FCC vs. Nashville: Goal Distribution, PK Concerns, and Goalkeepers

Analysis of FC Cincinnati’s goal distribution, defensive concerns, and goalkeeping battle after the preseason tilt vs. Nashville.

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FC Cincinnati finally made its 2018 home “debut” on Saturday before a sold-out throng of soccer-hungry fans, but there is one last week of preseason work before the team begins the harsh 2018 USL season. Let’s dive into how the team looks after its 2-2 preseason tie with Nashville SC.

Offense By Committee

The “closer by committee” concept may not exactly work for a baseball team, but so far, the idea of spreading around the offense is working for FCC. The goals by Lance Laing and Emery Welshman gives the squad 9 preseason goals in 5 games, and each has been scored by a separate player. So far, the midfield has scored the most (5), while the defenders and forwards have both scored twice.

Granted, a span of five games is a very small sample size, and we’ve only seen the team performing at a preseason level. But the distribution of goals could lead to some good results, especially if the offense scores at a click close to twice a game. Let’s consider some of the stats that came from the past two USL champions:

  • In 2017, Louisville City got 65 USL regular season goals from 17 players, even though their leading scorer (Luke Spencer) only had 11. By comparison, FCC only got 46 from 14 different players (Djiby with 15).
  • In 2016, New York Red Bulls II got 61 goals from 17 players, Brandon Allen leading with 15. While Sean Okoli led the league with 16, FCC only got a total of 41 from 11 players.

Simply put, the key to winning in the USL may be to not only score in high quantity but also to make sure the offense can come from any direction. One of the biggest problems FCC had last year was goal production outside of the forward position; 54% of the goals were scored by the forwards. That likely changes this year.

Preseason MVP?

The “Preseason MVP” is an absurd concept, but so far, we’ve seen some strong midfield performances, and if such an award existed, Lance Laing would garner a lot of votes. His movement along the left has provided speed and skill, and the crosses he’s delivered in previous games have been precise.

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Lance Laing

Laing’s goal from outside the box right before halftime against Nashville was deceptively filthy, catching the corner of the net past Pickens. While he put more shots on frame in the second half, Laing’s approach and hustle appeared to be contagious, as Blake Smith shook off a frustrating first half to burst up the side from feeds by Laing. Good things are happening on that side, which should also open Manu Ledesma on the opposite side of the field when the defense focuses on Laing.

Defensive Concerns

While it has been hard to let Harrison Delbridge leave for Melbourne City and watch Austin Berry retire, it’s safe to say that the FCC crowd has rallied behind the new pieces in the defensive line.

Early in the game, Dekel Keinan suffered a brutal and bloody injury over his right eye from contact during a header in the Nashville box. Keinan could have easily been taken out as a precaution. But after a few minutes on the ground, he patiently got medical treatment on the sidelines, then returned to the game to play a full 70 minutes. While it’s great to see Keinan stick it out, this was a scary moment that almost brought out the stretcher.

Let’s hope it’s merely a flesh wound.

While Keinan and Forrest Lasso played solid defense, the second squad’s late foul for a penalty kick is still a cause for concern. FC Cincinnati has given up only four goals in five games so far, but two have been from the penalty spot. The team will have to reverse the trend from last year, as they gave up many more penalty kick goals (8) than they created (3).

Who’s The New Mitch?

Spencer Richey looked relatively solid in net over the full 90 minutes, despite giving up a sun-screened first-half goal and a penalty-kick goal that went out of reach. So it’s still hard to say how Koch and goalkeeper coach Jack Stern will deploy the trio of goalkeepers this season.

On one hand, Richey has played the most minutes of all three goalkeepers and has played in all five games in some capacity. However, Richey and Village have both given up the four preseason goals, while Newton has not yielded any yet. An argument can be made that Newton hasn’t been fully tested yet, so it’s still difficult to make a final decision.

What we can assume is that it’s a two-keeper race for now, as Village appears to be in place for third on the depth chart. The game versus Sacramento should spell out the goalkeeping situation between Richey and Newton. Realistically, it appears that Koch can have more confidence in playing two goalkeepers than he did in 2017.

One More Week

The Orange & Blue will wrap up their preseason schedule this week with a match at Gettler Stadium versus the University of Cincinnati on Wednesday, followed by the first 2018 game in Nippert Stadium against Sacramento Republic FC on Saturday. By then, the team should be set in stone and ready to start the 2018 USL season.

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press as we wrap up FC Cincinnati’s 2018  preseason slate.

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Richie Ryan

NKU Digested: First Look at Tomi, Equal Time, and Standouts

The NKU result has settled in and we give you our digested version of Tomi’s first outing, Koch’s time strategy, and who stood out on Tuesday.

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All Photos via JES Photography

There are just over two weeks left of preseason before FC Cincinnati’s March 17th St. Patrick’s Day opener against the Charleston Battery. Here are a few thoughts to share after fully digesting Tuesday’s 3-0 preseason rehearsal against NKU.

The Result

It’s preseason, so we’ll do the broken record thing—you can’t take too much away from this result. As many expected, FC Cincinnati earned the victory comfortably against an NCAA opponent. We’ve seen the Orange & Blue narrowly squeak by local college teams in past preseasons. So it was good to see them play above the level of their opponent and handle business professionally.

So Tuesday provided another win to mark down on the preseason schedule sheet. FCC is undefeated, with three wins and a draw in four matches played. The team also came away from the NKU match with no injuries, despite a few juicy challenges that forced the game to stop so players could receive treatment.

First Look at Tomi

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Tomi Ameobi

Tomi Ameobi, FC Cincinnati’s new #9, made his debut performance for the club and looked decent enough. He started the match, played the first 45′, and put his name on the scoresheet after only 12 minutes. His size is notable. He looks physical and fast, and passed a litmus test by shrugging off several would-be tacklers throughout the match. It was a good start for Ameobi—he’ll take confidence from the early goal—so let’s look forward to seeing him play against USL-level talent in upcoming preseason games.

Emery Welshman and Danni König are also hunting for the honor of leading FC Cincinnati’s attacking line this season. Welshman had a few good chances to score against NKU shortly after coming on, including being denied by the woodwork in the 67th minute. He also was inches away from scoring against Indy Eleven last week, only to be denied by a fine Jordan Farr save. He’s getting into good positions and the goals should come, but he won’t want to let too many more chances go by, given the competition for starting places. I’m sure he’s professional and supportive of the squad and his teammates, but it’s got to be a little tough to see Tomi Ameobi immediately hitting the back of the net.

Of note: König picked up a minor injury over the past week, so his low minutes in this match don’t reflect negatively on his preseason performance.

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Emery Welshman (left)

Equal Time and Standouts

Alan Koch is still divvying up time very equitably across the squad. The two eleven-man units on Tuesday were similar to the groupings that played against Indy Eleven last Thursday. This time, however, Koch reversed the minutes, and the squad that got only 30 minutes last week got 60 minutes this week, and vice versa. One would expect this very equal distribution of minutes to fade some as we go into the last three preseason games.

There were a lot of players that looked good on Tuesday, and we should expect that given the opponent and the extent to which FCC controlled the game.

Daniel Haber was a live-wire again, especially during the first 45 of his 60 minutes. He terrorized the right side of NKU’s defense and added two assists to his list of accomplishments this preseason. Nazmi Albadawi was a tad quiet at the beginning of the match, but he came to life as the first half progressed. In his best moment, he changed directions outside of the 18-yard box in the 37th minute to elude a defender and strike on goal. He would have scored if not for a fingertip save by NKU’s Jim Barkei.

As for the group that played the last 30 minutes, Lance Laing was busy in the left fullback position, delivering lots of balls into the box and overlapping McLaughlin to occasionally penetrate deep into NKU’s defensive third. Forrest Lasso got the third goal and also provided some nice distribution from the back as FCC pushed wave after wave of offense at the Norse. When Forrest gets a head of steam in the box to attack a set piece, it’s something to behold.

It’s hard to draw many conclusions about the defense or goalkeepers from this match. There wasn’t too much action at FCC’s defensive end of the field, but that’s not to take away from NKU’s performance. The Norse played admirably against high-level competition and should take plenty of positives from the experience.

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press as we head into a tasty weekend contest against “new-to-the-party” Nashville SC.

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FC Cincinnati’s #10 role, Goalkeeping Wall, and Team Two Standout

Putting the Indy Eleven result in preseason context, plus more on Newton, Bone, and Haber as the preseason schedule takes a turn for Cincinnati.

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There are just over three weeks left of preseason before FC Cincinnati’s March 17 “Groundhog Day” opener against the Charleston Battery. Here are a few thoughts to wrap up the week after reflecting on the 2-1 preseason rehearsal against Indy Eleven.

The Result

Results don’t mean much in preseason, and that certainly applies to Thursday’s match, but the win is good for confidence. Both 11-man squads found the back of the net, and the second squad won the game after conceding early, so there are plenty of positives to take away.

It’s worth noting, however, that Indy had plenty of scoring chances of their own, mostly via the counter-attack. If they had been more clinical in front of goal, Indy would have certainly scored more than once. They’re also not as far along in their preseason—Jack McInearny and Soony Saad had just signed this week, and Indy only landed their head coach about a month ago. It’s preseason. Enough said.

Corben as #10

Mr. Bone’s preseason form to date has been notable. The Plano, TX native scored the lone goal against New England in the first preseason match. He also started in the #10 role (central attacking midfield behind the forward) vs. Tampa Bay, and against the Eleven yesterday he got 60 minutes in that same position.

A lot of preseason speculators gifted that role to Nazmi Albadawi, but FC Cincinnati’s #19 is certainly making his case to Alan Koch. Keep an eye on this space over the next four local matches, especially in the two against USL competition. Nazmi certainly has plenty of time to claim a playmaking role, and as a new member of the squad, he probably isn’t as settled yet into the team and the environment here in Cincinnati.

One can also make the case that there should be a fair bit of rotation between Bone, Albadawi, Walker, and Ryan in the central midfield roles. Three of those four players are 29 years old or older, so having depth in central midfield over the course of a long campaign will be important.

Newton Is a Wall

All three goalkeepers are looking good so far, but Evan Newton continues to impress. The former Sacramento Republic netminder had three key saves in the first 60 minutes to keep a clean sheet for his unit. So far this preseason, despite the fact that wins don’t mean much yet, Newton has yet to surrender a goal in the three games he has appeared.

Furthermore, FC Cincinnati’s goalkeeping trio has looked sharp and prepared each time out. All three have only conceded two total goals this preseason, with the second being a penalty kick that was just out of Spencer Richey’s reach yesterday. Jack Stern’s energetic style is infectious and seems to have created quick bonds between the three goalkeepers. They are a bright spot so far this preseason.

Haber Shines on the Second Team

Daniel Haber put his name on the scoresheet in emphatic fashion yesterday. The 25-year-old Canadian winger should have netted twice during his 30 minutes—not only did he score the winning goal from a feed from Matt Bahner, but he put a good chance over the crossbar in the 87th.

Haber is one we called out at the beginning of Phase Two as a player to watch. There’s a lot of competition for places on the wing and there are some heavy hitters ahead of him. However, Haber looks primed to push those veterans for minutes in March and the USL regular season. Additionally, FC Cincinnati needs dynamic substitutes with scoring ability that can change a game. Haber should certainly be able to fill that role if he can’t battle his way into a regular starting position.

So that’s a wrap for the traveling portion of FC Cincinnati’s eight-match preseason slate. Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more coverage of the 2018 preseason including next Tuesday’s friendly against NKU.

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Players I’m Going to Miss – Harrison Delbridge

With his return to his homeland still fresh, let’s take a look back at the two solid years FCC’s gotten from Harrison Delbridge.

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With the preseason opener just days away, Orange & Blue Press is following the turnover in personnel by covering players who have left the squad for greener pastures. While Mitch Hildebrandt is the only player who left for the MLS, one more player from 2017 has found work in a top tier…

Harrison Delbridge.

It’s easy to forget that some of the more important players from the inaugural 2016 FC Cincinnati season were not amongst the first eleven who were signed. Solid soon-to-be offensive mainstays like Omar Cummings and Jimmy McLaughlin were signed weeks after the first squad, while USL MVP Sean Okoli arrived only days before the preseason began. One of those later signings proved to be one of the biggest assets to the defensive line. He created a solid base that made FCC a difficult team to score on.

Is it any wonder that “Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oi Oi Oi!” became one of our favorite calls from the Bailey when Harrison Delbridge reversed the flow of the game?

Sixteen months removed from winning a USL title with Sacramento, Delbridge was signed in 2016 as a defenseman with plenty of height and a building resume. Having played a little over half the season at Portland Timbers 2 in 2015, Delbo became an instant name for FC Cincinnati in his third season. He gave FCC two extraordinary seasons as a keystone to the back line, as a workhorse who provided boatloads of minutes, and as a player who could switch the field quickly.

Photos courtesy Ryan MeyerJoe Schmuck, and Joe Craven

Delbridge grabbed end-of-the-year accolades as a member of the All-League First Team in both 2016 and 2017 for FCC. The 6’4” Sydney native was an ironman on the pitch—of all non-goalkeeper players, Delbo ranked in the Top 10 for minutes played and only missed 4 of 64 games over the past two seasons. Delbridge scored four goals and three assists in his FCC career. But he was known much more for his sweeping slide tackles and ability to reverse course, leading the USL in 2017 with 120 interceptions.

Favorite Moments

All of the goals from Delbridge were fun to watch. His lone goal in 2016 was a perfect receiving cross from McLaughlin to knot the score against FC Montreal. It turned the tide for a comeback win and provided a celebratory pose that graced the season-ticket booklets in 2017.

While most of his moves were aerial or sliding along the ground, Delbo’s dribbles up the pitch were often understated, as he tended to be more of a weaver than a straight bomber. However, his goal against New York Red Bulls II in 2017 was straight champagne and caviar.

Which defensive play stands out from Delbo? How about this masterful clearance off the line against Ottawa?

However, the first indelible moment that made Delbridge a fan favorite may have been from back in May 2016. Going up for an aerial challenge in a close game versus Harrisburg, Delbo caught a solid elbow just under the right eye that split him open like an overripe tomato.

Delbo 2016 HAR
Credit: USL

After getting patched up, Delbo stuck it out for the rest of the ninety minutes, laying the first brick in an impressive career as FCC’s wall.

The Bad News (and the Good News)

After the final whistle of 2017, a lot of fans felt we had seen the last of Delbridge at FC Cincinnati. After gaining first-team honors for two straight years, MLS had to have noticed the Aussie’s heart and head, right? There was no way that a first-tier team would ignore all the minutes he had compiled.

But while MLS dawdled on making the call, a team from Harrison’s home country picked up the phone. Melbourne City FC from the Australian A-League swooped in to seal the deal, signing Delbridge to a three-year contract. It may be odd seeing Delbo in an Etihad Airways jersey, but it’s great to see him get his shot at a first-division team. Perhaps there’s room in Australia’s World Cup squad?

Who Can Replace Him?

So how do you replace someone who was such an anchor in the FC Cincinnati D-line?
There’s a good guess that Austin Berry’s captaincy will be replaced with Dekel Keinan’s deep experience in the Israeli Premier League, so it makes sense to fill the space next to him with a tall, physical presence who has a knack for clutch goals.

Forrest Lasso seems to be that natural replacement for Delbridge. Lasso’s age and height are comparable to Delbridge’s. While he may not have put in as much time as Delbo, Lasso put six USL and two USOC goals in the net in 2017, contributing quite a bit to Charleston’s +20 goal differential (5th in the USL). His performances in 2017 also put him on the USL All-League First Team with Delbridge. Lasso’s online presence and apparent desire to constantly improve himself should make him a quick fan favorite, but his nine yellow cards in 2017 could be a demerit.

If Koch wishes to give Lasso a rest, he could easily insert Paddy Barrett for defensive stability or Sem De Wit for familiarity with Koch’s system, but this should be Lasso’s position for the 2018 season. If he’s able to give us performances like the ladder he climbed in the 2015 playoffs (or the two goals he scored on FC Cincinnati last year), he should be a perfect fit.

Good On Ya, Harry!

When trivia questions are ultimately written about the Orange and Blue in a future Cincinnati version of Trivial Pursuit, people should store this choice piece of information in their brains—the first-ever game-winning goal for FC Cincinnati was scored by Delbridge in the 2016 preseason against NYCFC. Sure, it doesn’t count in the standings, but it speaks volumes about the type of player Harrison was for FCC.

We’re going to miss Delbo’s unselfish play, his counterattacking ability, and perhaps that slotted PK against Chicago. Heart is something that is difficult to quantify, but as far as we can tell, Harry’s got loads of it.

Take it easy, mate, and good luck in the A-League!

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more coverage of the FC Cincinnati 2018 season.

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2018 FC Cincinnati Schedule – Open Weekends, Top 5 Away Games, Toughest Run, and USOC

Bye weeks, the five best road trips, US Open Cup dates, FCC’s toughest stretch of games, and the US Open Cup impact as we dig deeper on FC Cincinnati’s 2018 schedule.

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FC Cincinnati announced its full 2018 schedule last Friday to finally give fans a bit more excitement, and the opportunity to plan for the big games against new and existing rivals. We picked through the finer details to give you a few insights beyond the basics.

Open Weekends

A lot was made of schedule congestion in 2017, so it’s good to know when the Orange and Blue are going to have a break. It’s also good to figure out which weekends you can spend a little time doing something other than watching soccer (*gasp*) and not miss a beat. Take the time to jot down these three dates as weekends you can spend some time with your loved ones before getting back to the football.

March 24 – This one’s a bit of a downer. After the regular season kickoff at Charleston on March 17th, we have to wait two weeks for another taste of the action. The squad will need the rest though because there isn’t another open weekend until late June. The silver lining is that we’ll get a chance to travel to Indianapolis on 3/31 and see the first match of what looks to be a great rivalry.

June 23 –  After a busy schedule in early June and a home match against Richmond on June 13th, Alan Koch’s men have an 11-day break from USL action. However, the break could be interrupted by U.S. Open Cup action, depending on how far the team progresses in the tournament.

July 28 – The last weekend in July is currently not booked on FC Cincinnati’s calendar. However, that’s been the weekend FCC has traditionally hosted an international friendly. We had Crystal Palace in 2016 and Valencia last year. Will we get a taste of the German Bundesliga in 2018?

Those are the only open weekends between March and October. There are two more games this year than last, a total of 34 games smashed into a seven-month period, and all will again be against Eastern Conference opposition.

US Open Cup Impact

FC Cincinnati’s involvement in the U.S. Open Cup should begin in mid-May and provide another dose of schedule congestion in May and June similar to last year. The early June schedule will be crowded, and if we win two games or more, we’re going to need to leverage every bit of the squad depth we have. Alan Koch and crew have worked to address depth in the offseason. We’ll see if it pays off this summer.

Potential impact and possible dates in May/June if FCC progresses to play three USOC games:

5/5 vs. Atlanta United 2
5/12 at Charlotte – 7 days rest
5/16 US Open Cup – 4 days rest
5/19 vs. North Carolina FC – 3 days rest
5/26 vs. Loisville City FC – 7 days rest
5/30 US Open Cup – 4 days rest
6/2 at NY Red Bulls II – 3 days rest
6/9 at North Carolina FC – 7 days rest
6/13 vs. Bethlehem Steel FC – 4 days rest
6/16 vs. Richmond Kickers – 3 days rest
6/20 US Open Cup – 4 days rest
6/27 at Toronto FC II – 7 days rest
6/30 vs. Ottawa Fury FC – 3 days rest

Unlike last year, the USL schedule during this period has a few midweek games sprinkled in June. It’s hard to predict if the USOC games would get scheduled in open weeks or if the USL games would be reshuffled.

Five Best Road Trips

The FC Cincinnati faithful are developing a reputation as good travelers. With new regional rivals, there are a lot of travel dates to choose from on the 2018 calendar.

Here are our top 5:

#5 – March 17 at Charleston Battery. The season kickoff coincides with St. Patrick’s Day, and after falling short the past two years, we have a decent chance to finally beat a Battery squad that had several key players depart.

#4 – August 25 at Tampa Bay Rowdies. Playoff payback is in order against an independent club with big-name players who will likely compete at the top of the Eastern Conference table.

#3 – July 7 at Nashville SC. Nashville is this season’s new USL blood and our potential MLS rival, and if there’s some extra time, you can hit 2nd Avenue to crash the honkey tonks and bachelorette parties.

#2 – March 31 at Indy XI. The latest NASL defector has become our newest rival and is only 121 miles away. While the site for the game hasn’t been determined yet, there’s a good bet this early-season game will be a party.

#1 – September 8 at Louisville City FC. The derby match we’ve all been waiting for. No more words are needed, except maybe “streamers”.

Toughest Stretch

While the schedule is fairly balanced, there is one particularly nasty stretch of games on the 2018 calendar.

August 18 – vs. Charleston Battery
August 22 – at Atlanta United
August 25 – at Tampa Bay Rowdies
September 1 – vs. Pittsburgh Riverhounds
September 8 – at Louisville City FC

That stretch kicks off with three games in eight days. Charleston shouldn’t be as strong this year, but they’ve been a bogey team for FC Cincinnati. Atlanta United has a talent-laden roster and should field a strong “2 team”. Then we head to Tampa, another place we’ve never won. We do then get a week’s rest before Pittsburgh, and another solid week before heading South for the final game of the Dirty River Derby at Slugger Field. Let’s hope we’re well-positioned in the league table before we get to this run of games.

Lots of big dates and interesting twists ahead. Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s preseason.

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Players I’m Going to Miss – Mitch Hildebrandt

2016 USL Goalkeeper of the year. The “Mitch Says No!” chant. The Chicago Fire PK shootout. A stroll down memory lane and a look at how FCC will cope without Mitch Hildebrandt in 2018.

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Before the preseason begins, Orange & Blue Press is covering some of the players who have moved away from the squad in efforts to further themselves either on or off the pitch. While some have retired, others have moved to bigger athletic challenges…

When the first Starting XI for FC Cincinnati was announced with Mitch Hildebrandt as the goalkeeper, there were admittedly some big gloves to fill from the onset. However, people that did their homework understood that Mitch had been slowly gaining confidence since turning pro in 2012, playing half the games for Minnesota United in the 2015 season.

Little did people in the Queen City realize that a team-building legend was being born in the process.

While it took a few weeks before the communication between defensive line and keeper stabilized, Hildebrandt became a bedrock for the 2016 FC Cincinnati season and a keystone that bridged the span between team and supporters. Mitch’s double-save effort against Toronto FC II in April 2016 gave FC Cincy its second SportsCenter Top 10 mention in three weeks, and his performances steamrolled from there.

Photos courtesy Ryan MeyerJoe Schmuck, and Joe Craven

Hildebrandt may not have burned down the record books in 2016, but considering he played in every game during the regular season, he put up iron-man numbers, playing the most minutes of any goalkeeper in the USL while giving up only 25 goals in the process (0.86 GPG). While the clean sheets were not as plentiful in 2017, Hildebrandt still played over 2,800 minutes and made 105 saves over 32 games.

Favorite Moments

Call it cliché to focus on the 2017 US Open Cup for most of Mitch’s work, but the other three games of Hildebrandt’s four-game clean-sheet run against Louisville, Columbus, and Miami often go forgotten in comparison to his incredible performance versus the Fire. Surprisingly, all of Hildebrandt’s 10 saves came after halftime. Of course, you all know what came next once PKs had started…

Even if you leave out the heroics from the US Open Cup run, the calls of “Mitch Says No!” were still quite loud from his performances during regular-season penalty kicks. The opposite hand sprawl save vs. Rochester was a defining moment of the 2016 season, while his last-second “three-point save” against Charlotte likely lifted the team into the 2017 playoffs.

The clutch saves from Hildebrandt often led to his celebratory claps with the Bailey after a home win, something that’s going to be hard to replace now that he’s moved down to Atlanta.

The Bad News (and the Good News)

Mitch absorbed a lot of punishment down the stretch in 2017 from a deteriorating defense, and after the crushing playoff exit against Tampa Bay, it appeared that he would have to compete to get his starting spot in net. Perhaps that was the writing on the wall, as Hildebrandt signed with Atlanta soon after the season ended, trading in one mesmerizing fan atmosphere for another.

However, while the cords sometimes get severed when a popular player leaves the squad, Hildebrandt was courteous and humble in his departure. He returned shortly after the announcement to help auction off his gear for charity and worked closely with Listermann Brewing to create a series of beers to honor military veterans and his late father.

There may end up being a complex silver lining in the end. Since the signing, Atlanta has announced their own “United 2” USL team, so if Hildebrandt isn’t able to ascend the ladder to get a place on the MLS squad, there’s an awfully good chance that Mitch will come back to Cincinnati on May 5th to say “No!” once again at Nippert Stadium. (Granted, it will be for the other team, so that’s a bittersweet pill to swallow.)

Who Can Replace Him?

FC Cincinnati finds themselves in a position they were in two years ago, as all three goalkeepers from last season are no longer with the team. This has forced Coach Koch to seek out another batch of net-minders to protect the pipes, and in the process, he’s brought in Jack Stern, FCC’s third goalkeeper coach in three years. Stern’s work with West Bromwich Albion in the English Premier League and Montreal Impact in the MLS could be the kick needed to keep the level of goalkeeper play high despite the turnover.

FC Cincinnati managed to sign three capable keepers who all could likely fill the role left by Hildebrandt. In terms of USL seniority and capacity, Evan Newton is likely the first name to be circled. The 29-year-old Newton took the starting GK role in 2017 at Sacramento and played very admirably, making 73 saves and gathering 7 clean sheets in 26 starts (2,370 minutes). While Hildebrandt’s PK performance against Chicago was impressive, Newton himself was a wall in the 2017 playoffs—facing the #1 seed Real Monarchs in the first round, Newton stymied the Monarchs in PKs, saving two of the four shots he faced. His experience could be the decider for the starting position.

If FCC opts to trust youth and MLS experience, they could put their stock in Spencer Richey, who is on loan from the Vancouver Whitecaps. The 25-year-old Richey played most of the games with the Vancouver USL affiliate over the past three years, meaning that he has worked quite a bit with Koch as his head coach. While his USL numbers (3 clean sheets, 1.29 GPG) have been average, he performed well for the Vancouver MLS side early last season in the Canadian Championship semifinal and CONCACAF Champions League.

The longest shot to start is Mark Village, who also played for Vancouver Whitecaps 2 over the past few years. Unlike Newton and Richey, the 25-year-old Village has only one professional game under his belt, picking up 4 saves in a 1-1 tie against Real Monarchs late last season. (He did get USL October Save of the Month in that one game, denying now-teammate Daniel Haber in the process.)

The other big consideration is the distribution of minutes for all three goalkeepers. Hildebrandt’s star status in Cincinnati meant that he played an incredibly high number of minutes, topping the USL in that category the past two years. An argument could be made that Hildebrandt burned out late last season from overuse, while backups Dallas Jaye and Dan Williams were saved more for US Open Cup and friendly matchups. Coach Koch may have to be flexible with his new three-man squad, and Cincinnati fans will have to think of new chants for their keepers.

Even “Mitch-A-Palooza” Must End

It was quite likely that all of Cincinnati knew Hildebrandt would be in high demand after his USOC performances against Columbus and Chicago. While there may be a low probability Mitch gets the starting nod over Brad Guzan in net, it is wonderful to see him get his shot as the next FCC original to make the step to the MLS.

That doesn’t make the parting that much easier. We owe a lot to Mitch for making our Orange & Blue so much fun to cheer for, and it will be difficult to fill the void when the first big save of 2018 is made. We are gracious for every sprawl, catch, and victory clap you gave us in the Queen City, Mitch—while this isn’t a permanent goodbye, here’s hoping that there are many more times you say “no” in the future.

Thank you.

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more coverage of the FC Cincinnati’s 2018 season.

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Players I’m Going to Miss – Andrew Wiedeman

Andrew Wiedeman is one of the most popular players in FC Cincinnati’s short history. Let’s take a stroll down memory lane and discuss how the Orange and Blue will cope without him.

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We’re continuing our series that looks back at the players we won’t see suit up in Orange and Blue this season, and discuss how we’ll cope without them. Next up…

Andrew Wiedeman.

He’s possibly the most popular player to ever put on an Orange and Blue jersey, and he made contributions both on and off the field that will be hard to replicate. He was our second-leading goalscorer in 2016, behind Golden Boot winner Sean Okoli. That hair too, …amazing hair. He’s an “inaugural” and he will surely be missed.

Photos courtesy Ryan Meyer, Joe Schmuck, and Joe Craven

Favorite Moments

“Wieda” scored the first goal in franchise history* in 2016 against Bethlehem Steel FC. He also scored a perfectly good onside goal in extra-time that could have won the US Open Cup match against the Chicago Fire, but was sadly disallowed.

He scored a number of memorable goals but none were more impressive than this individual effort against the Charleston Battery. It was one of the top 10 goals of the USL’s 2017 season.

Where’s He Going

After FC Cincinnati’s 2017 playoff loss to the Tampa Bay Rowdies, he told traveling fans about his plans to retire. He confirmed that news last Wednesday via Twitter and the FC Cincinnati press release that followed.

Many hoped Wiedeman might pursue a coaching role or continue playing and accept a locker room leadership role like the one Omar Cummings performed in 2017. Alas, it was not to be. He recently married in his native California and is planning to pursue a bachelor’s degree at the University of California – Berkeley, where he played college soccer.

Who Can Replace Him?

Wiedeman spent most of his on-field time positioned in an attacking role on the right flank. He tucked inside frequently, and at times operated in a playmaking capacity behind the forwards.

The replacement for him is not immediately clear because we don’t yet know Koch’s preferred formation. It’s not clear if wingers will play as prominent of a role in this year’s setup as they have the past two seasons. So we’ll look at both playmakers and right-footed attackers that could replace the roles filled by FC Cincinnati’s #23.

In terms of playmaking ability, Alan Koch added talent in that category superior to what this team has seen in the past. Emmanuel Ledesma is a right-footed forward that has playmaking ability in buckets. His 73 chances-created in 2017 led the NASL by a large margin. The Argentine also accumulated 10 goals and six assists in only 17 starts. Ledesma could certainly set up on the right and drift inside to attack and create for others. He is likely to start and should be a treat to watch in 2018.

One can also look to Nazmi Albadawi as a talent that can replace the playmaking work that Weideman contributed. He’s more of a midfielder than a forward though and one would expect him to contribute to the team in that capacity. He’ll also likely play more centrally than Wiedeman typically did.

Jimmy McLaughlin has almost always featured on the left, but could flip to the right, and play the same role. Daniel Haber is also a natural right winger. The 25-year-old Toronto native has 14 goals and 5 assists over the past two seasons with Whitecaps 2 and Real Monarchs. Emery Welshman is also a righty, and a forward whose speed could be an asset on the wing. The Guyana native accumulated 11 goals between his time at Real Monarchs and Puerto Rico FC between 2015 and 2017. Welshman has a lot of potential, but we’ll see whether he can break into the first team on this loaded roster.

FC Cincinnati’s preseason slate of games should give us more clues as to exactly how Wiedeman’s role will be filled with this new cast of characters. Regardless of who does the job, the Orange and Blue shouldn’t be short on attacking prowess in 2018.

“Wieds was fanstastic”

Alan Koch had the following to say about Wiedeman’s retirement after the first session of preseason training.

Wieds was fanstastic, an unbelievable guy, not just with our group but in the community, he had a great career as a player and obviously we wish him nothing but the best moving forward…, but he was a huge member of the club for the past two years and we’ve obviously had to identify guys to come in and replace him.”

It’s clear that Andrew Wiedeman’s play, his spirit, and his humor made a connection with the Cincinnati community. He’s an Orange and Blue legend and he will be missed. Thanks Wieda and good luck in the next chapter.

It’s going to be hard to replace this.

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more coverage of the FC Cincinnati’s 2018 season.
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*regular season USL goal, excludes 2016 preseason

First Day of Training – “Pliable” Approach to Preseason

Alan Koch, Kenney Walker, and Corben Bone share their thoughts on FC Cincinnati’s 2018 preseason, including topics ranging from Koch’s pliable approach, LCFC as a target, and how to train with a baby at home.

The Orange and Blue are back in action, finally back on a pitch kicking soccer balls. We had the opportunity to drop in on the first training session of 2018 and talk to Alan Koch and FC Cincinnati’s veteran midfielders, Kenney Walker and Corben Bone. Here’s what they had to say about the 2018 camp and the USL season ahead.

Alan Koch

Coach Koch gave us his thoughts on the juicy slate of preseason games that was announced on Wednesday. He stressed the need for the team and coaches to be “pliable” in preseason (they could even add a game).

“The number of games is there by design—the team’s we’ve chosen and the level that they play at is by design, too. We’re going to go through a progressive three-phase process to get ready for the start of the season, and you’ll see we’ll increase the players minutes as we go throughout the progression of those games. When we get back from that (Florida), we’ll assess the group and start to increase the minutes as we go through preseason. … You have to be very pliable through preseason because you don’t quite know exactly how it’s going to go. If we have to add a game or whatever we might need to do, we’ll do that.”

Listen to the full interview below where Coach Koch also discusses Andrew Wiedeman’s retirement, the smaller 2018 squad size, and how he intends to integrate new talent into a cohesive group.

Kenney Walker

Kenney Walker was the 2017 Team MVP, and he shared his thoughts with us on Austin Berry bossing him around (my words), and whether Louisville City’s USL Cup win changes anything for FCC heading into preseason.

On Austin Berry as a coach:

“I’m not used to it yet, but we’re still good friends so it’s not going to be anything different. It’s just his role (that) has changed, so it’s going to be that little bit of a boundary on the field now that we didn’t have before, but it will be fun going along in the season.”

On whether Louisville’s USL Cup win changes the approach to the 2018 season:

“No, not really. Louisville’s been a good team ever since they came into the USL. I think for us it’s just about getting together and meshing all the new guys together and starting, pretty much, not over again, but having a base of players coming back and all the new guys coming in, and seeing how much better we can do, this year from last year.”

Listen to the full interview with Kenney where he talks about his 2017 Team MVP award and what it’s like adjusting to the player turnover in the past two seasons.

Corben Bone

Corben shared a few minutes with us and shared this after the training session concluded.

“It was great to just be back, out touching the ball with all the guys and stuff. The off-seasons are always interesting times, but … it seems like it flew by, and we’re here now with another season in front of us, and I’m really excited.”

As a new father, Corben had to adjust to changes off the field, but he shared what he worked on in the off-season.

“My off-season was a bit different than previous ones, because I just had a baby, so I was a bit limited on where I could go, and my wife went out of town a little bit, so I did some stuff in the gym working on core strength and flexibility, because I think that can help with longevity and fitness.”

Listen to the full interview where Corben gives his thoughts on players departing, personal goals for 2018, and the team’s new midfield setup.

Photos

All photos are courtesy of JES Photography.

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s 2018 preseason.

First Day of Preseason 2018 – My How Things Have Changed

John Harkes and Alan Koch speak to the team during a training session in the first week of preseason 2017.

I was just looking back at the first preseason article of 2017. It’s remarkable how much this team has changed over the past year.

Last Year’s Article: FC Cincinnati’s Preseason Kicks Off

New signing Aodhan Quinn was the cover boy. Preseason started at the end of January last year, and John Harkes was still the manager. Alan Koch had just arrived. He spoke to us about his new role as assistant coach, and head of scouting and analytics. Daryl Fordyce and Matt Bahner had signed two weeks prior to that and they, along with Quinn, were the “big splash” acquisitions of the offseason at that point.

The squad is dramatically different today. Only Kenney Walker, Corben Bone, Matt Bahner, and Jimmy McLaughlin return from the group that trained in last year’s first week of preseason. Djiby and Victor Mansaray had not yet signed. Danni König, Josu, Justin Hoyte, Sem De Wit, and others didn’t ink pen to paper until the USL season had started.

Two weeks later John Harkes was out as head coach and Alan Koch took the reigns at FC Cincinnati just before their preseason trip to Florida.

Off the pitch, #MLS2CINCY was just gaining momentum. The soccer Don visited Cincinnati for the first time at end of November the year prior, and 12 cities had just submitted expansion applications on January 31st.

If the first two seasons are any indication, FC Cincinnati’s offseasons aren’t ever going to be boring.

Preseason Patience and Naz

Fast forward to today. Patience is the watchword that Jeff Berding has been preaching with regard to MLS expansion, as FC Cincinnati’s continues to work through a “competitive situation” with Sacramento and Detroit for the next expansion slot. The most recent rumors suggest that the decision could be delayed beyond January, perhaps even as late as March.

Even more recent headlines suggest Miami may finally be getting their act together down in Florida. Beckham recently met with his new revamped investment group in Kansas City, and the Miami Herald is reporting that they will hold a “team-launch news conference” by late January. There’s been so much misinformation about the timing of these decisions though, I’m won’t believe much until Don Garber is standing in a city with an announcement to make. MLS doesn’t exactly have a great track record in this space.

Patience is going to be a theme beyond MLS expansion. It’s going to take time for Alan Koch to mold this roster into a team given all the new additions. Fifteen of the 24 players currently on the roster have never kicked a ball wearing FC Cincinnati colors. Add to that another three-game away trip to start the season, and the Orange and Blue faithful need to accept that this team might not come flying out of the gates. There’s no doubt that FC Cincinnati has a much stronger overall squad now than at this time last year. Talent does not necessarily equal results, but it sure as hell helps. Even if everything comes together nicely, it will likely take some time for Koch to mold this into an effective group capable of winning the USL Cup.

Here’s one player that will certainly feature in the middle of the field in 2018.

Just today FC Cincinnati announced the signing of Nazmi Albadawi. The Raleigh, NC native is a two time NASL best XI player, and his playmaking ability should be a game-changer for FC Cincinnati in 2018. Albadawi at NCFC and Emanuelle Ledesma (at NY Cosmos) created 129 chances in 2017 if their stats are combined. Heinemann, König and the rest of FC Cincinnati’s attack will have plenty of good service to get on the end of this season. Good times ahead.

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s 2018 preseason.

Players I’m Going to Miss – Austin Berry

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Before we start slobbering over all the new talent on FC Cincinnati’s 2018 roster, we’re going to publish a few articles looking back at some of the players we won’t see suit up in Orange and Blue this year, and discuss how we’ll cope without them. First up…

Austin Berry. 

Austin was the first player FC Cincinnati signed and the team’s first captain. The Cincinnati native and Summit Country Day alumnus is the former 2012 MLS Rookie of the Year. What’s not to love about the hometown boy that returned to the Queen City for the birth of FC Cincinnati and wore the armband it for its first two seasons?

He’s one of our own.

Photos courtesy Ryan Meyer, Joe Schmuck, and Joe Craven

Favorite Moments

There are plenty of great moments to choose from, but it’s hard to look past Austin’s goal against the New York Red Bulls’ MLS squad in this year’s U.S. Open Cup semifinal. Although Bradley Wright Phillips had other ideas about the result that day, it was a massive goal in the biggest game of the club’s short history. The scenes of celebration that followed are now legendary.

Berry’s game-winning goal in 2016 in the inaugural home opener against the Charlotte Independence deserves consideration too and has to be a close second. Berry’s reaction after the first home game.

The Good News

The 29-year-old isn’t going anywhere. While many of FC Cincinnati’s 2017 roster will find themselves in different pastures in 2018, Berry hung up his boots after last season, retiring from professional soccer and joining the technical staff at FC Cincinnati. 

“Berry is currently finishing courses to receive his certification in strength and conditioning and will be a full-time coach for the first team. Working with Head Coach Alan Koch, Berry will be responsible for establishing schedules and tailoring programs for the FCC players to enhance and maintain peak performance.”

He parted ways with his playing days with the following words.

Who Can Replace Him?

No one can replace Berry in terms of his status as an “inaugural” and our first hometown hero. In 2018, the roles that Berry played will be divvied up between a number of players. In terms of the captaincy, Kenney Walker, a co-captain in 2017 and last year’s team MVP, appears to be the man. However, there’s going to be a lot of competition for starting places this season, with some very accomplished players arriving in Cincinnati. Some certainly have the credentials to captain this team, so this is a space to watch. Fullback Matt Bahner is now the only native Cincinnatian left on the squad.

In terms of the center back position, FC Cincinnati will obviously have a whole new look in 2018. The most like-for-like replacement for Berry is Dekel Keinan, the veteran Israeli that brings top-level European experience and senior leadership to the club. He will likely be the organizational leader and will carry a stature similar to Berry as a character guy that’s played at a high level in the past.

Keinan just arrived in the Queen City with his family, ahead of preseason training.

In addition to Keinan, talented newcomers Forrest Lasso and Paddy Barrett also will bolster the center of the Orange and Blues’s defense this season. Here’s a look at the full slate of center back’s now on the roster with relevant stats*.

Name Age Height Yrs Pro Appear. Goals Notes
Dekel Keinan 33 6’0 16 252 18 27 caps for Israel, brief stints in English Premier League and Champions League
Paddy Barrett 24 6’0 5 91 7 Irish 1st division and Europa League
Forrest Lasso 24 6’6 3 62 10 3 years with Charleston Battery
Sem De Wit 22 6’1 5 114 3 10 league appearances with FCC last season
Garrett Halfhill 24 6’2 <1 3 0 Signed first pro contract with FCC last year

*Stats via Transfermarkt

With five center backs on the books, Alan Koch certainly has the depth to feature a five-man back line with three starting center backs, which he did regularly last season. One interesting side note for this position–if you exclude Keinan, who will be the oldest player on the 2018 roster, center back is the most youthful position on FC Cincinnati’s squad.

Thanks Coach Berry

Over the next few weeks, the Orange and Blue faithful will be introduced to new faces and find new heroes to replace the ones that have departed. But Austin Berry has etched himself indelibly into the history books at FC Cincinnati as a player, and he looks ready to continue that legend beyond the pitch.

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