The Marks FC Cincinnati Must Hit to Reach the Postseason

With 20% of the season in the books, a look at the watermark FC Cincinnati must hit to make the 2019 MLS Cup playoffs.

Image: Ryan Meyer

FC Cincinnati is already 20% through their inaugural MLS campaign. While they’ve spent the majority of the first six weeks in a playoff spot, they likely have to improve their average point totals to earn a place in the postseason.

FCC’s 34-game season breaks up nicely into five segments of roughly seven matches each. Now that they have completed the first seven-game stretch, it’s time to take an early look at the MLS Eastern Conference playoff picture. Playoff talk already? Why not?

MLS announced changes to the MLS Cup playoff format last December. In previous years, only six teams from each conference advanced to the postseason. In 2019, seven teams from each conference will make a playoff run in a single-elimination format. Additionally, each conference’s table leader will receive a first-round bye.

Historical Trends

Historical trends establish the waterline that FCC needs to reach to make the playoffs. This analysis takes the past four MLS Eastern Conference seasons (2015-2018) into consideration, representing the current MLS expansion era.

MLS Eastern Conference Historical Averages (2015-2018)

The seventh-place finisher in the East (highlighted in blue above) has averaged 1.30 points per game (PPG). This translates to at least 44 points over a 34-match season. Of note, the teams that compete for the final playoff spot are also earning roughly 31-33 points at home (1.80 to 1.95 PPG). A good rule of thumb is that FCC will need to earn at least two-thirds of the season’s points at home. The Orange & Blue will require a home record at Nippert of 8-3-6 (30 points) or similar. The rest they need to cover away from Cincinnati.

MLS Eastern Conference Table

MLS Eastern Conference Standings

FCC currently sits in seventh place after seven games in the Eastern Conference. If the season ended today, they would make the 2019 playoffs and potentially play the Columbus Crew in a “Hell is Real” first-round match. Can you imagine? However, their 1.14 PPG places them on a current path to fall at least 6 total points short of the targeted waterline.

Although the early part of the season has had its share of encouraging moments, including two wins in their first four matches, let’s pump the brakes on the expectations. The early schedule has been challenging overall, but FCC’s two wins came against the last place teams in each conference, Portland and New England. To be fair though, two of their losses came against two of the best teams in MLS. Losing 1,900+ miles away to Seattle and LAFC is not a reason for concern, especially given the fight they showed last week at the Banc.

Foreseeable Challenges

FCC currently falls short on two key metrics, points per game (PPG) and Home PPG. Furthermore, keep in mind that:

  • The club’s primary Designated Player and target striker is currently suspended. Until the MLS concludes its SABH review, no one knows Fanendo Adi’s future with the team.
  • Over the next 7-match segment, four games are away from Cincinnati, including three-straight outside of the comfy confines of Nippert. Looking out to the end of June, FCC will play 7 of 11 games away from home.
  • The depth of the club will be tested with the potential of 13 matches over a 71-day window. This includes two hopeful 2019 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup games in June. That amounts to a game every 5.5 days.
  • Two Eastern Conference giants, currently beneath FCC in the table, are starting to stir — the 2018 Supporters’ Shield holders, New York Red Bulls, and the 2018 MLS Cup champions, Atlanta United.

The purpose of this article is not to dash your FCC playoff hopes, but to provide a realistic view of the marks FCC must hit to reach the postseason. Up to this point, the grit of the players and coaching staff has been admirable. They are a tough team to play against. However, from a macro perspective, after 1/5th of the season, they are trending just outside of the playoffs and close to where we predicted they would finish.

Look for more playoff updates as the season unfolds and stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of the 2019 season.

MLS Weekly, Nearly-7: The Rare Occasion It All Finally Makes Sense

With MLS Week Nearly-7 in the books (look, still over half the teams have played six or fewer games), fans finally have a week’s worth of results…

Photo Credit: Stephanie Romero

[Ed. – I’m abandoning the five (5) game-condensed format, and for a couple of reasons – chief among them that watching 2/9th of a game cuts out too much of how the ball gets from Point A to Point B, aka, the soul of the game, and who wants to cut that out? To move forward in a spirit of honesty and kindness (you’re welcome), I will always disclose all the soccer I watched any given weekend. And, for this week, that includes all of FC Cincinnati’s loss to Los Angeles FC, and all of the Portland Timbers (inevitable, but…) loss to FC Dallas. Outside that, I watched condensed games for Minnesota United FC v New York City FC (sad!), the Chicago Fire’s…just whimpering home draw against the Vancouver Whitecaps (maybe even worse), Seattle Sounders 3-2 win over Toronto FC, and Sporting Kansas City’s eye-raising 2-2 draw in KC against the New York Red Bulls. Now, to the action…]

With Major League Soccer Week Nearly-7 in the books (look, still over half the teams have played six or fewer games), fans finally have a week’s worth of results that more or less followed completely legitimate trends and/or properties. As in, holy crap, every result this weekend made sense, and, for people who traffic in the idea that MLS is more predictable than most people seem to believe, that’s like a fist-bump from God. I credit all this obsession for what makes it work; basically, if you track trends closely enough, you’ll be surprised a lot less by MLS, generally, but that’s my weird little gospel. Going the other way, don’t think of anything I say below as obvious. Unless, I guess, I actually write, “this is obvious,” or something a lot like it.

Even if it’s not your first-choice explanation, every game from MLS Week Nearly-7 followed from a plausible explanation. Honestly, name your game and I’m pretty sure I can summon up a (reasonably) factually-based logic to explain it. To cherry-pick the easy ones: maybe FC Cincinnati stresses Los Angeles FC in another world, but in this time-line, LAFC has a bat-poop insane (huh, euphemisms are kinda silly fun) goal differential, and a ton of that is built on allowing just five goals across seven games (just to note it, they are playing a combination of minnows and the unbalanced; see the Form Guide ULTRA for details). Elsewhere, Real Salt Lake is strong enough at home to beat a (sincerely battling; see below…but don’t expect more than a bare question) Orlando City SC team, and the Colorado Rapids are bad enough to lose anywhere, including in Commerce City, and especially against DC United (and these goals are terrible). And that’s what made this an oddly, broadly predictable weekend in a league that, allegedly, defies prediction.

Even within a Week Nearly-7 where everything was as it should be, cracks appeared, and on just about every side of the glass. For instance, as much as you’d expect both Sporting KC and the Sounders to manage a heretofore stumbling New York Red Bulls and even a much stronger Toronto FC, respectively, they didn’t and they did, respectively. These are fun results precisely because they tinker with several narratives, including the most obvious ones. For instance, what does it mean that the Red Bulls looked reasonably like the Red Bulls of 2018 (and from previous seasons) tonight, and against an SKC team that just about everybody rates (even if the support that upholds that rating grows more tenuous by the day)? With Toronto, sure, maybe they didn’t beat Seattle – and, golly, is this as simple as the difference between having solid, predictable defense versus one with an awful tendency to lay out the welcome mat (these are egregious and/or worth your time) – but how many other teams can Toronto beat with their current personnel? I think the answer comes in on the high side, for what it’s worth, so how much do you really care about this result if you’re a TFC fan? As demonstrated by Altidore’s remarkable, almost immediate connection with Alejandro Pozuelo (see their first goal, and this one), TFC can steal a game, and that’s something to watch going forward.

It gets pretty down-market from there, a succession of games that didn’t move any particular needle, whether it’s Montreal’s opportunistic win over Columbus, or the Houston Dynamo following in the foot-steps of every team (except the Portland Timbers) to beat the San Jose Earthquakes. Some results just don’t matter, so why talk about them? (And, even if I don’t link to it, Portland’s loss to Dallas absolutely belongs here.)

The same story continues with Atlanta United FC’s win over the New England Revolution. Based on everything I read or watched, the Dirty South ran all the way over the Revs. The fact that any reasonable person saw this coming is all the commentary anyone should need on New England. Sadly, they join the short list for all the sh*t teams in MLS right now – which, on the plus side, keeps shrinking as the rest of the league shifts into one blurb of quality, and another of striving. In the here and now, though, the cast-outs include: the Revolution, RSL, San Jose, Vancouver, Colorado, and Portland. Depressing as it is, I see upsides for every team in MLS, except those six teams.

Moving on now, let’s talk about the most significant results of the Week Nearly-7.


Los Angeles Galaxy 2-0 Philadelphia Union

It confirmed LA’s home bona fides, as much as it proved Philadelphia’s real-world limitations. At the same time, Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored both goals, one from the run of play, one from a penalty, and neither of those feel like a map to 2021, if you know what I mean. If I had to bet on a long-term future for either team…I don’t know which way I’d go. If nothing else, LA has won some trophies, no matter how long ago, while Philadelphia hasn’t. Bottom line: Money versus a plan is a tricky call to make.

Houston Dynamo 2-1 San Jose Earthquakes

In spite of what Tommy Thompson said, San Jose did not fix anything, and the Dynamo have yet to be tested this season, so…(again, consult the Form Guide UTLRA to see what I mean). While both teams exist on the cusp of becoming, I’m way more nervous for the Dynamo. Because they have room to experience disappointment. At the same time, anyone who wants to feel better about Alberth Elis should contrast his weekend with the New York Red Bulls’ Kaku, a man whose greatest visible contribution to the result was a tantrum/richly-deserved red card.

I’m going to close out this post with some things to watch, nearly all of them having to do with what I might have guessed wrong. In no particular order:

Orlando City SC

Are they figuring things out or is losing nobly their fate till further notice?

D.C. United

God’s honest truth, I could be selling them massively short, but I still think they’re the most over-hyped team in MLS, both structurally and based on random factors (e.g., Luciano Acosta maybe leaving).

In Closing…

I have no idea what I’d read into the Eastern Conference standings at time of writing, right now, but the hierarchy in the Western Conference feels depressingly sound. And that’s all for this week. I hope to round it into something more coherent next week, but I’m not sure this isn’t the state of things. Till next time.

Los Angeles FC 2 – 0 FC Cincinnati

FC Cincinnati kept the score close for most of the match, but Carlos Vela’s assist and second-half goal earned LAFC three points …

FC Cincinnati kept the score close for most of the match, but Carlos Vela’s assist and second-half goal earned LAFC three points at Banc of California Stadium on Saturday night.

LAFC 2, FC Cincinnati 0

Banc of California Stadium | Los Angeles, Calif.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

SCORING SUMMARY

LFC – Mark-Anthony Kaye (Carlos Vela) 32’

LFC – Carlos Vela (Eduard Atuesta) 90’+3’

FC Cincinnati: Spencer Richey, Justin Hoyte, Nick Hagglund, Kendall Waston ©, Greg Garza, Leonardo Bertone, Caleb Stanko (Victor Ulloa 76’), Allan Cruz (Roland Lamah 66’), Kenny Saief, Kekuta Manneh (Frankie Amaya 83’), Darren Mattocks

Bench: Przemysław Tytoń, Forrest Lasso, Fatai Alashe, Eric Alexander,

Stats: Shots 7, Shots on goal 2, Saves 5, Corner kicks 2, Offsides 1, Fouls 14, Possession 43.6%, Passes 365 (72.8%)

LAFC: Tyler Miller, Steven Beitashour, Walker Zimmerman (Danilo Silva 86’), Eddie Segura, Jordan Harvey, Mark-Anthony Kaye, Eduard Atuesta, Latif Blessing, Carlos Vela ©, Christian Ramirez (Josh Pérez 66’), Diego Rossi

Bench: Pablo Sisniega, Mohamed El-Munir, Shaft Brewer Jr., Niko Hämäläinen, Peter-Lee Vassell

Stats: Shots 22, Shots on goal 7, Saves 2, Corner kicks 6, Offsides 0, Fouls 13, Possession 56.4%, Passes 481 (80.9%)

MISCONDUCT SUMMARY

CIN – Kendall Waston (caution) 30’

LFC – Walker Zimmerman (caution) 36’

Referee: Drew Fischer

Assistant Referees: Chris Wattam (AR1) and Micheal Barwegen (AR2)

Fourth Official: Tim Ford

VAR: Edvin Jurisevic

AVAR: Cameron Blanchard

Weather: 63 degrees and sunny

Attendance: 22,323

Match Program: FC Cincinnati at Los Angeles FC

As a change-up from the usual fast facts format of our match programs, we reached out to friend of Orange & Blue Press, Alicia Rodriguez, …


Design: CSDIV

FC Cincinnati heads to the West Coast on Saturday for a matchup with last year’s expansion darling, LAFC, at Banc of California Stadium. As a change-up to the usual fast facts format for this match program, we reached out to friend of Orange & Blue Press, Alicia Rodriguez, who is the managing editor of Angels on Parade, SB Nation’s Los Angeles FC blog.

We asked for Alicia’s insights on four key questions heading into Saturday’s contest.


What was the biggest glaring hole for LAFC in 2018? How did Bradley fix it in the offseason?

The biggest issue for LAFC in their debut season was coughing up leads and having late defensive breakdowns in games. Somewhat remarkably, the team opted not to make a bunch of changes, instead signing one new starter, center back Eddie Segura, and letting the rest of the group that returned get another shot at it. So far, the extra time (and Segura’s arrival) has worked, as they have allowed five goals in six games and have back-to-back clean sheets. Does this mean the defensive issues of 2018 are totally behind them? That remains to be seen. But players have said that the continuity has helped a lot, and so far, the proof is in the pudding.

LAFC is the hottest team in MLS. Can you see any chinks in the armor that FC Cincinnati can exploit?

LAFC have been down a goal in a few games, but they haven’t had to contend with a multigoal deficit so far. Any team that gets increasingly desperate is bound to get sloppy, and who knows how they would respond. I’d also not wish to see any players ejected, but how would they deal with a red card? That hasn’t happened yet this year, so there are game states that the team hasn’t faced so far, and if it’s one that’s favorable to the opponent, at some point it’s bound to slow them down.

So far LAFC’s opponents have received four red cards over the first six games. Is that just good fortune or is LAFC doing something to get these players in trouble?

Truthfully, I wouldn’t consider three of the red cards to be controversial at all. The fourth? Diego Chara picked up a second yellow card for flicking Diego Rossi’s ear — a violation of the letter of the law if maybe not necessarily the spirit. I think there are two things in common with the red cards so far: LAFC’s attack has been so clinical that teams get desperate to stop another push upfield however they can, and that means clotheslines (RSL’s Justin Portillo), rough midfield fouls to stop play (SKC’s Roger Espinoza), potential leg-breaking tackles (D.C. United’s Wayne Rooney) and yes, even flicks of the ear. The other thing in common is Rossi — he’s drawn three of the four red cards, and he’s a player who both has been fined for embellishment this year and seems to be getting less sympathy from the referees when he goes to ground, but also draws more than his share of legitimate fouls and cards, too.

LAFC tried to trade-up in the SuperDraft and get southern California native Frankie Amaya. Is there any buzz in LA about Frankie returning and possibly playing, given FC Cincinnati’s current injury troubles?

Aside from his family and friends? I’d say not really. Yes, LAFC made offers to trade up for Amaya, but when FC Cincinnati didn’t budge at the draft, they drafted two midfielders who they ended up signing, in Peter-Lee Vassell and Javi Perez. Vassell came to the team a full Jamaican international and has been a regular sub, while Perez has already made his MLS debut while splitting his time on loan in the USL Championship. Time will tell which players end up with the better trajectories, but early returns seem to indicate LAFC ended up drafting pretty well.


A big thanks to Alicia for her time and insights. Go check out all of her work at angelsonparade.com and mlssoccer.com. Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati at LAFC on Saturday.

PODCAST: Neighborhood Play: Week 7, Orange & Blue and Remote Neighborhood

Danny’s on tour, but still online. He joins Tyler and Michael to opine on #CINvSKC and prep everyone for a daunting trip to Banc of California Stadium and LAFC.


Danny’s on tour, but still online. He joins Tyler and Michael to opine on #CINvSKC and prep everyone for a daunting trip to Banc of California Stadium and LAFC.

Tunes: “California Babylon” – The Transplants As always, this episode is brought to you by Grillo’s Pickles

Seven Ways to Listen To Neighborhood Play HERE

MLS Weekly, Week Mostly 5/6: All Things Are Explicable

As noted at the top of this week’s Form Guide ULTRA, the idea that MLS is the spectator sports version of a riddle, wrapped inside an enigma …

Rainclaw7 / License

As noted at the top of this week’s Form Guide ULTRA, the idea that MLS is the spectator sports version of a riddle, wrapped inside an enigma, wrapped inside a mystery, that got thrown into some river and then “Uncle Joe” Stalin ate the map, has rubbed me the wrong way for a while. That’s quitter talk, people, maybe even the reason why America is falling behind on STEM subjects. All these soft children with soft minds, I tell you, something, something damn Millennials.

The point is, an answer explains most results, and outside the context of any given game. What happened with the Portland Timbers and FC Cincinnati over MLS Week Mostly 5/6 provides reasonably clean examples of how the formula, “results + details = expectations,” works in real time. For the Timbers, even though everyone knew the San Jose Earthquakes were terrible, Portland, 1) had a crappier defensive record, 2) had struggled to get their attack going in every game but one so far this season, so 3) there was no reason the whole thing wouldn’t end with Timbers head coach, Giovanni Savarese, apologizing to fans. (Related, if you haven’t seen it, Tommy Thompson’s motivational-speaking moment is a personal favorite for 2019 so far.) I didn’t hear from a single Timbers’ fan who hadn’t brace himself or herself for a stumble into the Slough of Despond. (I wrote extended notes on this, mostly rending of hair and gnashing of teeth stuff as opposed to sound analysis. From San Jose’s side, both Danny Hoesen and Cristian Espinoza showed up, and, in a first for MLS 2019, Portland looked outright stumped by the ‘Quakes man-marking scheme). Bottom line: if this result surprised anyone, they weren’t paying attention.

FC Cincinnati’s 1-1 draw actually pulls double-duty in that it supports the theory behind a results-tracking model, while also highlighting its fragility. A lot of the data points going into the game – e.g., Cincy’s comparatively good form and short rest (and a brutal loss) forcing SKC to choose between playing tired players and calling guys off the bench (aka, the “Additional Factors”) – pointed to a closer contest than anyone would expect in a game between the same two teams under ideal conditions. While what actually happened on the field didn’t track with that ideal game, it didn’t really track what you’d expect based on the Additional Factors either. In so many words, no model could have predicted the game turning on so many damn mistakes (in a happier world, Kekuta Manneh), and, on the day, the game looked likely to end in everything but an SKC win, but, very real details aside, the game still ended up with a result that feels fitting, even logical, at least given the Additional Factors.

For what it’s worth, I wrapped up my extended notes on Cincinnati v. Sporting KC “B” with some “what it all means” musings, not all of them bull-ish on Cincinnati’s immediate future, and that has everything to do with some of the trends taking hold in the Eastern Conference. Both Columbus Crew SC and the Philadelphia Union have started strong enough that it’s hard to see either slipping. The same goes for Toronto FC, and I might be the only guy that follows MLS who is not totally bought and sold on D.C. United (doubting them is my hot take of the moment), and that’s how I landed on the idea that Cincinnati has four teams above them. What happens if/when, both “New Yorks” (Red Bull and City FC) find their feet, or what if rumors of a better Chicago Fire hold up – which that result in Toronto supports, no matter how contingently? My point is, things could get crowded around FC Cincy real fast.

For better or worse, it’s impossible to suffer similar confusion when projecting the Timbers’ current chances of glory – i.e., not low, so much as subterranean. That said, it would surprise me to see some of the Western Conference clubs that started strong – e.g., Houston Dynamo, FC Dallas, and even the Seattle Sounders (wishful thinking?) – get climbed over when some of the teams below them yank them into the pit…and, to be 1,000% clear, I am in no way implying that the teams at places 8-12 haven’t whored and gambled their way to their piteous state.

That’s all the framing/preamble for this week. I’ll wrap up with notes on five results from MLS Week Mostly 5/6 that struck me as most significant. And I’ll try to connect them to the mess up above.


Vancouver Whitecaps 0-2 Los Angeles Galaxy

This largely stuck to the emerging narrative for both teams. Whatever you think of them, the Galaxy are 4-1-0, and they’ve rolled over solidly (or formerly solidly, see Portland Timbers) middle-tier teams to build that record. Going the other way, they haven’t really been tested yet (see the Form Guide ULTRA, make your own call), and, no matter what I feel about it (besides bitterness), Zlatan Ibrahimovic proves he’s a special talent week in and out, and he’s probably as responsible for LA’s record as any player on the team, thus upholding his self-anointed MVP season. More to the point, the few people I follow keep hinting at sub-par performances rescued by Zlatan, so that’s something to file away for future. Vancouver, meanwhile, continues as a work in progress with an indefinite destination. Their offseason roster overhaul brought them as close as a team to get to reliving the expansion experience for one, so expect things to come together later, if they do so at all. Hwang In-beom’s fancy footwork impressed me and he seems capable of finding seams, whether running or passing through them, but he holds the ball too long – and maybe that indecision translates globally to the ‘Caps as a whole. I kept hearing the name Ali Adnan and seeing good things happen when he’s on the ball, but his contributions on the night swung violently between two poles. All in all, though, LA looked good for the win, and where it happened feels significant for both teams. My best theory on what divides one team from the other shows up in Zlatan’s footwork to set up LA’s game-winning goal. My best theory on why Vancouver looks like a good bet to continue to struggle shows up on how thoroughly they lost Daniel Steres on that play. I don’t know what to think of Vancouver yet, but the Galaxy look like a team with potential in 2019. I wouldn’t write Vancouver off yet either, not entirely, but I also wouldn’t be even sort of surprised if they endured a lost season before it all comes together.

D.C. United 0-4 Los Angeles FC

First and foremost, the final score in this one had nothing to do with Wayne Rooney getting sent off (around the 52nd minute, and with few complaints from all concerned). Turnovers in midfield decided this game, and LAFC’s Diego Rossi cleaned up three of them and that’s how one player does more than an entire team. Had this score happened in LA, the whole “Clash of Future Champions” narrative might have held up, but LAFC’s special players (Carlos Vela and Rossi) erased DC United’s special players (Luciano Acosta, who I didn’t see once in the condensed game, and Rooney, especially after the 52nd minute) in our fair nation’s capital Saturday afternoon. D.C. got their asses kicked, and in a place where it rarely happens (home field, and see the box score), and that does open the question of how D.C. measures against the rest of MLS. Speaking for myself, I don’t expect them to hold on as Eastern Conference favorites – and if Acosta ducks out at mid-season, their odds go down even further. They’ll have something to prove as early as Tuesday when they play Montreal in D.C., and anything less than a win should pique people’s curiosity. LAFC, meanwhile, have enjoyed absurdist levels of success so far in 2019 – how does a team get to a +14 goal differential just six games into the season (or, conversely, how does my team have a -10 in five games; psst…Portland) – and there’s literally nothing that suggests they’ll stop. To clarify, and I can’t stress this enough, they will stop at some point, some wobbly moment will arrive. On the other hand, I don’t expect a visit from FC Cincinnati to knock them off their league/game-stealing stride and, even if it did, I see people waving it off as a fluke or a bad day at the office. This win cemented LAFC’s status as the team to beat until further notice. Let the good times, and hot takes, begin.

Toronto FC 2-2 Chicago Fire

Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that watching just 2/9th of means a whole lot of watching offenses in their best moments and defenses in their worst. It only gets more confusing once you compare the box score, which tilts solidly in TFC’s favor, against “I don’t like the signs defensively for Toronto” coming out of the broadcast booth around the 55th minute. The comment turned out to be prescient when Chicago’s Nemanja Nikolic ghosted past two defenders (Michael Bradley and Chris Mavinga) to make a sitter of Aleksandar Katai’s low cross through the box from the left. That said, the editors must have got all seven of Chicago’s shots (three on goal) into the condensed game, because that portrayed a more balanced game than the box score (cough…cough, possession, cough, cough). A defense can’t do much about C. J. Sapong getting two perfect touches in a row – which brings me to The First Rule of C. J. Sapong: he has had moments like this before and, once they end, months, perhaps even years can pass till he has another one. I’m also a long-time fan of Sapong’s, and hope Chicago fits him, but that’s his history. The limited circle I follow seems awfully excited about Chicago and, by itself, the result inched me closer to buy-in; it’s everything else that’s getting in the way. To return to the broadcast booth (Johnny?), someone dubbed Marky Delgado “a terror” early on, and I noticed him more after that. Overall, Toronto looks to have picked up the right players between the off- and early season: Alejandro Pozuelo, obviously (and, dear God, the mind-meld between Jozy Altidore and him on Toronto’s first), but Nick DeLeon has looked like a new player all season from what I’ve seen. To lift the Pozuelo/Altidore out of the parentheses, I’d recommend watching the clip of that goal because it took remarkable understanding to make that goal work; however it happens, Altidore just has to know that Pozuelo will, and, more crucially, can, play the ball to that precise non-obvious spot, and that a goal will follow. TFC’s issues in this draw started and ended with defenders switching off on that second goal. To give Chicago real credit, they’ve got decent attacking players and holding TFC to two goals hints that they might have a worthwhile defense this season. If they can keep the goals coming – and Nicolas Gaitan is working his way in – the Fire could make some noise this season, right alongside TFC.

New York Red Bulls 1-2 Minnesota United FC

“Somebody’s got to shake up this team.”

Too right when it comes to the Red Bulls, sadly. Love ‘em (yes) or hate ‘em (what’s wrong with you), they’ve played some of the most effective, most ruthless soccer in the league for 4-5 years. They are no longer doing that. Players look hesitant on the ball, they’re under-hitting passes, and God knows why head coach Chris Armas lined them up in a 4-4-2 diamond. Seems like they have other things to think about – e.g., planning that team meeting to elect the guy mostly like to shake this team up (a thought that takes me back to a short dentist-in-training trying scream me into action on a parks-and-rec team; good times). While that’s an easy cliché to mock, it tells the tale of the tape: the Red Bulls built those great seasons on beating the other team to the ball more often than the ave-r-age bear and playing decisively off the turnovers. Jesse Marsch was the guy who built that team and, who knows? Maybe time will prove Armas right – maybe tinkering will help – but Red Bull seemed as tangled up as Hamlet at the moment. As for Minnesota, I can’t stop forgetting (for some damn reason) that they won this game without key attacking players – e.g., Darwin Quintero, Miguel Ibarra, and (doesn’t really count, but) Kevin Molino. Based on what I read and heard, they won the game by defending stoutly (Ike Opara had several highlight moments, and they said Michael Boxall’s name a lot) and by having a game-plan and sticking to it – e.g., kick the ball to Angelo Rodriguez facing away from goal, and let him figure it out from there. It’s not as ugly as Route One, but also not by much. Without taking anything away from Minnesota – nine points from a five-game road swing is a never-ending gravy bowl for this team – a bad Red Bulls team scrambles a lot of assumptions about how MLS World functions, and that’s going to take some time to adjust to. In the here and now, though, I don’t see any reason to assume that New York won’t lose every game it plays. Part of me knows they’re a sleeping giant – these are largely the same players and Bradley Wright-Phillips still looks plenty interested – but maybe they don’t wake up this season?

Orlando City SC 4-3 Colorado Rapids

A rubenesque woman flashed Nani (with layers; you’ll see) for as long as it took for her to notice that a camera would beam the moment nation-wide (effectively, and only to, like 100,000 people; and she made the cut). Awesome as that was, I’m still trying to figure out why I chose this game over the infinitely-more-significant-over-time result between the Philadelphia Union and FC Dallas. To name my angle, I put this down to researching teams-who-might-be-a-massive-pain-in-the-ass-the-next-time-you-play-them (sorry, hyphens getting out of control). While it’s bad that the guy who won the game for Orlando shouldn’t have even been on the field (Nani; suspend him on principle), it wasn’t his cross that Axel Sjoberg knocked down with his arm (and, again, that’s Ruan), and Orlando has fought like possessed demons (doubling down, intentional) in every game I’ve watched them play over the past few weeks. I think the spirit of the team was captured in the raw athleticism (holy crap, Ruan is fast!) and/or aggression of Orlando’s second goal. If you can put whatever’s fueling Orlando in a bottle right now, you could build an army of marathoners. Their intensity is carrying them and, for now, that’s enough against a team like the Rapids. But, again, this was also the latest “not terrible outing” for Colorado, even if in what feels like a never-ending succession of them. Regardless, they burned Orlando on their second and third goals and, to go back to Nani, how would this game have turned out had Nani got sent off at the 50th minute? The overall point is that, despite their records, Colorado has some real talent (e.g., Kei Kamara, Jack Price), while Orlando has talent (Sacha Kljestan, Dom Dwyer…yes, Nani) on top of a chip on their shoulder that can only be lifted when they reach the playoffs…of which, does that apply to Colorado? For what it’s worth, I don’t think they’ve given up, but I do think their front office is a little punchy.


That’s everything for this weekend and sorry about any loose ends. My biggest takeaway is that this league is knowable, even when it’s not obvious. If the reason a team fails isn’t apparent right away, odds are you’re at the beginning of a new trend.

“He’d stand in the middle of the road and urinate. I’d say, ‘Matt, get the hell out of there. You’ll get shot! No! He was defiant. Even with his own penis he was defiant.’”
– Jim Gavin on U.S. General Matthew Ridgway.

Real quote. That’s just bonus content. You’re welcome.

Deeper Cuts: When a Draw Feels Like a Loss and a Win

Despite FC Cincinnati’s encouraging draw against a Sporting Kansas City squad that had obliterated Montreal 7-1 the week before …

Image: Ryan Meyer

Despite FC Cincinnati’s encouraging draw against a Sporting Kansas City squad that had obliterated Montreal 7-1 the week before, a few “what-if” statements still linger. What if FCC had a healthy Manu Ledesma and an available Fanendo Adi? What if Greg Garza and Spencer Richey didn’t miscommunicate? What if Nick Hagglund’s goal was good? What if I didn’t accidentally smear ketchup on my orange suit?

(Okay, that last one is probably not a game-changer.)

However, it might also be wise to ask “what-if” questions in the other direction. What if Sporting KC hadn’t played a CONCACAF Champions League match three days before? What if Peter Vermes wasn’t resting eight players of his Starting XI? In the end, perhaps getting the 1-1 draw in front of a national audience isn’t a bad result.


Two Steps Forward

Statistically speaking, the Orange & Blue held together for a solid attack in the first 45 minutes. Not only did FCC match SKC in shots in the first half (7-7), but they penetrated the box with their attempts and put more on target (3-1). Many of the defensive numbers (clearances, blocks, saves) favored SKC, indicating that Cincinnati was penetrating better than usual.

The first-half possession numbers were also a bit misleading, despite SKC owning a slight advantage (52%-48%). When Sporting KC possessed the ball, they kept it mostly between their center backs and midfield. Much of their passes were relegated to the defensive third and midfield. However, FCC distributed the ball uniformly and depended on Kenny Saief and Leo Bertone to feed Darren Mattocks when the window of opportunity opened. FCC owned a 92-61 advantage in passes in the attacking third of the field.

1st-half possession numbers for FCC (orange) and SKC. (Source: whoscored.com)
2nd-half possession numbers for FCC (orange) and SKC. (Source: whoscored.com)

For the most part, this was an attack that could have pulled off the home shocker had the game ended at halftime. FCC held an 11-5 advantage in forcing loss of possession, while successfully out-dribbling SKC 7-2. Unlike last week against Philadelphia, this could have been the perfect storm.

Of course, games do not end after 45 minutes.

Two Steps Back

Perhaps it was when Roland Lamah came off due to injury at halftime, forcing Alan Koch to substitute earlier than required. Perhaps it was Sporting KC holding the ball long enough to get their own resting substitutes in. No matter how you slice the halftime orange, the second half was a completely different game.

FCC’s inability to finish the attack in open play eventually caught up to the team as Sporting KC slowly reintroduced their normal starters. The possession was dominated by the away squad as SKC brought in midfielder Felipe Gutiérrez and forward Krisztián Németh. Had the blowout at Monterrey midweek been closer, perhaps they don’t see the pitch, but once more familiar players came on, FCC were on their back heels. SKC owned a 59%-41% possession advantage in the second half, as well as an 11-3 shots advantage. Nine of those shots by SKC were in the penalty box, while FCC could only fathom one.

1st-half shots for FCC (white) and SKC. (Source: MLS)
2nd-half shots for FCC (white) and SKC. (Source: MLS)

If a second half MVP is to be found, it’s likely the duo of Hagglund and Kendall Waston who kept the draw in check. Both made three solid clearances out of the penalty box in the second half, while Hagglund almost certified himself as a hometown hero with the header in the 83rd minute that was juuuust offsides. Both were also solid at backing the other up and are legitimate reasons why FCC have made it through the first six games with a 2-2-2 record.

No Ground Lost

Over the first six games, it’s not surprising that FCC have experienced some growing pains. The team has settled into one that will not win with possession, as they’ve yet to lead a game in that category. They’re also not winning with their offensive attack—only Columbus (8.3) takes less shots per game than FCC (9.3).

However, this isn’t to say that FCC is the 2019 version of Minnesota United’s maiden voyage. Six games might be a small cross-section, but if we take a look at the “expansion” teams from the past decade, FCC’s not struggling yet.

Yes, the goals are not coming in bushels, but not many teams in the past had more than ten goals by this point. At the same time, not many can say they’ve let in less than ten. Sure, FCC cannot boast a three-game home winning streak like Portland from 2011, but they haven’t struggled on the road to start like Montreal did in 2012.

We knew that this FCC squad wasn’t going to be setting records like last year. Granted, a projected 45 points hasn’t gotten many teams into the playoffs. It’s only happened once in the East since the expansion to a 34-game schedule in 2011. Still, 8 points in the first six games—that’s still a solid start in a conference where dominant teams like Atlanta and NYCFC have stumbled out of the blocks.

Daunting matches against LAFC and New York Red Bulls loom on the horizon, but let’s not lose faith in the team after a draw that felt like a loss. Maybe 45 minutes of magic is all FCC needs.


Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for FC Cincinnati’s upcoming return to the West Coast against LAFC.

FC Cincinnati 1 – 1 Sporting Kansas City

Darren Mattocks scored the lone goal for FC Cincinnati from the penalty spot in the 19th minute. Sporting KC equalized in the second half,

Graphic: Connor Paquette

Darren Mattocks scored the lone goal for FC Cincinnati from the penalty spot in the 19th minute. Sporting KC equalized in the second half, playing with a rotated-roster after Thursday’s loss in the CONCACAF Champions League semifinal. Their goal came from 16-year-old Gianluca Busio, who capitalized on a miscommunication between Spencer Richey and Greg Garza, passing an angled shot into an empty net. Both teams had several chances to do more damage but could not capitalize on the opportunities they created.

FC Cincinnati 1, Sporting Kansas City 1

Nippert Stadium | Cincinnati, Ohio

Sunday, April 7, 2019

SCORING SUMMARY

CIN – Darren Mattocks (penalty) 19’

SKC – Gianluca Busio (unassisted) 62’

FC Cincinnati: Spencer Richey, Greg Garza, Kendall Waston ©, Nick Hagglund, Mathieu Deplagne, Victor Ulloa, Leonardo Bertone, Roland Lamah (Kekuta Manneh 46’), Kenny Saief (Eric Alexander 77’), Allan Cruz, Darren Mattocks (Caleb Stanko 82’)

Bench: Jimmy Hague, Justin Hoyte, Alvas Powell, Frankie Amaya

Stats:  Shots 10, Shots on goal 4, Saves 3, Corner kicks 5, Offsides 2, Fouls 13, Possession 44.3%, Passes 408 (74.8%)

Sporting Kansas City: Adrián Zendejas, Rodney Wallace (Seth Sinovic 27’), Andreu Fontàs, Botond Barath, Gedion Zelalem (Felipe Gutiérrez 57’), Ilie Sánchez ©, Gianluca Busio, Kelyn Rowe, Yohan Croizet (Krisztián Németh 70’), Johnny Russell

Bench: Gerso, Abdul Rwatubyaye, Eric Dick, Tyler Freeman

Stats: Shots 18, Shots on goal 4, Saves 3, Corner kicks 6, Offsides 3, Fouls 11, Possession 55.7%, Passes 523 (81.6%)

MISCONDUCT SUMMARY

SKC – Andreu Fontas (caution) 17’

SKC – Yohan Croizet (caution) 35’

SKC – Gedion Zelalem (caution) 38’

CIN – Greg Garza (caution) 78’

CIN – Leonardo Bertone (caution) 88’

SKC –  Botond Barath (caution) 90+3’

Referee: Ismail Elfath

Assistant Referees: Jason White (AR1) and Adam Garner (AR2)

Fourth Official: Ismir Pekmic

VAR: Jon Freemon

Weather: 71 degrees and cloudy

Attendance: 26,023

Match Program: FC Cincinnati vs Sporting Kansas City

Orange & Blue Press’ Match Program provides and infographic and the fast facts you need to ready for FC Cincinnati versus Sporking KC this Sunday.

Design: CSDIV / Image: Joe Craven

After a sunny start to the season, reality delivered a damper to FC Cincinnati last week. The 2-0 loss to Philadelphia left the Orange & Blue in 5th place in the East with a depleted lineup and a potentially dangerous opponent on Sunday.

The first of three straight Western Conference opponents, Sporting Kansas City come to Cincinnati with momentum in league play. SKC feasted on the Montreal Impact last Saturday, 7-1. SKC are also the only MLS club remaining in the current edition of the CONCACAF Champions League. However, Peter Vermes and company suffered a demoralizing 5-0 defeat to Monterrey in Mexico on Thursday and come into Sunday’s match wounded and looking to rebound.

Both teams come into the match with some injury concerns. FCC will definitely be without Fanendo Adi (ankle/suspension) and could also be without forward Kekuta Manneh and midfielder Emmanuel Ledesma (hamstring). SKC will be without right back Jaylen Lindsey (knee), while Dániel Sallói (ankle) is questionable.

Fast Facts

Here are five facts for FC Cincinnati’s first match against the team once called the “Kansas City Wiz”.

  • Although much of their offense came last week, Sporting Kansas City’s attack has been bolstered by Krisztián Németh’s resurgence. Over all competitions, the Hungarian forward has scored eight goals in seven matches.
  • FC Cincinnati have had to tap into their roster depth early. 19 players have received starts over the first five matches. Only Orlando City and the New York Red Bulls have started more in the Eastern Conference, as both have played 20 players. Two additional FCC players, Caleb Stanko and Frankie Amaya, have made appearances coming off the bench as substitutes.
  • SKC manager Peter Vermes is currently the longest-tenured head coach in Major League Soccer (314 games). He is the all-time leader in games coached with one club in league history and is fourth in all-time wins as a coach (133). Additionally, Vermes has won four major trophies as a manager—three US Open Cups and one MLS Cup—the second most of all active coaches in MLS.
  • With FCC potentially missing three attackers (Adi, Ledesma, Manneh), it’s likely that midfielder Kenny Saief sees his second start of the season. Even though he has only been on the pitch for 125 minutes, Saief leads the team in combined points with one goal and two assists.
  • SKC demolished Montreal Impact 7-1 at home last week, matching the biggest win in their 23-plus-year history. However, history has shown that the next game is not a guaranteed win. In April 2018, SKC defeated Vancouver 6-0 at home, only to lose at New England the next week 1-0. Also, in June 1999, back when they were known as the Kansas City Wizards, the team beat the New York Metrostars 6-0, only to lose 3-0 to D.C. United the following week.

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press as FC Cincinnati tries to weather another storm at Nippert Stadium this weekend.

PODCAST: Neighborhood Play, Week 6 – KC Be Sportin’

Classic NayPlay with Danny and Tyler. Much FCC to talk about as they head into a tough match with Sporting Kansas City.

Classic NayPlay with Danny and Tyler. Much FCC to talk about as they head into a tough match with Sporting Kansas City.

This episode is brought to you by Grillo’s Pickles.