The Impact of Five Signings on the Senior Roster and Expansion Draft

After the announcement of five player signings from the 2018 USL roster, FC Cincinnati’s positional needs in the Expansion Draft become more clear.

Yesterday FC Cincinnati posted the following “Home for the Holidays” message across their social media platforms.

Today the meaning of these “Good tidings” was made clear to all. FC Cincinnati officially announced the MLS signings of the following five returning ULS players.

The timing of these roster moves was certainly strategic. They occurred a day after the league blackout period and the day before the Expansion Draft. The curious and highly debated direction of the team as they head into their inaugural MLS campaign is now clear.

So where does this leave FCC’s roster going into tomorrow’s draft? Below is an updated Senior Roster showing that 11 of the possible 20 spots are filled by returning players.

FC Cincinnati Senior Roster Matrix

Our recent roster building and preparing for the Expansion Draft article highlights positional needs. The updated matrix above shows obvious player gaps in the goalkeeper, central defender, fullback, central defensive midfield and winger positions. This chart may foretell the direction FC Cincinnati takes on Tuesday in New York.

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press as we highlight eligible Expansion Draft players that may fit these needs. 

FC Cincinnati’s Defensive Fortress – 2018’s Unsung Hero

The glory and accolades seem to favor the goal scorers, but the FC Cincinnati defense it the unsung hero of the 2018 season.

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Image: Joe Craven

With FC Cincinnati pulling away from the pack in the East, it’s clear they’ve found winning form this season. The offensive explosion this season has produced 56 goals to date, compared to 46 for the entire 2017 season. Those goals have helped produce an impressive 67.9% win rate. With only three losses in 28 games this season, there’s another factor at work here — a tough, organized, and efficient defense.

The Orange & Blue have remained unbeaten since May 26th with a 13-0-4 record. During the 17 game unbeaten streak they’ve recorded nine clean sheets and conceded 11 goals.¬† For the season they currently stand fifth best in all of USL keeping opponents scoreless in 12 matches. The 1-0 blanking of Louisville City FC showcased FCC’s defensive fortitude as last year’s USL champions threw the kitchen sink at FCC’s goal. A barrage of 43 crosses and 19 total scoring attempts resulted in only 5 shots on target for LCFC. These performances have been the norm for the FC Cincinnati defenders throughout the season and will be essential to success in the postseason.

The Orange and Blue Stronghold

The addition of key players this season has proved the difference maker all over the field. The defensive unit is evidence of coach Alan Koch’s commitment to building a championship squad. The center backs continue to impress with Dekel Keinan, Forrest Lasso, and Paddy Barrett sharing the duties of anchoring the back line. These additions have become a staple of the starting 11 this year. The outside of the defense has also had new additions. Blake Smith has seen significant playing time and newly acquired Pa Konate adds speed, depth, and Serie A credentials. Returning players Justin Hoyte, Matt Bahner, and Sam Dewitt round out the Orange and Blue’s concrete barrier. With Bahner coming off an injury and Konate back from international duty, coach Koch has all of his defensive weapons available for Sunday’s match. Here, coach Koch speaks about preparing for a Sunday match and managing training for the returning players.

Workhorses

The unsung heroes of the pitch rack up some impressive numbers. Here’s a summary of the stats for the five defensive players with the most playing time.

  • Dekel Keinan:¬† 20 games played (1,746 minutes), 115 clearances, 94.4% successful tackle rate, 35 interceptions, 2 goals.
  • Forresst Lasso:¬† 24 games played (2,124 minutes), 183 clearances, 79.2% aerial dual success rate, 38 interceptions, 2 goals.
  • Paddy Barrett:¬† 12 games played (1,080 minutes), 64 clearances, 77% passing accuracy rate, 25 interceptions, 1 goal.
  • Blake Smith:¬† 24 games played (2,005 minutes), 81.2% passing accuracy rate, 13 successful crosses, 4 assists, 1 goal.
  • Justin Hoyte:¬† 24 games played (2,160 minutes), 79.4% passing accuracy rate, 15 successful crosses, 2 assists.

Offensive Weapons Too

FC Cincinnati’s defensive fortress has the ability to get forward and push into the attack as well. The back line has combined for a total of 48 shots, 6 assists, and 6 goals. Here’s captain Dekel Keinan bringing the game level against Pittsburgh Riverhounds.

The old saying of a house is only as good as the foundation it’s built on can be used throughout the sports world. Soccer is certainly no exception. The glory and accolades seem to favor the goal scorers, the play makers, the stars. Those of us fortunate enough to experience the game as players and coaches know one thing for certain, a good defense will carry you to championships. FC Cincinnati is showing it has what it takes.

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for continued coverage of FC Cincinnati as they finish their regular season and prepare for the playoffs.

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Indy Eleven 0 – 1 FC Cincinnati: Deeper Cuts

More insights on FC Cincinnati‚Äôs victory in Indy, including Newton’s 4th Law, the impact of FCC’s fullbacks, and another display of character.

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Photo Credit: JES Photography

Attention Cincinnati, this is no April Fool‚Äôs joke! FC Cincinnati has won back-to-back shutout road matches for the first time in their young history, and they’ve done it in style. In front of 1200+ jubilant traveling fans, the Orange & Blue earned the full three points in their¬†1-0 victory¬†at Lucas Oil Stadium.¬†They also helped Indy Eleven set a new club record attendance of 17,535.

Although this match carried all the same ingredients and grit as the away win at Charleston, there is also a different feeling to the result and this team. Let’s roll the tape…

Evan Almighty

It’s only two games into the season and we might run out of superlatives to describe Evan Newton‚Äôs sensational play. He is truly inventing the 4th Law of Motion in front of our very eyes. Having labored through engineering school, I‚Äôve never been so happy¬†as I am now to witness a physics experiment and pen a lab report. Evan Newton’s 4th Law of Motion is simply defined as repelling a certain round object in the field of play from crossing the magic line.

Newton spread his six saves evenly across both halves of play, but it was his double save in the 40th minute that earned him his second Man of the Match (MOTM) honors. Guessing correctly on the penalty kick, he followed up the initial block with a sublime foot save to stop Ben Speas strike after the rebound.

Wall of Defense

Even with the exploits of our phenomenal keeper, this was the definition of a team win and it took a wall of defense to secure all three points. The back line of Hoyte, Keinan, Lasso, and Smith may feature as the defensive unit on the formation chart, but it takes all ten field players (and three substitutes) to earn a clean sheet. Legendary pigskin football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant famously said, “Offense sells tickets. Defense wins championships.” If this is true, FC Cincinnati may have found the winning formula.

After the Charleston victory, we took a peek at FCC’s center back pairing. Today, let’s highlight the outstanding performance of the fullbacks, Justin Hoyte and Blake Smith. In the first two charts below, we see the Indy Eleven’s heatmap and touchmap¬†for the full contest. In particular, these show how the home team concentrated play and attacked along the narrow flanks.

All stats and graphic courtesy USL / Opta

In contrast, look at the defensive and pass distribution chart for Hoyte and Smith. It illustrates how they combated Indy’s penetrating surges and touches. Without these multi-disciplined players being in position, making timely stops, covering the weak side, and acting as an outlet from the back, the scoreline would certainly have been different in Indy.

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Distribution and defensive events from Hoyte and Smith

Another key to victory was FC Cincinnati’s defensive shape. They kept Indy Eleven’s shot selection, specifically in the second half, limited to outside the 18-yard box or attempts from wide angles. Except for Netwon’s tip over the crossbar in the closing minutes, Indy Eleven never really threatened to find the equalizer.

Character

Now let‚Äôs delve into what is different about this 2018 FCC team on the pitch from seasons past ‚Äď character. Upon each signing in the offseason, we heard over-and-over again about the quality of character of the players Coach Koch was bringing into the side. The mental toughness and resolve this side has displayed over the first two matches, particularly in hostile away venues, is encouraging. Yes, they are paid to do a job, but in today‚Äôs professional sports it is refreshing to see a group of players proverbially leaving it all on the pitch.

There are many individual examples of this throughout the team, but Will Seymore is deserving of special mention. He stepped off the bench in the 17th minute to fill in for Kenney Walker. Indy Eleven‚Äôs Jack McInerney injured Walker with a harsh tackle in the first few minutes of action. On the road, FCC could have wilted, but Will stepped in and the team didn’t miss a beat.

As always, the players never miss a chance to applaud and engage with their passionate fans and that accessibility continues to endear this city to the club, and vice versa.

Coming out of the gates with two wins, two clean sheets, and all six points is the perfect way to start the season. With the inaugural “War for 74” in the rearview mirror, it’s now time for the Dirty River Derby against Louisville City. Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for all of your upcoming FC Cincinnati coverage.

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Audio: Koch and Smith Ahead of Indy Eleven Clash

Orange and Blue Press checked in with Alan Koch and Blake Smith after FC Cincinnati’s final training session of the week on Thursday. The squad travels to Indianapolis on Friday in advance of their second match of the season against Indy Eleven. The team is, of course, coming off of a bye week after their 1-0 opening match victory against the Charleston Battery.

Jimmy McLaughlin is now fully recovered from his shoulder injury. He and everyone else on the roster (except for Tyler Gibson) participated in training on Thursday and will be available for selection against the Eleven.

Alan Koch

FC Cincinnati’s head coach had the following to say about the Orange & Blue’s week of preparation.

“We’ve come in with the right mentality… we built on the exercise against Columbus, it’s refreshing, knock on wood, to have everyone other than Tyler Gibson all fit and healthy, so that’s a huge positive¬†because you’re only as good as the players that you have.”

Hear Alan Koch’s thoughts on the defensive approach to Saturday’s match, and how the expected large crowd in Indy reflects on FC Cincinnati and the growth of soccer in the region.

Blake Smith

We also touched base with defender Blake Smith, who has the distinction of scoring the first goal of FCC’s 2018 USL campaign. Smith spent part of the 2014¬†season on loan to Indy Eleven while playing for the Montreal Impact in MLS. Blake gave us his take on returning to Indianapolis, scoring the season’s opening goal, and how they are preparing defensively for Saturday.

Blake Smith

Be sure to check out our match program for a deeper look into Saturday’s particulars.

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Match Program: FC Cincinnati at Indy Eleven

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

Opta Stat Remix: FCC’s Hydra Attack Versus Indy

FC Cincinnati continued its distributed offensive production in the first game of the season. A look at what Opta says, and how it contrasts with Indy Eleven.

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Blake Smith / Photo Credit: Joe Craven

The 2018 edition of FC Cincinnati looks a lot different than last year, not just¬†in terms of their faces, but also in terms of how they attack their¬†opponent. The Orange & Blue’s offensive production was substantially more distributed during the 2018¬†preseason than during the previous year’s USL season. Eleven different players scored during that set of friendlies if you include the pop-up¬†match against Wright State.

Hydra* Attack

We saw more evidence of this trend during FC Cincinnati’s first game against Charleston, in terms of shots taken, key passes, and FCC’s goal. They produced nine total shots in that match. Charleston blocked three and three were on target. However, the nine shots came from eight different FC Cincinnati players. Additionally, if you look at key passes, eight key passes were spread across six different players. Blake Smith scored the lone goal, and he’s one of the few players that didn’t score during¬†the preseason.

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9 shots (including blocked) from 8 players

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8 key passes from 6 players

Contrast this with Indy Eleven’s match last weekend. Their ex-MLS offensive tandem of Soony Saad and Jack McInerney combined for the single match-winning goal. Those two also accounted for five of seven key passes during the contest. Furthermore, two out of three of Indy’s on-target shots came from Jack McInerney. They did produce shots from seven different players though, and that’s pretty good in terms of distribution.

Overall, one can argue that Indy is more likely to direct their attack primarily through their two big-name MLS veterans on Saturday. FC Cincinnati, in contrast, will continue with its score-from-anywhere hydra attack strategy.

It’s important not to read too much into the stats from a single match, of course. You need¬†a larger sample size to determine trends and a team’s tendencies. This is especially true when analyzing two teams that have been revamped to the extent that FC Cincinnati and Indy Eleven have. But the offensive distribution and strategy between these two teams is an interesting contrast when looking forward to this weekend’s “War for 74”¬†derby.

Shout out to @DSherman39 for the derby name suggestion.

*The Hydra is a creature in Greek mythology that had nine heads and is a term used to describe teams that produce offense through a committee of players.

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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 K√∂nig, 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 K√∂nig 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 K√∂nig. Meanwhile, K√∂nig 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.