FC Cincinnati’s First-Month Rollercoaster

As FC Cincinnati concludes their first month of play, let’s take a moment to recognize their accomplishments and “firsts”.

Five games down, twenty-nine to go. As the inaugural month of MLS play concludes for the Orange & Blue, let’s recap what FC Cincinnati has accomplished in the Eastern Conference. A lot has happened in a short amount of time, leaving room for statements like, “If you had told me [insert interesting fact] a few weeks ago, I’d say you’re crazy!” and “Is it too soon to start thinking playoffs?” So, let’s try to make sense of the most exciting month in Cincinnati soccer history to date.

Notable “Firsts”

Look at these notable ‘firsts’:

  • First MLS goal, courtesy of a Leonardo Bertone wonder-strike
  • First MLS point, at Atlanta, the reigning MLS Cup champs no less
  • First-ever MLS win against the Portland Timbers in the home opener

Let’s take a look at that first goal one more time.

Bipolar Narrative

Simply put, this doesn’t tell the whole story. The FC Cincinnati narrative, in the media and public perception, has been bipolar. 

Here’s a team that got soundly defeated by a (we know now) still-undefeated Seattle side, and even the most optimistic fans were worried. Were the pundits correct? Is the roster not constructed well? Are we Minnesota 2.0?

Surprise, surprise, then came 7 points in the next 3 games, momentarily lifting FCC to second place in the table. They did it by grinding out results and effectively using counter-attacks when opportunities allowed. They did it by controlling the tempo at Nippert. And they did it due to Koch’s tactical flexibility against different types of opposition. He utilized multiple 4-back formation variations and entrusted 19 different with playing time in these three matches.

The narrative flipped. A few weeks prior, the Orange and Blue looked defensively unorganized and offensively inept. Now? The defense is stable, the team selection stronger, and the offense balanced with seven different goalscorers. There even appears to be some depth, allowing FCC to survive international breaks.

March of All Marches

The march to the stadium before the Portland game forced even the most skeptical voices to take note of, and appreciate, the incredible soccer culture in the Queen City. Perhaps even more impressive were the supporters who stuck out miserable conditions to watch Philadelphia bring Cincinnati back down to Earth.

Has Koch’s side cemented its place in the Eastern Conference as a threat, or only capitalized off the poor form of recent dominant sides like Atlanta and Portland? Only time will reveal FC Cincinnati’s true level. For now, they rest in 5th place in the Eastern Conference.

Alan Koch summarized it best in his comments in training about the start of the season

“We knew we were going to have some tough moments, and we’ve had them already, and we’re going to continue to have tough moments. Saturday night was one of those moments. But we’ve also had some very positive moments too . . . It’s been a rollercoaster of a start and it’s going to continue to be a rollercoaster as we go through the next few months.”

Awards

Here are the unofficial first month awards as voted on by yours truly.

MVP – Spencer Richey

Richey is the only USL holdover to get significant playing time in the first month of action, primarily due to Tyton’s hamstring tendonitis which has kept the Polish keeper out since the Seattle match. Determined not to be a placeholder, Richey has made the most of his opportunity. He has kept two clean sheets in four starts, and earned MLS Team of the Week honors for his performance against the Timbers in Week 3. Although far from flawless, Richey has been a strong shot-stopper in the net. In my opinion, he picks up this month’s MVP award as he has played more consistently than any of FCC’s field players.

Most Improved – Alvas Powell

After getting slated following a poor inaugural match outing, Koch showed faith in the pacey, attack-minded fullback by giving him two more starts. He may not always prove to be first choice in a system without natural wing backs, but Powell rebounded and has improved considerably.

Most Disappointing – Fanendo Adi

An expansion side is normally reliant on its Designated Players. Adi has a very specific playing-style that some may construe as lazy, slow, and one-dimensional if he’s not producing goals. Once he went down injured during the home opener, Adi has not been part of the 18-man game day squad. Now his future with FCC is in peril due to his own reckless behavior, and it’s anyone’s guess as to what happens from here.

Most Promising – Greg Garza

The quality is evident any time Garza starts or is subbed on, and when healthy, he instantly makes FC Cincinnati a more threatening team. If he can stay fit, expect some big performances from the MLS veteran.

Do you agree with these awards? What do you make of the season so far?

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for all of your 2019 FC Cincinnati coverage.

Deeper Cuts: FCC Doused by a Union Monsoon

FC Cincinnati’s attempt to extend its three match unbeaten streak yesterday evening at Nippert Stadium was doused by the Union Monsoon.

Image by Joe Craven

Saturday evening’s match doused the fans and FC Cincinnati’s three-match unbeaten streak. Before we take a peek under the hood and see what sputtered in last night’s 2-0 loss, let’s give due where it’s deserved. Shout out to the announced crowd of 25,867 for braving the cold, windy and monsoon-like elements. Having played and attended hundreds of games since 1972, last night had some of the worst conditions I’ve ever experienced. Well done, Orange & Blue fans!

On Their Heels

The stats and final score certainly matched what we witnessed on the soggy Nippert pitch, a complete performance by the Union. From the beginning whistle, Philadelphia dominated possession (56 to 44%), total passes (532 to 408), shots (16 to 5) and, of course, the score line (2 to 0).

The Union’s high pressing, creative 4-4-2 diamond midfield placed FCC back on their heels all night. The “bend-but-not-break” FCC defense finally capitulated early in the second half after going 312 minutes without conceding a goal. Considering they were under a deluge of shots (and rain), it’s not surprising the damn broke in the 47th minute. Here is Philadelphia’s shot chart last night.

Union shot chart

They peppered Spencer Richey and the back line with 16 total shots from all directions. Although only three were on target, two found the back of the onion sack.

Now in comparison, let’s view FC Cincinnati’s heat map illustrating where their possession occurred on the field.

FC Cincinnati heat map vs. Philadelphia Union, via WhoScored.com

Note the lack of yellow and green color to the right side of the field. The Orange and Blue didn’t come anywhere near the Union’s 18-yard box. The team spent the majority of the evening to the left of the screen scrambling to cover the attacking runs by Phily’s front six forwards and midfielders.

Fabian the Game-Changer

A major contributor to the Union’s success last night was Mexican central attacking midfielder Marco Fabian. Philadelphia completed a transfer in February for the two-time “El Tri” World Cup veteran with German Bundesliga side Eintracht Frankfurt.

Although just 5′ 7″ in height, his stature was quite large and influence great throughout the match. Not including defenders, Fabian had the most touches on the ball of any player – 75. In comparison, Allan Cruz and Roland Lamah only combined for 68 touches total. Below is a map of his night’s work.

Marco Fabian’s touches vs. FC Cincinnati

In addition to his game-winning tally, he consistently drew the attention of two to three FCC players at a time. This resulted in the ability for the outside midfielders, Brenden Aaronsen and Ale Bedoya, to successfully combine with the Union forwards, Fabrice-Jean Picault and David Accam, and effectively and frequently penetrate FCC’s defensive seams and back line.

One-off or Trend?

What can we take from last night? Was the weather a factor? The line-up? Do we simply throw out the performance and reset for Sporting KC next Sunday? Before we do that, let’s look at last night’s game in perspective to the first four games this season. The following table summarizes multiple statistical areas from Saturday’s match in comparison to FCC’s average from the first four matches.

FCC statistical comparison between Union match and 2019 season average

Consider that FC Cincinnati has now played 15% of their inaugural 2019 MLS season. This should be enough games to consider trends of play. What stands out?

  • FCC is willing to concede the majority of possession, which leads to less touches and passes overall.
  • The Orange & Blue play a counter-attacking style looking to maximize their opportunities and shot selection in transition.
  • A by-product of this playing style results in additional pressure on the back line that forces them to make a formidable amount of clearances each match.
  • On average before last night, FCC out-performed its expected goals for and goals against numbers (+2.4 and +1.7 respectively). Last night, the law of averages caught up to them.

Yesterday evening’s performance did not vary from the team’s style of play, or in reality most of their season’s average statistical figures. However, it might be a warning light of sorts of what to expect when they face in-form high pressing opponents with talented and creative attacking front lines [see Seattle and Philadelphia results]. Don’t panic, but Sporting Kansas City placed a 7-spot on the Montreal Impact yesterday and are coming to town next Sunday. In summary, the margin of error in the MLS is razor thin between earning a result and suffering a loss.

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for all your 2019 FC Cincinnati coverage.