FC Cincinnati 1 – 0 Tampa Bay Rowdies: Halfhill with the Preseason Decider

Following a solid debut, FC Cincinnati held Tampa Bay in check to score their first win of the 2018 preseason.

Recap-FCC-Tampa-0210With one full preseason game in the books, FC Cincinnati squared off against the Tampa Bay Rowdies, a team that has proven to be difficult for FCC to figure out. The last time the Orange & Blue met up with Tampa Bay, the Rowdies delivered a 3-0 spanking at Al Lang Stadium that eliminated FCC from the playoffs.

The Rowdies were making their preseason debut after adding forward Jochen Graf and midfielder Junior Flemmings to their already-stacked squad, while FC Cincinnati was coming off of a 1-1 draw against the New England Revolution on Tuesday.

Both teams played two different squads in each half, with FCC trotting out a starting XI that carried over seven players from the first-half team on Tuesday. Tampa Bay countered with Graf and Flemmings playing alongside Joe Cole, and that appeared to give Tampa Bay the energy and presence to rattle the FCC defense. Graf got two good looks in the middle, only for goalkeeper Spencer Richey to sprawl to his right twice and deny Graf. Despite the possession being dominated by the Rowdies, both squads went into halftime with a 0-0 score.

FCC provided a trialist-heavy squad in the second half that saw Lance Laing and Russell Cicerone playing on the wings, while Tampa Bay brought in a squad loaded with Marcel Schafer and Georgi Hristov in the middle. Despite the difference in known talent between the two teams, FC Cincinnati took the lead in the 63rd minute—Laing threaded a pass from the right of the Tampa Bay goal back to Garrett Halfhill, who cranked a right-footed shot under a sliding defender and past goalkeeper Akira Fitzgerald to give the Orange and Blue a 1-0 lead.

For the rest of the game, Tampa Bay pressed harder on offense, only for Laing and Dekel Keinan to counter with solid defense. Hristov managed to make the middle a problem for FCC, heading a shot right at Evan Newton in the 75th minute, then clipping the crossbar on a dangerous free kick in the 83rd. FCC made some substitutions late in the game, and the defense salted away some heavy pressure in the box to keep the 1-0 win.

Key Events

21’ Yellow Card – Nazmi Albadawi (FCC)
41’ Yellow Card – Paddy Barrett (FCC)

63’ Goal – Garrett Halfhill, assisted by Lance Laing (FCC)
76’ Yellow Card – Hunter Gorskie (TBR)
86’ Yellow Card – Alex Morrell (TBR)
88’ Yellow Card – Georgi Hristov (TBR)

Match Notes

While the true formations for FCC’s squads were uncertain, it appeared they went with the familiar 4-2-3-1 setup to mirror Tampa Bay’s own formation. Richey got the start in goal in the first half, while Newton took over in the second half. Corben Bone appeared to again be pushed forward into more of a midfield role, while Kenney Walker and Albadawi played behind him.

The squad was completely replaced in the second half with four trialists used mostly down the center of the formation. Two were removed in the 80th minute for Will Seymore and Jimmy McLaughlin. The Pennsylvania native made his first appearance of the spring after spending some time dealing with an injury. Josu, who is still recovering from offseason surgery, did not make an appearance in uniform. Forward Emery Welshman and goalkeeper Mark Village were not inserted into the game.

Naturally, this does not count in the actual win column against the Rowdies, but this should give FCC some good vibes going into their final Florida game. While the team still doesn’t have a starting XI figured out, both squads played well against a talented Rowdies roster that looks to be a handful and should compete near the top of the standings. For Tampa Bay, Graf already appears to be a solid striker after a successful opening season with Rochester in 2017. If goalkeeper Cody Mizell has a season like he did for Charlotte last year, the Rowdies look loaded for bear.

First Half Lineup:
König
Haber – Bone – Ledesma
Walker – Albadawi
Smith – Lasso – Barrett – Hoyte
Richey

Second Half Lineup:
Trialist #1
Laing – Trialist #2 – Cicerone
Halfhill – De Wit
Trialist #3 – Keinan – Trialist #4 – Bahner
Newton

Substitutes:
80’ – McLaughlin (for Trialist #1)
80’ – Seymore (for Trialist #2)

While the audio and video took some time to be adjusted, IMG was able to provide a YouTube video feed of the game that you can access again for a replay.

Next Up

FC Cincinnati’s stacked preseason rolls on with their third and final friendly at IMG Academy against the Chicago Fire’s reserve team on Wednesday, February 14th at 10:30 AM (stream TBD). The team will then return to the Tri-State area for five more preseason friendlies against USL teams and local colleges before they begin the USL season in Charleston.

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

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Preseason Opener – Results vs Process, an Unlikely Duo, and More

More on FC Cincinnati’s preseason opener including Koch’s process over results approach, the unlikely duo, and the number 45 jersey.

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Maybe we shouldn’t dive too deep into the details of the first preseason match of 2018, but we couldn’t help ourselves. It’s been a long while since we last “saw” the Orange and Blue in action. So here are a few things we’ve pondered since the final whistle blew on yesterday’s 1-1 draw with the New England Revolution.

The result versus the process

Results don’t matter in the preseason—we’ve heard that several times from Alan Koch in interviews over the last few weeks, and it’s true. And while the results may not matter, confidence does, and the 2018 squad should take some confidence away from Tuesday’s result. Why?

They drew with an MLS opponent that’s further along in their preseason than FC Cincinnati. Granted, the Revolution were missing some good players due to knocks and discipline, but so was Alan Koch’s side. Not only did FCC draw the match, but they would have benefitted from 17 minutes with a red-carded man advantage had they not been playing a friendly. To add to those positives, all three trialists played and contributed to the 1-1 result, and the team suffered no additional injuries. All-in-all, it has to be considered a good start.

Before leaving for Florida, Koch’s encouraged fans to focus on the process during the preseason rather than the results.

“It’s the process. The games do not mean anything. We can go lose all 3 games, and it’s not going to change how we approach anything. We can go win all 3 games, and it won’t change anything. You obviously feel better when you win. In terms of where we’re going and what we’re doing, it doesn’t change anything at all.”

Not Your First XI

The first eleven selected yesterday doesn’t give us any clues about who will start on March 17 against the Charleston Battery. Koch said as much prior to the match—“The game [against New England] is a chance to get to know each other, [We] also want to see how player relationships develop.”

The first eleven featured six of the seven returning players from 2017 on the roster (that were healthy) with an injection of new talent. The second eleven entered after 45 minutes (excluding goalkeepers) and, except for Matt Bahner, showcased a cast that was entirely new. Here’s a look at the two squads again.

First Half Lineup:
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Laing – Bone – Ledesma
Halfhill – Walker
Smith – De Wit – Lasso – Hoyte
Newton (replace by Village)

Second Half Lineup:
Welshman
Cicerone – Albadawi – Haber
Trialist #1 – Seymore
Trialist #2 – Barrett – Keinan – Bahner
Village (replaced by Richey)

Unlikely duo shines

Two players that started the game—Corben Bone and Garrett Halfhill—made unlikely contributions during FC Cincinnati’s first outing.

Bone wasn’t even training with the team the day before the game due to a minor knee injury, so it was a small surprise just to see him in the lineup. However, the Texas native showed no signs of wear on Tuesday and bagged the lone goal of the game for FC Cincinnati.

Halfhill surprisingly showed up in the starting eleven as a defensive midfielder rather than a center back, a position we’ve never seen him occupy in Orange and Blue. Additionally, the Xavier product combined with Kenney Walker to protect the back line and keep a clean sheet during the first 45 minutes. Is Halfhill the 2018 edition of Paul Nicholson? He’s a lot earlier in his career development of course, but can he become a player that contributes as a defensive midfielder and a center back, providing minutes for FC Cincinnati when the team is short on depth? Time will tell.

The #45 Jersey

There are several players that FC Cincinnati fans have set high expectations for in 2018, but #45 Emmanual Ledesma might be on top of that list. He didn’t disappoint in the preseason opener. ‘Manu beat two players on the dribble to set up Corben Bone’s opening goal.

You’ve probably heard about Ledesma’s 2017 stats, but they deserve to be repeated; 73 chances created, 10 goals, and 6 assists in only 19 appearances. His ability to play-make, beat players on the dribble, and shoot from range should make him a crowd favorite. I think he’s going to sell a lot of those new diamond-laden jerseys.

Building on tactics

As Coach Koch explained last Thursday, the players went into yesterday’s match with only a very simple tactical “platform.” Now that that is established and they have a game under their belt, the coaching staff will “build on it every single week” during the preseason. Koch also stated that he would experiment with a couple of different systems, so don’t be surprised if they roll out more than one look in these early preseason matches.

Saturday’s game will definitely be streamed, so plan your weekend accordingly. Find a watering hole with reliable internet, and tune in with a new appreciation for the IMG stream.

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

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Preseason Phase Two Begins – Tactical Work and Florida Friendlies

Preseason for FC Cincinnati continues. Images and audio from training covers what to expect in Florida, Heinemann’s release, and an interview with Emery Welshman.

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Orange and Blue Press visited FC Cincinnati’s training session at Gettler Stadium on Thursday. It was the last practice before Alan Koch’s team heads for warmer Florida climates. There they will play the first of three preseason games in the Sunshine State next Tuesday, February 6th, against the New England Revolution.

Preseason Phase Two

Alan Koch spoke to us about his new cast of characters and what he’s trying to accomplish on the team’s upcoming preparatory trip. This week concluded the third week of preseason and  “Phase One” of the preseason training plan. The focus of the first phase was simply for players to get familiar with each other, begin to develop fitness, and to get touches on the ball.

“We’ve got a great group of guys. They are fun to be around. There’s a lot of energy. … What I like is that they bring the same enthusiasm every single day.”

Phase Two will obviously feature friendly matches against other professional teams and a chance for players to showcase their skills in a game setting. However, the trip to Florida will also be the beginning of a building process that implements the tactical gameplan for the 2018 season.

“Once we get down there we’ll really start to focus on some tactical work. We won’t do much tactical work before the New England game.  We’ll assess that (game) and see where we’re at. We’ll give them a platform before we start and build on it every single week that we’re down there.”

Koch also addressed the recent release of forward Tommy Heinemann.

“It’s a pretty simple one to answer at this stage. … He came in just like all of our players, and he didn’t get through the physical. Everyone else did … and they’re all training. … It’s not good for Tommy. It’s not good for us. It’s disappointing for everyone involved.”

More from Koch’s interview here.

Emery Welshman

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Forward Emery Welshman, a Guyanese international and native of the Toronto suburbs, spent some time with us, discussing his first few weeks at FC Cincinnati and why this preseason is unlike any he’s had recently.

“This is my first full preseason in two years. When I was at Real Salt Lake I was injured. And then last year I came late to Puerto Rico’s (preseason training). So this one’s a little different than what I’ve been used to. … I want to build up on strength and fitness, and technique, and then finish off with match fitness and finishing.”

Welshman was drafted 16th overall by Toronto FC in the 2013 MLS SuperDraft after a standout college career at Siena and Oregon State University. Welshman sustained a hip injury in 2016 during preseason with Real Salt Lake that saw him miss essentially a whole calendar year while undergoing two surgeries.

Listen to more of Welshman’s interview here.

Training Images Courtesy of Ryan Meyer

Training Notes

There’s only so much you can take away from these early training sessions. It’s going to be several weeks until we can draw many conclusions about the team and its prospects for the season, but here are a few takeaways from what we saw on Thursday.

Although I didn’t get the chance to interview him, Nazmi Albadawi seems as affable in person as he presents himself on social media. After training, he walked past those observing (mostly media), flashed a bright smile, and gave us a genuine “Hi guys!” For the record, that’s not normal. The players are always generous with their time when asked but usually look to move quickly past potential interviewers and get on with their busy day.  I get it—I’d do the same thing—but Naz looks the part of a people person.

‘Manu Ledesma does indeed like to shoot from range and bagged a gorgeous left-footed curler from 20+ yards in the 1/3-field game-play portion of Thursday’s session.

There’s a lot of new midfield talent, but veterans Kenney Walker and Corben Bone look right there with them in terms of quality. That shouldn’t be a surprise, and they should still make a strong case for First XI selection this season.

Justin Hoyte looks sharp and his technical ability in tight spaces stands out in small-sided drills. In addition, he blasted at picture-perfect goal from about 20 yards that was about as upper 90 as you can get.

One player that stood out Thursday that we haven’t seen or talked about much is Daniel Haber. He has great close control and tidy passing, and he assisted Naz on a goal after a fine piece of clever dribbling. He’s definitely one to watch in preseason as he competes for a starting spot in a very competitive attacking lineup.

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Daniel Haber

There are still three trialists in training with the regular team. All are believed to be products of local universities.

Jimmy McLaughlin and Josu are on the road to recovery. They jogged at a reserved pace and did other calisthenics (do people still say that?) for the duration of the practice.

Coach Koch referenced three games to be played while in Florida. The third IMG match was announced Friday and will be played against the Chicago Fire reserves on Wednesday 2/14.

We finally get to see the 2018 edition of the Orange and Blue in action next Tuesday in a matinee against MLS competition. Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more coverage of that match against the New England Revolution.

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Preseason Battles To Watch: Defense

FC Cincinnati retained last year’s defensive starters and added Cincinnati native Matt Bahner in the offseason. Who will earn a starting spot in 2017?

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FC Cincinnati’s preseason comes to a close after they take on the Xavier University Mens Soccer team at the XU Soccer Complex on Friday. The 2017 preseason has provided the coaching staff and fans with a good look at a lot of players. The team has produced one win, two draws, and two losses over three weeks of play. The Orange and Blue have scored nine goals and conceded nine during their five game preseason stretch so far. It’s important to note however, that preseason results and associated statistics, should be taken with a grain of salt.

This article is the final installment of a series from Orange and Blue Press on preseason battles. The focus of this article is on another well defined area of the field for FC Cincinnati, defense.

FC Cincinnati had a very stable back line in 2016 anchored by Austin Berry and Harrison Delbridge. Delbridge starred and earned All USL First Team Honors for his performance. Tyler Polak and and Pat McMahon were regulars at left and right fullback respectively.

Cut to the Chase

Berry, Delbridge, and Polak all appear to be locks for the starting eleven in 2017, assuming they are healthy. The only battle truly in progress is for the right back position, where Pat McMahon is fighting to retain his starting position after the arrival of Matt Bahner from the Jacksonville Armada.

Pat McMahon has been a fine servant to the club over the past year. He started 21 of the first 24 matches FC Cincinnati played last season. He was a consistent performer, with a high work rate, and fit well into a system where Harkes asked the fullbacks to go up and down the length of the field with regularity. He also scored a stoppage time goal in the first Dirty River Derby that proved pivotal in FC Cincinnati winning the River Cities Cup. McMahon eventually lost his grip on the starting position and began to share starts with Derek Luke in August of 2016.

Prediction and Depth

Bahner will get the nod at right back to start the season. Berry, Delbridge, and Polak will make up the rest of the back four. The battle for right back is a tight however. Bahner, a Cincinnati native, has stared three preseason matches. McMahon has started two. Bahner played the majority of the match against Sacramento, which was the best dress rehearsal for a real USL game that the preseason offered. He also came from a NASL side, which (arguably) was a higher level of US Soccer in 2016. Signs point to Bahner being the starter, but this is one to watch on Friday night and beyond. With Bahner as the starter, McMahon will provide backup at right back. Derek Luke will be the reserve left back.

Depth is the real question mark in defense for FC Cincinnati. Austin Berry is injured and will miss two to three weeks with an elbow sprain. Paul Nicholson is the obvious replacement for Berry while injured. In 2016, Nicholson deputized for Berry from the end of April until mid-July after Berry suffered a quad injury during training. Nicholson is capable, but any additional defensive injuries could cause a real problem. Because of this lack of depth, FC Cincinnati showcased a few trialists in their preseason games. Expect Koch to sign one of these trialists soon to provide needed cover in central defense.

FC Cincinnati’s USL season kicks of on March 25th in a familiar setting. For the second year running, their first game is a road trip to the Charleston Battery. It’s the first of three consecutive road matches to start their regular season campaign. The home opener is on April 15th and will feature football starved fans and a newly expanded pitch at Nippert Stadium.

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for coverage of FC Cincinnati’s 2017 Season.

 

 

Preseason Battles to Watch – Central Midfield

FC Cincinnati retained last year’s central midfield starters and added three more in the offseason. Who will earn a starting spot in 2017?

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FC Cincinnati’s preseason continues on Saturday when they face the University of Cincinnati Mens side at Gettler Stadium. The squad returned to the Queen City this week and practiced in familiar settings after earning a last gasp 2-2 draw in Sacramento.

This article is the second in a series from Orange and Blue Press on preseason battles. The focus here is on the heartbeat of the team, central midfield. There are a lot of players in contention to start in these key positions.

Corben Bone – Corben Bone was FC Cincinnati’s Most Valuable Player of the 2016 season. He also was the tied for the team lead in assists last year with five. Bone started the 2016 campaign as the attacking central midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 formation. As the season progressed, he dropped deeper into midfield and was often responsible for picking the ball up from the defenders and staring the attack. In preseason, he’s played in a more advanced midfield position with Aodhan Quinn behind him.

Aodhan Quinn – Quinn joined from Louisville City in the offseason. Given his key role with FC Cincinnati’s rival in 2016, he’s expected to earn a spot in the starting 11. He’s played a lot in preseason, primarily as the “pivot” midfielder in a 4-1-4-1 formation. He’s a free kick specialist and has taken all the team’s free kicks when on the field. He also took and converted the penalty kick against Sacramento.

Kenney Walker – Walker played the midfield destroyer role in many of Harkes’ starting 11 lineups last season. He was the only starting midfielder with real bite in his tackle. He should not be pigeon-holed as just a defensive midfielder though. He is a complete box-to-box midfielder with vision and the ability to score from distance.

Eric Stevenson – Stevenson got a foothold in the team last June, displacing Ross Tomaselli who started 7 consecutive games at the start of the 2016 season. Stevenson scored a couple of phenomenal goals that were USL Goal of the Year contenders. He tallied four goals and three assists in only 1207 minutes played.

Marco Dominguez – Marco Dominguez joined FC Cincinnati this offseason in the wake of the dissolution of FC Montréal. The Canadian youngster is a defensive midfielder with buckets full of potential. He’s played in preseason as the midfield 1 in a 4-1-4-1, and will likely be the reserve option at that position while he continues to grow his game.

Here’s a look at these players stats from the 2016 season (including playoffs).

Player Age Appearances Mins Goals Assists Shots Shots on Goal
Corben Bone 29 31 2585 0 5 26 10
Aodhan Quinn 24 31 2611 3 5 30 10
Kenney Walker 28 27 2264 1 1 24 8
Eric Stevenson 26 27 1207 4 3 22 9
Marco Dominguez 21 15 1004 0 2 5 1

Stats from USL website.

The Best of the Rest

Andrew Wiedeman and Daryl Fordyce paired twice this preseason as the central midfield two in a 4-1-4-1 formation. It was an interesting combination, but is an experiment that does not seem likely to stick. Wiedeman returned to his normal right wing role against Sacramento. Koch needs to find a place for the talented Fordyce, but right now it’s not clear where that is. Paul Nicholson is listed as a midfielder, but is more likely the team’s third center back. He’s only played in defense this preseason, and will be needed there immediately given Austin Berry’s arm injury. Francisco Narbon was getting minutes off the bench for FC Cincinnati at the end of last season, but we’ve barely seen him in 2017. Aaron Walker made the team through the open tryout and is likely a depth player. In preseason, he has featured at left back rather than in midfield where the team needs cover with Derek Luke sidelined.

Prediction

Koch has a lot of options in central midfield and may continue to experiment, even early into the regular season. Corben Bone will be a starter. He’s likely the most complete midfielder of the bunch and is coming off a great 2016 season. Aodhan Quinn looks like a lock as the holding / pivot midfielder in the 4-1-4-1 formation. He’s got a great USL pedigree, has played a big role in preseason, and will take the team’s free kicks. Marco Dominguez will serve as backup for Quinn in that position. The final central midfield slot will then be a battle between Kenney Walker and Eric Stevenson. Look for Walker to get the nod initially with Stevenson pushing for minutes as the season progresses. Koch could rotate these two players depending on whether he’s looking for a more offensive (Stevenson) or defensive (Walker) look.

A big question mark in this equation is Daryl Fordyce. He’s a player with the talent to start for this club. It doesn’t look right now like he’s going to feature as a striker. Can Koch find a place to work him in as a very attack-minded midfielder?

Who do you think will start in central midfield for the Orange and Blue? Leave a message in the comments section below.

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FC Cincinnati’s Preseason Kicks Off

FC Cincinnati kicked off its preseason with two training sessions on Wednesday. Alan Koch and Matt Bahner talked to O&B Press about the season ahead.

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FC Cincinnati kicked off its 2017 preseason with two practice sessions on Wednesday. After a morning workout in Mason, coach Harkes put the team through its paces in an evening session at UC’s Sheakley Athletics Center.

Orange and Blue Press caught up with a couple of FC Cincinnati’s newest faces at UC.

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Alan Koch

Alan Koch joined FC Cincinnati’s technical staff in the offseason and has a big assignment. He’s the assistant coach for the first team, the head of scouting and analytics, and is also in charge of FC Cincinnati’s academy project. The Durban, South Africa native most recently served as the head coach of Vancouver Whitecaps 2, and brings a wealth of coaching experience to the organization. FC Cincinnati hopes to capitalize on Koch’s experience working with the Whitecaps academy, one of the most esteemed development programs in MLS. We talked to Alan about his new role, FC Cincinnati’s plan for an academy, and his contributions to the MLS expansion application.

AUDIO (57 seconds):

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Matt Bahner

Cincinnati native and former University of Cincinnati standout Matt Bahner had a good first day on the job. He’s only been in town for a week but is settling in nicely with his new team. “It’s a dream come true” said Bahner about the opportunity to return and play for his hometown club. Bahner spent the past two years playing with the NASL’s Jacksonville Armada. He featured at fullback there, and is looking forward to earning an important role on FC Cincinnati’s roster. Bahner says he’s “comfortable playing anywhere on the back line,…at full back or more centrally.” He’s the only defender signed by FC Cincinnati so far this offseason. His versatility will be important for the squad. Before playing for the Armada, Bahner spent two season’s with the Harrisburg City Islanders. He was the only City Islander selected to the USL All League 2nd team in 2014. The City Islanders went all the way to the USL PRO playoff final that year, losing 2-0 to the Sacramento Republic.

Bahner has end product to his game as well. Check out the assist and game winning goal starting at 1:36 of this video.

FC Cincinnati plays the first of six preseason games against OKC Energy on February 19th in Bradenton, Florida. Stay tuned to Orange and Blue press for more coverage and color commentary of FC Cincinnati’s preseason.

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Daryl Fordyce