s 2019 season. Next stop, Mercedez Benz Stadium in Atlanta.