USL Eastern Conference Starting XI: Midseason Inventory

We’re halfway there! Which players would make up a theoretical Starting XI for a USL Eastern Conference all-star squad?

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It’s taken a few weeks, but the USL has finally hit its “All-Star Break”. All 33 teams in the USL have played half of their 34-game schedule. Of course, there is no actual USL “All-Star” game—it’s hard to create a pocket during the season when all teams can afford time off. Demand to see the best in both conferences is not as high as what one would experience in the MLS.

However, let’s never say “never”. The growth of the USL as a second division league and the exposure provided by the YouTube/ESPN+ partnership could make the faint possibility a reality in the future. It all depends on how hungry fans will be in the future to see more East versus West match-ups.

This progressive rise of the USL has made it easier to follow which players are succeeding individually. While a lot of coverage tends to be regional, let’s at least try a shot at forming a mid-season team composed of USL Eastern Conference players. Maybe one day we’ll get to see a USL team of talent challenge an MLS team of talent. (My breath isn’t being held very long for that.)

Judging by results, statistics, and my personal gut instincts (which have only failed me in Vegas), this is my Starting XI for your 2018 USL East All-Stars.

Head Coach

Bob Lilley (Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC)

Considering that the USL Eastern Conference has already had four managerial changes over the past two months, some of the sour cream has already sunk. Louisville’s James O’Connor could have run away with the award early, but Bob Lilley’s form of defensive soccer has revitalized the Riverhounds. Pittsburgh has only conceded 7 goals over 17 games and 12 clean sheets in the process. Remarkably, this is even better than the rate Lilley enjoyed back during the 2015 Rochester Rhinos championship campaign (15 goals against and 17 clean sheets in 28 games). If the Hounds find a scoring streak, Lilley could lift another title.

Alternates: Alan Koch (CIN), Gary Smith (NAS)

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Goalkeeper

Matt Pickens (Nashville SC)

There was some doubt when Nashville opted to build their team around the 36-year-old Pickens, but the former Tampa Bay Rowdies keeper has improved with age. Pickens has played every regular-season minute for Nashville, claiming 9 clean sheets and giving up only 11 goals over 17 games. While Pittsburgh’s Daniel Lynd has given up less goals, Pittsburgh also has also only allowed 40 shots on goal. Pickens has made his saves while facing 57 shots on goal, indicating his worth to the team’s overall defense.

Alternates: Daniel Lynd (PGH), Maxime Crépeau (OTT)

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Paco Craig and LCFC’s defense frustrated FCC twice at Nippert Stadium.

Defenders

Ayoze (Indy Eleven)

Ken Tribbett (Penn FC)

Paco Craig (Louisville City FC)

While goal production in the Hoosier State has been relatively uniform, Indy Eleven’s Ayoze has been arguably one of the stronger offensive defenders in the league. Yes, three of his 4 goals have come from the penalty spot, but his other goal and three assists have come from set pieces. Ayoze is also in the Top 20 in both crosses and chances created, two categories not normally reserved for defenders.

After two injury-plagued seasons with Philadelphia and Bethlehem, Tribbett has returned to Penn FC and seen a resurgence. While he has only played 14 of the team’s 19 games so far, the Penn FC captain has contributed 5 goals (tops among USL defenders), 53 interceptions, and 59 clearances from the center-back position. Those numbers have helped Penn FC stake out a realistic shot at the playoffs.

Craig may not be glorious in the offensive categories like Ayoze and Tribbett, but he and Sean Totsch have been massive defensive stalwarts that have kept Louisville high in the table. While Totsch’s distribution numbers tick ahead slightly, Craig has been the defensive stallion, leading the team in clearances (83), tackles won (35), and interceptions (40). If Lou City can endure their coaching changes, Craig and Totsch could both be on the All-USL squad come season’s end.

Alternates: Blake Smith (CIN), Sean Totsch (LOU), Marcel Schäfer (TBR)

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Midfielders

Jorge Herrera (Charlotte Independence)

Andrew Tinari (New York Red Bulls II)

Kyle Bekker (North Carolina FC)

Corben Bone (FC Cincinnati)

Frankly, the midfield features a ton of patrolling talent in the East. Some teams (FC Cincinnati, Red Bulls II, Pittsburgh SC) could field their entire crew and then some, but field generals dominate my coveted four choices.

Much like Pickens in goal, Herrera has turned back the clock this year. Herrera has spent a good decade of his career in Charlotte, scoring 63 goals with the Independence and the former USL incarnation of the Eagles. His production doesn’t seem to be ending—the 37-year-old Colombian striker has 9 goals and 3 assists over 19 games and may end up setting a career high for minutes in a season.

Considering his team has constantly changed around him, Tinari has been a rock-solid part of the potent Red Bulls II offense. The 22-year-old leads the team in minutes and has 64 created chances – the nearest competitor in this category in the East has only 40. While he has 5 goals and only 3 assists this year, that should change with Brian White, Armando Moreno, and Jared Stroud all getting more time in the forward line.

Bekker has flown under the radar due to NCFC’s slow start out of the gate. He is second in the conference in assists (7) and in the Top 10 in chances created and crosses. If the North Carolina defense can fortify to free up Bekker for more distribution to forwards Daniel Ríos and Marios Lomis, his production numbers should go up.

The choice of Bone for my Starting XI could be considered a biased pick, but when looking at the remaining candidates to fill the midfield, Bone’s overall numbers feel stronger. His passes (870) and success rate (83.4%) are among the highest in the conference, and his 3 goals and 4 assists show his workhorse mentality. While Moloto and Jimenez have the stats, I feel Bone has done more to lift the FCC midfield than people think.

Alternates: Nazmi Albadawi (CIN), Lebo Moloto (NAS), Santi Moar (BTH), Oscar Jimenez (LOU)

Forwards

Emmanuel Ledesma (FC Cincinnati)

Cameron Lancaster (Louisville City FC)

Ataullah Guerra (Charleston Battery)

There is no doubt that Ledesma would be my runaway pick as the mid-season USL MVP. Manu’s 9 goals and 8 assists allow him to lead the league in combined points, and he is among the conference leaders in chances created, shots, and crosses. His physical play also identifies him as one of the more aggressive forwards in the league, and his distribution to Danni König and Nazmi Albadawi has given FCC one of the strongest front lines in the league. (And some of Ledesma’s 2018 goals have been pretty sweet, too.)

In a season where Lou City has started without their most prolific scorer from last year, Lancaster has managed to be productive when it counts. While he has only played an average of 66 minutes per game, Lancaster has taken 45 shots and scored 9 goals. His clip of a goal every 102 minutes puts him as one of the most productive scorers in the East. If he can remain healthy before the return of Luke Spencer, he could help Louisville in the long run.

While Guerra may not score in bunches, he has been a model of consistency for Charleston this season. The native of Trinidad and Tobago leads the East in goals (10), as well as game-winning goals (4), all without collecting a single brace or hat trick. Considering that Charleston’s remaining schedule features a lot of teams not projected to make the playoffs, Guerra’s stats could surge.

Alternates: Neco Brett (PGH), Daniel Rios (NCFC), Lucky Mkosana (PEN), Danni König (CIN)

Does this lineup remotely match what you had in mind for a Starting XI? Is Geoff a complete Homer for FC Cincinnati players? Let us know what you think!

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for continued coverage of the 2018 USL season.
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Player Pairing of the Match – Keinan & Lasso

Alan Koch emphasized player pairings as a key component of FC Cincinnati’s 2018 roster strategy. Steve Buckeridge examines which pairing stood out for him in the victory at Charleston.

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Photo Credit Ross Almers Photography

Alas, we have regular season action to dissect and analyze. One of the key themes Alan Koch has been conveying this season is the desire to find and create player pairings. He hopes to accentuate and rely on these pairings to produce results and provide much-needed depth (which has been lacking the first two seasons). This will be key for the demands of a 34 game USL regular season, and hopefully, deep US Open Cup and playoff runs.

The 2018 preseason introduced this concept to the Orange and Blue faithful, and we now have ninety minutes of USL play to paint the following portrait of one of these pairings.

Center Back Duo – Keinan and Lasso

This may have been the clearest pairing to evolve and come together this preseason. In a need to shore up a defense that allowed 51 goals against in 32 regular season games last season, and to replace Austin Berry and Harrison Delbridge, Coach Koch set out to scout and sign Maccabi Haifa captain, Dekel Keinan.

November 10, 2017 – Dekel Keinan signs. [FCC Press Release]
“Dekel is a Leader of men”; “He is quite simply a winner…”

Dekel was the club’s first offseason acquisition and was quickly followed by the signing of two more formidable center-backs all within a ten-day time frame.

November 17, 2017 – Paddy Barret signs. [FCC Press Release]
“Paddy is an uncompromising center back who also has the technical skills to play out of the back.”

November 20, 2017 – Forrest Lasso signs. [FCC Press Release]
“He [Lasso] is a major physical presence and for a big man has very good technical skills. He is a supreme danger on set-pieces.”

Dekel earned the Orange and Blue armband for his leadership on and off the pitch, and he is a natural pairing alongside 24-year-old and budding force Forrest Lasso. Besides their clear physical presence and shot blocking prowess within our 18-yard box, this union provides vocal direction on the pitch, a prominent aerial threat on set pieces, and the ability to control possession and play out of the back in multiple scenarios — First, wide to the outside fullbacks; second, a link to the spine and central defending midfield duo; third up the flanks and over defenses to streaking wingers; or finally to connect through balls to the central attacking midfielder and forward.

As seen in the gutty 1-0 season-opening win at Charleston Battery, this pairing played a significant role in helping to keep the clean sheet and to secure the win. Yes, by all means, Evan Newton’s heroic saves earned him Man of the Match (MOTM) honors, and Blake Smith’s winner will be remembered as the keys to victory. However, the tireless work of this center-back duo throughout the game, especially in the nerve-racking closing minutes, earned them my Player Pairing of the Match.

Of note, anytime there was a scramble inside our box (and there were too many for comfort), one of these two appeared to get a head or a body part on the ball to re-direct it out of danger. They commanded the defensive wall for every dangerous Battery set piece and were able to repel those shots and prevent further peril. The Dekel-Lasso combination accounted for 21 of FCC’s 33 clearances and 7 of the 8 defensive blocks on the night as seen in the following clearance map.

Defensive Heat Map

Most importantly though, was the partnership and communication they used to share marking responsibilities for CB93’s athletic threat Ian Svantesson. They limited the Tulsa Roughneck transfer to just two real opportunities, and thankfully Newton’s reaction saves prevented those from reaching the back of the net. The beauty of this pairing is that it should continue to blossom throughout the season and fortify FC Cincinnati’s defense.

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for additional player pairing analyses and more coverage FC Cincinnati’s 2018 season.

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Charleston Battery 0-1 FC Cincinnati: Deeper Cuts

FC Cincinnati’s bend-not-break defense, stellar goalkeeping, and substitute strategies against Charleston.

Photo credit: Ross Almers Photography

The monkey is finally off of FC Cincinnati’s back as the team started their 2018 campaign with a 1-0 away win over Charleston Battery, obtaining their first win over Charleston in six tries and their first points against the Battery on the road. The Orange & Blue broke through in the first half with a hard-fought Blake Smith goal, then heavily depended on the defense to make that lead last to the end. Here’s what stood out after the first big test of the season.

Bending Without Breaking

At the 35th-minute mark, both teams had taken five shots, with Cincinnati getting better looks at the goal than Charleston. Lance Laing and Emery Welshman had great shots on frame before Blake’s goal, and it took a sprawling save from Odisnel Cooper to deny a beautiful Manu Ledesma free kick outside the box.

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Shots after 35 minutes: FCC (left) vs. CHB (right). Source: USL

The next ten minutes became a sudden undoing, as Charleston completely reversed field, taking five of the next six shots. The second half didn’t reverse much of the momentum either, as Charleston possessed the ball for much of the second half and enjoyed a heavy advantage in shots over the full 90-plus minutes. Charleston’s 24 shots were the second most from a team this weekend (Red Bulls II fired 31 at Toronto FC II), and Cincinnati’s 9 shots were the fewest for a team that won.

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Shots after 90 minutes: FCC (left) vs. CHB (right). Source: USL

The good news is that the defensive line, a concern in the offseason, stepped up to the task. Forrest Lasso and Dekel Keinan snuffed out eight of those shots between them to at least lessen the blow, and the team managed to play clear-out ball for much of the game (33 clearances to Charleston’s 8). Smith’s goal also showed that scoring from the back line could be the key to an improved scoring team.

Newton’s Law

There is no doubt that Evan Newton was the man of the match, filling some enormous gloves in his first minutes as the FCC goalkeeper. While Cooper was challenged early on the Charleston side, the Battery could have won this game comfortably if Newton hadn’t made himself big in goal, making five saves for the clean sheet.

Two of Newton’s saves came as a result of the keeper filling out his form in two different situations. He blocked a low shot from forward Ian Svantesson in the 39th minute that he likely didn’t see from the screens in the box, forced to fill a hole that couldn’t be patched by all the defensemen in the box. Newton then stretched high to deny Svantesson a header in the 66th minute, absorbing a shot from the goalpost as a reward.

However, Newton’s sprawling save in the 40th minute on a shot by Kotaro Higashi might be Save of the Week stuff.

This is just the first game of the season, but it’s definitely a confidence-builder to see Newton displaying the ability that helped Sacramento upset Real Monarchs in the playoffs last season. Newton produced five saves or more three times last year, but did not win any of those games. The question will likely be if Koch opts to play the hot hand or if he gives Spencer Richey a start to see if he can play at the same level.

Subtle Substitutes

For the first thirty minutes, the offense couldn’t have gone better for Cincinnati, but once the Charleston midfield started to control the ball and connect passes, their use of two forwards started to push possession constantly in Cincinnati’s half. Svantesson got plenty more looks in front of goal than FCC’s lone striker, and that pressure forced Cincinnati to dump passes out and deflect shots for corner kicks (10 for Charleston to Cincinnati’s 3).

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Striker heat map comparison between FCC (left) and CHB (right). Source: USL

With the team looking tired, Koch made some interesting moves to change momentum just enough in the second half. Having left Tomi Ameobi off the roster for the first game, Koch replaced Welshman with Danni König, who hadn’t seen any legitimate preseason minutes since the February 27th match against NKU. Koch then opted to later use Will Seymore as a replacement for Corben Bone, while Nazmi Albadawi remained on the bench.

While König and Seymore didn’t produce goals during their minutes, they did halt Charleston’s momentum just enough to keep the score where it was. Seymore won some vital fouls late in the game to reverse the field and almost scored on a heading pass from König. Meanwhile, König managed to get into his defender’s head late in the game, drawing a red card on Quinton Griffith during a foul to deplete Charleston’s arsenal.

Those rolls of the dice worked for Koch this time around, but it also shows that the coach has some initial confidence in spreading the minutes around. Resting the likes of Ameobi and Albadawi in a game that meant a lot for a retooled FC Cincinnati felt like a risky calculation, but three points before an early bye week should give Koch some time to figure out what worked while scouting Indy for their March 31st game.

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue press for coverage of FC Cincinnati as they prepare for their next match.

Charleston Battery 0 – 1 FC Cincinnati: Unbeatable Newton Secures Opening Day Win

A recap and match notes from FC Cincinnati’s 1-0 victory over the Charleston Battery on Saturday, March 17th at MUSC Health Stadium.

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Design Connor Paquette / Image Ryan Meyer

FC Cincinnati defeated the Charleston Battery by a 1-0 scoreline at MUSC Health Stadium in their season opener on Saturday. Goalkeeper Evan Newton turned in a mind-blowing five-save performance to keep a clean sheet and secure all three points for the Orange and Blue. Newton was the overwhelming Man of the Match (MOTM).

The opening goal of the match, and of FC Cincinnati’s season, came from an unlikely source in the 18th minute. Corben Bone played a delicate through ball to Emery Welshman inside the box. Charleston goalkeeper Odisnel Cooper rushed off his line to smother the opportunity. Welshman beat Cooper to the ball and flicked it at goal. His touch deflected off Cooper and the rebound fell to Cincinnati fullback Blake Smith who slotted it into an empty net to give FCC a 1-0 lead.

The first half was evenly played until the final 10 minutes when the home side really applied the pressure. Newton made his first, and most impressive save of the match, in the 40th minute to deny Charleston midfielder, Kotaro Higashi. He sprawled to his right and denied Higashi’s close-range volley with an iron right hand.

The second half began like the first half ended, with Charleston applying unrelenting pressure to FC Cincinnati’s goal. The Orange and Blue defense bent but did not break. Newton was unbeatable in goal and Lasso and Keinan toiled in defense to clear a barrage of Charleston attacks. Newton’s superb reaction save off of Ian Svantesson’s header in the 66′ kept the Battery off the score sheet. Alan Koch made critical substitutions in the 68th and 72nd minute. He introduced König for Welshman and Seymore for Corben Bone. FCC was able to maintain a better balance of possession after that, and salt away the game. A Charleston red card to fullback Quinton Griffith in second-half stoppage time added insult to injury. Although Charleston controlled possession 55/45 and outshot FC Cincinnati 24 to 9, the final score is what mattered. Charleston 0 – 1 FC Cincinnati.

Key Events

18′ – GOAL – Blake Smith (unassisted)
51′ – YELLOW CARD – Ataulla Guerra (CHS)
63′ – YELLOW CARD – Lance Laing (CIN)
80′ – YELLOW CARD – Jared Van Schaik (CHS)
85′ – YELLOW CARD – Forrest Lasso (CIN)
90+2 – YELLOW CARD – Danni König (CIN)
90+2 – RED CARD – Quinton Griffith (CHS)
90+7 – YELLOW CARD – Richie Ryan (CIN)

Match Notes

There weren’t any major surprises in the starting eleven. The eleven that started are the players that the preseason rosters and training sessions have been pointing to. Some eyebrows were raised when Will Seymore replaced Corben Bone in the 72nd minute, instead of Nazmi Albadawi.

Starting XI 
Welshman (König 68′)
Laing – Bone (Seymore 72′) – Ledesma (Haber 90′)
Walker – Ryan
Smith – Lasso – Keinan – Hoyte
Newton

Jimmy McLaughlin missed the 18 altogether due to a shoulder injury he sustained in the match against Sacramento Republic FC.

No injuries were sustained during the match, although Richie Ryan did go down twice for treatment. In the first half he was accidentally kicked in the face by Kotaro Higashi, and in the second half he collided with Guerra and suffered an apparent ankle injury. He continued to play until the final whistle without problems.

What’s Next?

One and done, at least for two weeks. Alan Koch’s men get a fourteen-day respite to assess their opening day victory and regroup before the inaugural I-74 derby between FC Cincinnati and Indy Eleven. Although the early bye is perhaps frustrating for fans, it will be valuable time for this team to continue to gel and recover from a handful of minor injuries in the squad.

Check in tomorrow for our fully digested take on Saturday’s result, and stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s 2018 season.

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Preseason Battles to Watch: Center Forward

The departure of Sean Okoli left a 16 goal hole in FC Cincinnati’s attack. Who will lead the line for the Orange and Blue in their second season?

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Daryl Fordyce scored the first preseason goal for the Orange and Blue.

FC Cincinnati’s preseason continues on Wednesday when they face the Chicago Fire in Bradenton, Florida. It’s the second of three games this week at the IMG Academy Pro Classic tournament. The Orange and Blue lost 3-2 to OKC Energy in their first game.

One of the most interesting preseason battles to watch over the next five weeks will be the competition for the center forward position. Both formations used on Sunday (4-2-3-1 and 4-1-4-1) featured a central striker leading the attack, so let’s take a look at those in contention for that role.

Djiby Fall – Veteran Senegalese front-man Djiby Fall signed with the Orange and Blue last week and will wear the number 9 shirt this season. There’s no doubt that the 31 year old has the credentials to lead the line. His last two seasons haven’t been as productive though, with just five goals in 44 appearances in Turkey and Kazakstan. Can he reproduce the good form that saw him star in Scandinavia?  Or is this one too many stops on his world tour? Given the profile of his signing, and a trophy case that features two golden boots, it’s Djiby’s job to lose. He’ll be pushed for that job early in the season by those that follow.

Victor Mansaray – The Seattle Sounders loanee has serious potential, but at age 20, isn’t the finished product yet. Vic has a lot of similarities with the 2016 edition of Sean Okoli. He is a confident and powerful young striker with Sounders roots and MLS potential. Okoli obviously won the center forward job last year and rewarded FC Cincinnati with a Golden Boot and MVP caliber performance. However, Okoli is four years older than Mansaray and didn’t have as much competition for the starting role. Mansaray looks very talented, but is still very raw. He can play wide right and may find a place there before securing a role as the go-to front man.

Daryl Fordyce – The thirty year old Ulsterman was the only forward to score in FC Cincinnati’s first preseason game, netting a well taken 60th minute goal. He is perhaps being overlooked by some due to FC Cincinnati’s more recent, more flashy signings. In NASL, he was also a consistent producer at FC Edmonton for four years. He has the size and skill for the role, and Fordyce has more goals over the past three seasons than any striker on the roster. He also has the highest goals per appearance ratio during that period. On Sunday, Fordyce played centrally behind Djiby, so Koch may fit him in elsewhere even if he doesn’t lead the line.

Omar Cummings – The Big Cat suffered a season-ending knee injury last August in a draw against the Rochester Rhinos. Although he’s attended the early February training sessions, he hasn’t been competing actively with the others. Omar started last season sidelined with injury as well. He demonstrated though that he’s capable of recovering and having a big impact once fully fit. He may factor at lead striker later in the season, but not on opening day. At 34, he’s likely to have the most influence in the locker room and off the bench.

Here’s a look at these strikers stats from the last three seasons, including cups.

Player Age Appearances Mins Goals Goals/Appearance Minutes/Goals
Djiby Fall 31 71 3478 14 0.197 248
Victor Mansaray 20 40 2524 7 0.175 361
Daryl Fordyce 30 83 6214 25 0.301 249
Omar Cummings 34 76 4348 18 0.237 242

Stats aggregated from Soccerway**

This all assumes that the team will be structured around a central forward. Depending on how these players perform in preseason, Koch may try to find space for more than one in the starting 11. The 4-4-2 and 4-4-1-1 are formations that are out of favor in many coaching circles, but could be an option for this group. Koch will have to identify his best eleven and right size them to a formation that fits their skills. Alternatively, he could settle on a formation that suits his tactics, and let that drive roster decisions. We still have a lot to learn about FC Cincinnati’s coach and players this preseason.

Andrew Wiedeman, Andy Craven, Casey Townsend, and Kadeem Dacres are all attacking options as well. One or two may also get a crack at playing central striker this preseason but are more likely to feature in other roles for the Orange and Blue.

What do you think? Who will start the season up top and what formation best accommodates these attacking options? Leave a message in the comments section below.

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** Some small discrepancies have been noted between stats from Soccerway and stats from league websites.  The same general pattern emerges however.

Rochester vs FC Cincinnati – Match Notes

Key events, interesting stats, and standout players from FC Cincinnati’s 2-1 loss to Rochester on Wednesday.

FC Cincinnati lost 2-1 to the Rochester Rhinos on Wednesday evening, breaking the Orange and Blue’s 11 game USL unbeaten streak.

Match Notes

Issues with Rochester’s internet feed  / video coverage limited early viewing of this match. The first 35 minutes appear to be lost forever to a Youtube black hole. Let’s look forward to the day when all of this club’s matches are covered on broadcast television, and the FCC faithful have to stream no more.

Despite the loss and conceding 2 goals, the Orange and Blue had periods of good passing and possession and created enough chances to get a result. Rochester’s defense and keeper played well, especially in the closing minutes, and deserve credit. There’s no shame in losing at Rhinos Stadium and it doesn’t seem there’s a need to dissect in great detail why FCC lost.

The key piece of positive news from this match was, of course, the return of team captain Austin Berry from injury. Berry played 28 minutes plus stoppage, entering the match just prior to the pivotal penalty kick being awarded to Rochester.

Interesting Stats

This result represents the first time in a competitive match that the opposition scored 2 goals against FC Cincinnati. Louisville City netted 3 goals in their April 16th victory over the Orange and Blue but FCC’s defense has held all other sides to 0 or 1 goals against.

Sean Okoli is the only FC Cincinnati player that had a shot on target in the match. He tallied 6 total shots with 4 on goal. Credit is due however to Andrew Wiedeman for drawing the penalty and also to Bone for the dime of a cross that created the opportunity.

Rochester only had 2 total shots in the second half. Unfortunately one of them was a penalty kick that was well taken and won the game.

Standouts

Sean Okoli – Ugo’s penalty kick conversion brings him to 8 goals on the season which is good enough to be tied for 5th in USL scoring. LA Galaxy 2 striker Jack McBean still leads the USL with 13 goals on the season.

Austin Berry – He didn’t have a large impact on this match in particular, but his return from injury is certainly an important event.

FC Cincinnati now head to Missouri for a Saturday clash with Saint Louis FC, who is undefeated at home this season. Harkes’ men will be keen to pick up points in this match before heading home for the Crystal Palace friendly, followed by 3 key match-ups against the Easter Conferences best opposition.

 

 

FC Cincinnati – Speaking in Numbers

As FC Cincinnati prepares for two home matches, O&B Press crunches a few numbers and makes pretty pictures to help explain their performance to date at Nippert.

In this segment, I sift through a little data from FC Cincinnati’s box scores and turn that data into (allegedly) more usable information. I play with data as a profession, so why not put a little of that knowledge to good use here rather than using it to make money for big companies?

The goal is to draw some interesting or meaningful insights, but one has to start with some simple metrics first as a baseline. So, let’s take a look at a few offensive metrics and see what they tell us about FC Cincinnati’s season to date. Because FCC is playing their next 2 matches at home against the Canadian tandem of FC Montréal and Toronto FC II, we’ll focus on home stats only.

Where is the offense coming from at Nippert?

WDO-HOME

The six players listed above have had the biggest statistical offensive impact in home matches. As one would expect, the front three of FCC’s formation, McLaughlin, Okoli and Wiedeman, weigh heavily in these offensive categories. Sean Okoli leads the way with 3 goals and 2 assists at home. Corben Bone has 2 home assists and Pat McMahon has gotten forward to good effect in this subset of games.

Can we all agree that Pat McMahon is FC Cincinnati’s version of Silicon Valley’s Bertram Gilfoyle, especially given his expression and manbun-free look on the FC Cincinnati player roster? Gilfoyle’s my favorite character in this gut-busting series so that’s meant to be a compliment. If you haven’t seen it, go binge watch it. You’ll thank me later.

Austin Berry’s early season heroics against Charlotte and Louisville City are still enough to get him on the list of the most influential offensive players, but clearly just from a goals perspective. Although Nicholson has filled in well, the team would sure get a hell of a boost from having Berry back in the lineup. Let’s hope it’s not long now.

There’s one home goal not accounted for by the six players above, can you figure out who scored it? Comment below, if so.

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Let’s break up all these numbers with a picture of men sweating and kicking a soccer ball

How does FCC’s offense compare to the opposition at home?

FCC Offensive Stats at NippertOpposition Offensive Stats at Nippert

These charts admittedly aren’t the easiest on the eye, so here is the upshot.

FC Cincinnati are 3-1-2 at home. They have scored 9 goals in 6 games for a 1.5 goals per game average compared to their opponents’ 1 goal per game. They outshoot the opposition on average by 42% and have about 8 shots on goal per game to their opponents’ 5.

FCC and their competitors produce roughly the same percentage of shots on target (about 50%) and it takes each roughly 10 total shots to produce a goal.

A few items items to note:

Louisville City’s 3 goals on 6 total shots helps to bolster the oppositions’ goals scored and shooting percentage numbers. Aside from that result, the FCC defense has been pretty stingy at home.

In the last two home matches against Harrisburg and Richmond, total shots and shots on goal have been below average. That is a trend to watch and one we hope won’t continue against upcoming Canadian opposition.

Last Saturday, Richmond had more total shots and shots on goal than FCC, largely due to their late game charge in a successful attempt to equalize. That match was the first time the Orange and Blue have been outshot at home and only the second time that phenomenon has occurred all season. The Steel marginally outshot Harkes’ men 10-9 in week 2 in Bethlehem.

Numbers can be fun, but talking about them for too long makes for a dull boy. We’ve covered some basic home stats, and will look forward to going more Moneyball on a different day.

‘Til next time.  Remember, numbers are your friend…Or are they?

“There are three types of lies — lies, damn lies, and statistics.”
Benjamin Disraeli

FC Cincinnati Kicked in the Grass

FC Cincinnati lost in Florida on Wednesday evening 1-0 to the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the third round of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, eliminating them from the tournament.

You may recall that the Orange and Blue have found great success in the Sunshine State recently, winning the preseason IMG SunCoast Classic in Bradenton and defeating Orlando City B 3-1 earlier this season. Florida has been good to FC Cincinnati indeed, but that storyline changed on Wednesday night.

This match was watched with great interest by FC Cincinnati’s faithful, not just because it was a single-elimination match against a side from US soccer’s second-tier NASL, but because a winning result would create a fourth round match-up with Columbus Crew SC.

Since the action on the pitch and the subsequent result were somewhat disappointing, let’s first take a look at the amazing entertainment that FC Cincinnati’s gracious hosts, the Tampa Bay Rowdies, provided. The match was only available for viewing only via Youtube stream and that stream opened up with the Rowdies classic 1975 theme song “Kick in the Grass.”

“The Rowdies run here,
The Rowdies run there,
They kick the ball around.
The Rowdies run here,
The Rowdies run there,
Then they fall on the ground!
Oh, The Rowdies, The Rowdies,
The Rowdies aaa-are…
A kick in the grass!”

The accompanying music, a combination of Polka and the theme song to “Barney & Friends”, is pure entertainment magic (I’m still singing it today). Combine this with their supporters’ names, the “fannies” and the “loudies”, and this historical logo from the original 1975 incarnation of the club, and the result is very entertaining indeed.

In the early NASL days the franchise also had cheerleaders named the “Wowdies.” Again, amazing name. This is one of America’s classic professional soccer teams with a colorful history. Read more about it here.

Since we’re talking about colors, we’ll also note that the color combinations in this match weren’t so easy on the eye. FC Cincinnati showed up in their orange, blue and white home kit. Tampa’s home team wore hoops in their traditional yellow and green colors. While the Rowdies kits aren’t so great to look at, let’s not forget that our jersey’s are one color away from looking like a Popsicle Firecracker. I like our jerseys personally, and think we should further embrace this by selling these delicious frozen treats at the game. If management adopts this idea, I will only request a small royalty to help feed the hamsters that power this website.

OK, I’ve stalled long enough, a few thoughts on the match.

Deep Thoughts

The lone goal of the match was scored by Tampa’s Bulgarian forward Georgi Hristov after a long ball was played behind the right side of FC Cincinnati’s back line. Pat McMahon was caught high but Hristov was the center forward who had peeled off to the side so FCC’s center backs bear some responsibility for tracking him as well. Pat McMahon may have thought the left-sided Tampa players (Ramirez, Burgos, Sweat) he was responsible for were either in front of him or offside, therefore delaying his retreat.

FCC’s fullbacks have come under some criticism during the first third of the season, but defending is a collective activity requiring communication and coordination. Some of the singling out of the fullbacks on these goals is overly simplistic. The center backs and defensive midfielders must also communicate and cover when the fullbacks are asked to press forward and opposition attackers are changing position.

Pat McMahon battles with Tampa left winger Ramirez
Pat McMahon battles with Tampa left winger Ramirez. Photo courtesy Tampa Bay Rowdies / Mike Carlson

Despite the loss, FC Cincinnati had their opportunities. They had twice as many total shots (14-7) as Tampa Bay and Walker, Wiedeman, and Hoppenot all had very good chances in front of goal that they could not convert. So the Orange and Blue were not really outplayed but this was not a vintage FCC performance, and it didn’t feel like they deserved to win the game.

So no I-71 rivalry game, …no “Hell is Real” derby as it’s been labeled in honor of the fine religious signage between Cincinnati and Columbus. It will happen someday and it’s going to be fantastic, but not for a while. I know a lot of FC Cincinnati fans who also support Crew SC, and some are breathing a sigh of relief that they don’t have to decide between their two favorite teams…yet.

This weekend sees FC Cincinnati return to USL league action, where they are still unbeaten in 6, against the Richmond Kickers at Nippert Stadium. The forecast is calling for 80% chance of rain and possible evening thunderstorms with accumulations of up to 3/4 of an inch. This team can’t catch a break with the weather. I’m officially submitting a request to the supporters’ groups Die Innenstadt and the Pride to incorporate some sort of “no rain” dance into their repertoire of chants. Or do an actual rain dance backwards. Do something. Please.

For blow-by-blow details of the US Open cup match, check out the following worthy sources.

FC Cincinnati Official, DJ Switzer
Cincinnati Soccer Talk, Bryan Weigel
Cincinnati.com, Pat Brennan

Cover image/photo for this post also courtesy of courtesy Tampa Bay Rowdies / Mike Carlson. I’ve seen a lot of soccer photography since the season began and Mr. Carlson has produced some of the best images I’ve seen this year. I don’t need another picture in this article but let’s have one more anyway.

FC Cincinnati
Photo Courtesy Tampa Bay Rowdies / Mike Carlson

FC Cincinnati vs Harrisburg City – Match Notes

FC Cincinnati defeated the Harrisburg City Islanders (no relation to the similarly named Flint Tropics) 2-0 in front of a crowd of just over 16 thousand at Nippert Stadium Saturday.

FC Cincinnati defeated the Harrisburg City Islanders (no relation to the similarly named Flint Tropics) 2-0 in front of a crowd of just over 16 thousand at Nippert Stadium Saturday. The result takes the Orange and Blue to 6-2-2 on the season and lands them in 3rd place in USL’s Eastern Conference.

Stand Outs

Mitch Hildebrandt had 5 total saves and 3 crucial saves to preserve FC Cincinnati’s clean sheet. Without a stout net-minding performance from Mitch, Harrisburg could have easily netted two goals in the contest.

Andrew Wiedeman had a highlight-reel goal in the 19th minute that featured some great offensive interplay between Bone, Wiedeman and Pat McMahon in the build-up. He almost found the back of the net again in the 48th when he tried to loop the ball over Broom from close range.

Wiedeman
Andrew Wiedeman coils before unloading for his 3rd goal of the season.

Antoine Hoppenot had a stirring impact off the bench and created the second goal, which iced the game. It seemed that early in the season the coaching staff might have had a starting spot earmarked for Hoppenot. He had a hard time making his mark and therefore has only featured off the bench in the first third of the season. He still has time to make a big impact and this performance will likely help him secure more time on the field, especially with more mid-week games upcoming. Full credit to Ugo Okoli for dispatching the penalty.

Takeaways

The crowd was stellar. Some doubt crept into our collective minds before this match, and rightfully so. Harrisburg’s small market. They’re not a rival. It’s Memorial Day weekend. Will people show up? They did, in force. It was a great atmosphere. Kudos Cincinnati.

Crowd-Harrisburg
Cincinnati showed up. This is going to keep happening.

It was a little silly how much talk there was about FCC being rusty after having one weekend off. It seems the rest was welcome and the team looked sharp on Saturday. That rest should continue to pay dividends as they head into two matches over the 7 days that follow the Harrisburg clash.

Harrisburg forward Aaron Wheeler behaved like an ass over the 52 minutes he was on the field. If the cheek-busting challenge on Delbridge and subsequent red card wasn’t enough, check out this bit of nastiness that happened just before half-time. Hopefully the USL deals with his conduct to good effect.

Harrisburg surprisingly did not try to heavily exploit FC Cincinnati’s wide areas. Paul Wilson and José Barril tried to play through the middle more often than not which I think played into the strength of FC Cincinnati’s formation and the solid midfield core of Tomaselli and Walker.

Much has been made of Andrew Wiedeman’s fantastic hair, and rightly so. It’s amazing both on and off the field. I think that it has to be mentioned at this point that Ross Tomaselli is a dark horse for best hair performance of the season. He’s a little more J. Crew to Wiedeman’s GQ, but stylish nonetheless. This is something we’ll have to pay attention to as the season progresses.

Match recaps are good and if you want play-by-play details of Saturday’s happenings check out these worthy sources:

Cincinnati Soccer Talk (full disclosure, I am a contributor and am totally biased)

FC Cincinnati Official, DJ Switzer

Scratching the Pitch, Chad Hollingsworth – USL Yoda

Cincinnati.com, Pat Brennan

This segment needs a better name than Match Notes. Sorry, I was low on creativity by the time I got to the title. Drop a note if you have a better name at orange and blue press.

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