Bethlehem Steel FC 1 – 1 FC Cincinnati: Deeper Cuts

Detailed stats and deeper analysis of FC Cincinnati’s 1-1 draw with Bethlehem Steel FC on April 15th.

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Image: Charlotte Muscroft/Bethlehem Steel FC

FC Cincinnati went on the road for the third time in four matches on Sunday and picked up a hard-fought 1-1 draw in Bethlehem. Nazmi Albadawi was awarded his first start of the season and got the equalizing goal in the 71st minute to secure the tie. This article goes a level deeper into the details behind the road point FCC earned in Pennsylvania.

The Result – Not Pretty But Positive

This wasn’t a glamorous game, but the result makes up for it. The weather was bad, the surface gave the players trouble, and both teams struggled to finish the chances they created. Many of FCC’s performances this season have been similarly austere. But the results are unmistakably positive, and professional soccer is a results-oriented business. As Geoff Tebbetts mentioned in his match recap yesterday, this is the best four-game start to a season in FC Cincinnati’s three-year history. FC Cincinnati currently has an average of 1.75 points per game. For comparison purposes, the Charleston Battery finished second in the Eastern Conference last season with an average of 1.69 points per game. Consider also that this roster boasts 17 new players and that last season’s MVP, Kenney Walker, has been out for the better part of three games. That may sound like excuse-making but those are real factors. So even though some may not be enjoying the aesthetics right now, the results are there.

New Faces

While Nazmi’s start drew a lot of fan’s attention yesterday, he was just one of three players that made his 2018 debut as a starter for the Orange & Blue. The other two were Matt Bahner and Daniel Haber. Here’s a more detailed look at how all three fared on Sunday.

Nazmi, of course, had the most influential game of the three. He scored the lone goal of the match, had a 71.4% pass completion rate, fired six shots (two on target), and had one key pass.

As we’ve seen in previous matches, FCC’s central attacking midfielder plays quite high (close to the forward), and often peels out of the crowded midfield to find the ball and combine with the wingers and fullbacks.

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Average position of Albadawi (#5 in green on left side), just behind #10, CF Welshman
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First-half distribution by Albadawi, when he was statistically most influential.

As for the others, Matt Bahner won 3 of 4 duels and had 2 clearances and 2 interceptions. Daniel Haber had 1 on-target shot, 2 key passes, and delivered 3 successful crosses out of 5 total. Both were substituted toward the end of the match as FCC searched for second-half goals. Statistics aside, it was good to see these three get a taste of the action for the first time this season.

Trending Upward

Most of the points gathered this season have depended on strong defensive performances, but the distribution and attack statistics are improving…in some categories. First, Alan Koch’s side is getting more of the ball. The Orange & Blue were slightly out-possessed in the first two matches, averaging 47% possession in those games. That number has improved in the matches against Louisville City and Bethlehem. FCC has won the possession battle in both, averaging 55% in each match.

FCC produced just 9 shots per game on average in their first two matches. Contrast that with a 17 shot per game average in their two most recent performances. It’s worth noting that against Louisville and Bethlehem, FCC went down a goal early and pushed numbers forward later in the match in an effort to equalize. The good news though, is that the chances are coming.

Finishing is where the Orange & Blue continue to struggle, however. Despite producing 51 total shots in 4 games, FCC is averaging only 3.25 on-target shots per game. FC Cincinnati’s conversion rate (goals/shots) is at 8% which is tied for 27th in a 33 team league. The stats may sound grim, but the chances have been there to take, especially in the last two games. With a little more finishing quality and a little luck, FCC’s goals scored should follow the upward trend in the other categories. Combine that with an already stingy defense (2 clean sheets and only 2 goals conceded in 4 games), and there’s a recipe for success.

Wrapping Up

So while it’s not champagne football at this point (and nobody promised that), it’s been a good start to the 2018 campaign and the Bethlehem result is another example of that. The Orange & Blue now return home for a single match at Nippert versus Pittsburgh before getting back on a plane to face Ottawa Fury FC at the end of April. While the team continues to focus on fine-tuning their football, fans will turn their attention to the drama unfolding on the MLS expansion front, which is sure to dominate headlines this week.

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

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FC Cincinnati’s 2018 Preseason Standouts

New contributor Stephen Buckeridge reflects on the preseason campaign and who stood out for FC Cincinnati in the build up to the 2018 USL season.

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Please welcome new Orange & Blue Press writer Steve Buckeridge who shares his thoughts on which players made an impact during FC Cincinnati’s 2018 preseason slate.

Undeniably, the lead up to the 2018 FC Cincinnati USL season has been much anticipated with an overhaul of the roster (17 total new signees in addition to the 9 returning players), Alan Koch imprinting his style, the on-going MLS expansion saga, the search for an ideal soccer-specific stadium site, and the intense expectations of the fervent Orange and Blue fanbase.

As we close out the preseason and set our focus on the USL opener away to the Charleston Battery, it’s worth taking a moment to take stock and reflect on the preseason standouts.

Lance Laing (#14)

One of the club’s key off-season signings was Jamaican international Lance Laing, who joined FCC after playing for USL newcomer North Carolina FC (formerly the Carolina Railhawks). Initially penciled in as one of Coach Koch’s wingers in his 4-2-3-1 formation, Lance also excelled at left back throughout the preseason showing his versatility, strong overlapping runs, and ability to deliver pinpoint service into the box. Lance created Halfhill’s goal to best the Tampa Bay Rowdies 1-0 down in Bradenton, and scored the brilliant golazo against Nashville SC to end the first half.

It will be important to watch the knock Laing took recently that kept him from playing against UC and Sacramento Republic FC. It was good news seeing him back on the pitch in the Wright State friendly yesterday. Once fully healthy, Laing should feature in Koch’s plans along the left flank, whether at the fullback or winger position.

Daniel Haber (#92)

A Canadian international, Haber joined FCC from USL Western Conference side Real Monarchs FC (the MLS2 squad for Real Salt Lake) and had previously connected with Coach Koch during his tenure with Vancouver Whitecaps II. Haber tallied 7 goals and 4 assists in 30 matches for the Monarchs last season and continued his production at FCC factoring in 5 of the 11 pre-season goals (1 goal, 4 assists) prior to Sunday’s Wright State scrimmage.

Haber, in my opinion, has been the biggest surprise and most consistent player this pre-season in his minutes on the pitch. His energy, work rate, movement off the ball, and ability to take on defenders has been a class above the others; his presence as a substitute in the Sacramento Republic FC game enabled FCC to pull back a goal on his perfectly placed corner to Keinan in the 84th. As I watch him, I can’t help seeing flashes of USMNT and Columbus Crew great and brand ambassador Frankie Hejduk.

Haber has earned a spot on Koch’s matchday roster, whether in the starting XI or as a super sub in the final 15-20 minutes of a contest. His accurate crosses and tireless engine will result in him becoming a reliable fan favorite for the Orange and Blue faithful.

Forrest Lasso (#3)

When you see Forrest Lasso in an FCC kit this season, he epitomizes what a center back should look like—an imposing brick wall. For those who enjoyed Harrison Delbridge (now with Melbourne City in Austrailia), Lasso is an inch taller and a year younger. Forrest’s play in the pre-season also has not disappointed—he is a stud, a rock, and vocal leader on the pitch while being a social media darling off the field as well.

Besides his presence, Forrest has already shown a very good understanding of Koch’s desire to build the attack from the back and is a relentless aerial threat to score on any free kick and corner kick opportunity, as he infamously did in last season’s opener against FCC when playing for the Charleston Battery. FCC’s opposition will be preoccupied with placing a body, or several on him, allowing other attacking options to find the back of the net on set pieces. Look for the main center back pairing of Lasso and Keinan to continue to blossom and help provide clean sheets for FCC this season.

Honorable Mention – Keeper Coach Jack Stern

Although not as visible to most FCC fans, the club has also reinforced the team with new coaches as well. One of the early successes has been the addition of Jack Stern as the goalkeeper coach.

Replacing Mitch was on the forefront of FCCs offseason plans, and besides bringing in three quality and capable replacements (Newton, Richey, and Village), they have entrusted them under the innovative tutelage of Coach Stern, who comes to FCC from MLS side Montreal Impact. Stern also claims English Premiership experience on his coaching resume with West Bromwich Albion. The keeper rotation of Newton and Richey throughout the pre-season has been very good and will pay dividends in a long, grueling USL season combined with a hopeful repeat run in the U.S. Open Cup.

Welcome to the Queen City, Lance, Daniel, Forrest, and Jack!

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for the lead up to Saturday’s season opener against the Charleston Battery.

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NKU Norse 0 – 3 FC Cincinnati: One Step Closer to Home

Taking another step closer to the regular season, FC Cincinnati defeats Northern Kentucky in a local preseason tilt.

NKU-FCC-Header2-20180227After three undefeated games on the road (2-0-1), FC Cincinnati was almost back home, as their most recent stop took them to a tangle at Northern Kentucky University on Tuesday night. While this was not officially a home game for FC Cincinnati, 1,497 fans from both sides crammed the stands to watch the Orange & Blue take down the Norse 3-0 with a well-balanced attack on a chilly February evening.

Enjoying their first game since a 2-1 away win against Indy Eleven, Alan Koch trotted out a starting eleven that may have been heavier on personnel that could make up the second team. New forward Tomi Ameobi got the start as the lone striker, and Spencer Richey got the nod in goal. Much like the Indy game, Koch had the starting squad play the first 60 minutes, while the second squad finished the final 30.

FCC possessed the ball for most of the game, developing the attack along the sides through Daniel Haber and Russell Cicerone. In the 11th minute, Haber cut along the goal line and looped a cross back to Ameobi, who sent a header past the NKU goalkeeper for a 1-0 lead. The midfielders did well to pressure the defense and force NKU to deflect shots out for corner kicks. Haber’s corner piece in the 34th minute settled easily for defender Dekel Keinan, who headed home his first goal for FCC to make it 2-0.

By halftime, FCC had plenty of chances that just weren’t going in. Nazmi Albadawi was stifled in the 36th minute from a sprawling save by the NKU keeper, while Garrett Halfhill was denied a goal right before halftime when a close-up screamer clanged off the top of the frame (and likely went in if VAR was in place).

The second half began with Danni König coming on for Ameobi, but after fifteen minutes, the entire team was subbed off for a new squad. With the fresher legs, FCC started to produce crisper passes and deep crosses, particularly from Lance Laing and Manu Ledesma, that were often denied by offside calls. FCC finally broke the second-half drought in the 72nd minute, as Forrest Lasso cleaned up a corner kick from Kenney Walker to bring the score to the final 3-0 count.

Key Events

12’ Goal – Tomi Ameobi, assisted by Daniel Haber (FCC)
35’ Goal – Dekel Keinan, assisted by Daniel Haber (FCC)
73’ Goal – Forrest Lasso, assisted by Kenney Walker (FCC)

Photos via JES Photography

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Match Notes

Just about the entire team took the field at some point in the game. Goalkeeper Mark Village was held out of the game, indicating that perhaps Spencer Richey and Evan Newton are the two names that could get the brunt of the work between the pipes. Defenseman (and birthday boy) Josu saw some playing time after sitting out the entire preseason to this point, the Spaniard finally back after recovering from off-season knee surgery. He played seven minutes after coming on for Laing near the end of the game.

This game was also somewhat of a reunion between Cicerone and NKU head coach Stu Riddle. Riddle was Cicerone’s head coach back when both were at the University of Buffalo from 2013 to 2016.

First 60 Minutes:
Ameobi (König – 45’)
Haber – Albadawi – Cicerone
Ryan – Halfhill
Smith – De Wit – Keinan – Bahner
Richey (GK)

Second 30 Minutes:
Welshman
McLaughlin – Bone – Ledesma
Walker – Seymore
Laing (Josu – 83’) – Lasso – Barrett – Hoyte
Newton (GK)

Next Up

FC Cincinnati finally…FINALLY…returns to the confines of the University of Cincinnati, but their next game will not yet be at Nippert Stadium. Instead, the Orange & Blue will play USL debutantes Nashville SC at Gettler Stadium on Saturday, March 3rd at 4PM. Tickets are still available for the tilt and can be purchased at the FC Cincinnati webpage.

Northern Kentucky will also get another game against a USL opponent on Saturday, as they will host defending USL champs Louisville City FC for a 1PM friendly. Just saying…

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

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FC Cincinnati’s #10 role, Goalkeeping Wall, and Team Two Standout

Putting the Indy Eleven result in preseason context, plus more on Newton, Bone, and Haber as the preseason schedule takes a turn for Cincinnati.

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There are just over three weeks left of preseason before FC Cincinnati’s March 17 “Groundhog Day” opener against the Charleston Battery. Here are a few thoughts to wrap up the week after reflecting on the 2-1 preseason rehearsal against Indy Eleven.

The Result

Results don’t mean much in preseason, and that certainly applies to Thursday’s match, but the win is good for confidence. Both 11-man squads found the back of the net, and the second squad won the game after conceding early, so there are plenty of positives to take away.

It’s worth noting, however, that Indy had plenty of scoring chances of their own, mostly via the counter-attack. If they had been more clinical in front of goal, Indy would have certainly scored more than once. They’re also not as far along in their preseason—Jack McInearny and Soony Saad had just signed this week, and Indy only landed their head coach about a month ago. It’s preseason. Enough said.

Corben as #10

Mr. Bone’s preseason form to date has been notable. The Plano, TX native scored the lone goal against New England in the first preseason match. He also started in the #10 role (central attacking midfield behind the forward) vs. Tampa Bay, and against the Eleven yesterday he got 60 minutes in that same position.

A lot of preseason speculators gifted that role to Nazmi Albadawi, but FC Cincinnati’s #19 is certainly making his case to Alan Koch. Keep an eye on this space over the next four local matches, especially in the two against USL competition. Nazmi certainly has plenty of time to claim a playmaking role, and as a new member of the squad, he probably isn’t as settled yet into the team and the environment here in Cincinnati.

One can also make the case that there should be a fair bit of rotation between Bone, Albadawi, Walker, and Ryan in the central midfield roles. Three of those four players are 29 years old or older, so having depth in central midfield over the course of a long campaign will be important.

Newton Is a Wall

All three goalkeepers are looking good so far, but Evan Newton continues to impress. The former Sacramento Republic netminder had three key saves in the first 60 minutes to keep a clean sheet for his unit. So far this preseason, despite the fact that wins don’t mean much yet, Newton has yet to surrender a goal in the three games he has appeared.

Furthermore, FC Cincinnati’s goalkeeping trio has looked sharp and prepared each time out. All three have only conceded two total goals this preseason, with the second being a penalty kick that was just out of Spencer Richey’s reach yesterday. Jack Stern’s energetic style is infectious and seems to have created quick bonds between the three goalkeepers. They are a bright spot so far this preseason.

Haber Shines on the Second Team

Daniel Haber put his name on the scoresheet in emphatic fashion yesterday. The 25-year-old Canadian winger should have netted twice during his 30 minutes—not only did he score the winning goal from a feed from Matt Bahner, but he put a good chance over the crossbar in the 87th.

Haber is one we called out at the beginning of Phase Two as a player to watch. There’s a lot of competition for places on the wing and there are some heavy hitters ahead of him. However, Haber looks primed to push those veterans for minutes in March and the USL regular season. Additionally, FC Cincinnati needs dynamic substitutes with scoring ability that can change a game. Haber should certainly be able to fill that role if he can’t battle his way into a regular starting position.

So that’s a wrap for the traveling portion of FC Cincinnati’s eight-match preseason slate. Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more coverage of the 2018 preseason including next Tuesday’s friendly against NKU.

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Indy Eleven 1 – 2 FC Cincinnati: Winning Start to Phase Three

A recap and match notes from FC Cincinnati’s 2-1 defeat of Indy Eleven on Thursday, February 22nd at Grand Park Sports Complex.

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FC Cincinnati defeated USL newcomers Indy Eleven by a 2-1 scoreline at Grand Park Sports Complex on Thursday. ‘Manu Ledesma opened the scoring in the 50th minute of play from the penalty spot. Forrest Lasso set up the Argentine’s opportunity when he was pulled down in the box in the aftermath of a corner kick.

Indy Eleven equalized 14 minutes later with a penalty kick of their own. Shiny new striker Soony Saad, a 25-year-old forward who was most recently with Sporting KC, slid his penalty kick confidently past FCC goalkeeper Spencer Richey. Indy’s goal came after the 60-minute mark, when FC Cincinnati changed the majority of their lineup.

Not to be outdone, FC Cincinnati’s second squad grabbed the winning goal three minutes later. After some nice build-up play down the right-hand side, Matt Bahner served up a tasty cross for left-winger Daniel Haber, who headed home from close range. Both sides created chances and could have scored more goals as the match drew to a close, but it ended 2-1 to FC Cincinnati.

Key Events

50′ Goal – Emmanuel Ledesma, FC Cincinnati (PK)
64′ Goal – Soony Saad, Indy Eleven (PK)
67′ Goal – Daniel Haber, FC Cincinnati

Match Notes

FC Cincinnati now has two wins and a draw in three preseason matches played. Thursday’s friendly was the first of five matches in what Alan Koch is calling “Phase Three” of his preseason plan. That plan extends from now until the March 17th opener and focuses on increasing minutes for certain players, building up to match fitness, and progressing on the tactical game plan that was introduced in Florida.

The starting eleven played for 60 minutes and led 1-0 when the second team rotated in.

Starting XI
Welshman
McLaughlin – Bone – Ledesma
Walker – Ryan
Laing – Lasso – Barrett – Hoyte
Newton

Richie Ryan, who joined the team this week, was substituted out at the 30-minute mark for Will Seymore. Seymore and Barrett stayed in the lineup for the final 30 minutes.

Second XI 
König
Haber – Albadawi – Cicerone
Halfhill – Seymore
Smith – De Wit – Barrett – Bahner
Richey

Dekel Keinan missed the game with the flu, and Josu is still not playing while he recovers from off-season knee surgery. There also were no Tomi Ameobi sightings in Indianapolis.

Next Up

The long wait for a local preseason match comes to an end next Tuesday. FC Cincinnati is set to take on the Northern Kentucky Men’s Soccer team on February 27th at 7pm. All of their remaining four preseason games will be played locally and will feature two USL sides and two college squads. They also have a friendly match with the University of Dayton scheduled for March 24th, a week after the regular season begins. Tuesday’s NKU match won’t be streamed either, so make sure you get out to NKU and take in the action live.

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more analysis of this friendly tomorrow and continued coverage of FC Cincinnati’s 2018 preseason.

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