FC Cincinnati: Midseason Pause, Wildebeest Migration, and the Wooden Spoon

FC Cincinnati reaches the midpoint of their inaugural MLS season. Are they more likely to reach the playoffs or earn the Wooden Spoon award?

Image: Joe Craven

As we enter the CONCACAF Gold Cup break and Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup fourth-round action, FC Cincinnati looks to regroup on a challenging inaugural MLS season. Through 16 matches, just under the midpoint mark, FCC has only 11 points. Since starting the season with two promising wins and a draw in the first four matches, they are presently on a 1-10-1 skid.

Insert any metaphorical phrase you’d like—the train is off the tracks, the wheels have come off the wagon, and so on. What comes to mind for me is a a circle-of-life moment my family and I experienced two years ago this month —the great Wildebeest Migration across the Mara River on the border of Tanzania and Kenya. Over two million wildebeest, zebras, and gazelles move through the Serengeti and Masai Mara ecosystems in search of green pasture in an annual pattern.

Although we knew the likely outcome, our eyes were still fixed upon the famished crocodiles picking off the weakest wildebeest and zebras migrating the river. Now, this may seem a bit graphic of an analogy to the Orange & Blue’s 2019 season. However, the search for greener pasture is clearly where this team sits mid-season. The question remains how and if the team can navigate the remainder of the season without further peril. Possibly the Dirty River Derby Wednesday is an opportunity to jump-start the team like 2017?

The original plan for this mid-season piece was to share how close our local squad was to chasing their preseason goal—an Eastern Conference playoff spot. As FCC has not been mathematically eliminated yet, we’ll still bring you the playoff goods and throw in a spoon for good measure.

Eastern Conference Playoff Picture

Earlier this season we highlighted the marks FCC need to hit to reach the MLS postseason. Based on recent historical trends, the playoff waterline mark (seventh place) is likely 1.30 points per game (PPG), or 44 total points.

Looking at the current Eastern Conference standings below, this playoff waterline is right on target with Toronto FC currently sitting in seventh place on 1.27 PPG (as is the last playoff team in the West, currently).

Eastern Conference Standings

Sitting in last place, FCC has a wide and deep river to cross to reach the 2019 playoffs. With eighteen matches remaining, they will need to earn a points clip of 1.83 PPG (a rate that’s higher than any Eastern team currently has this season), or roughly 33 more points. This translates to a second-half record of 9-3-6 or similar. It will certainly help playing 11 of these final 18 games at Nippert.

Realistically though, it’s highly unlikely that FC Cincinnati can overcome the statistical odds and make the 2019 MLS playoffs. Therefore, we will wade into the waters of a different type of competition.

The Wooden Spoon

The “Wooden Spoon” is a prize for finishing last in a sporting event or other competition. It derives from a Cambridge University custom of presenting such a spoon to the person that finished last in the annual Faculty of Mathematics course.

The MLS version was created in 2015 by the Independent Supporter’s Council of MLS.  It is a satirical trophy and ignominious distinction given to the supporter’s group of the club that finishes last in the Supporters’ Shield (full league table) race.

Here are the most recent winners of the Wooden Spoon award—or should we say last-place losers—of the of the 2015-2018 MLS Supporter’s Shield races.

At present, the 2019 Wooden Spoon appears to have a slight Orange & Blue hue. The “fight for the spoon” standings below include the nine MLS teams currently with a 1.2 PPG or worse record.

Wooden Spoon Standings

The recent loss at Colorado certainly did not help matters out. However, if there is a glimpse of hope, FCC plays six of their remaining 18 matches against Orlando City, Chicago, Columbus, and the Bruce Arena-led Revolution. The 2019 version of the “Hell is Real” Derby may have inauspicious hardware implications.

Also of note, the last three Wooden Spoon recipients have either gone on to make the playoffs the following season (Chicago in 2017) or were in the hunt for the last playoff spot in their conference (Galaxy in 2018 and Earthquakes this season). There is hope, Orange & Blue fans!

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for all your Wooden Spoon updates and FC Cincinnati coverage.

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.