FC Cincinnati’s attempt to extend its three match unbeaten streak yesterday evening at Nippert Stadium was doused by the Union Monsoon.
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.
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.
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.
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 Aaronsenand 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.
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.
A look at the teams that took the Eastern Conference by the scruff of the neck last year, to see how they finished, transfers, and their playoff potential.
The thing about racing is that it only takes a bad turn to lead to disaster.
Perhaps you could say Toronto missing the 2018 playoffs was an anomaly. A year after finishing third in the East, Chicago crashed out of the race. Hey, even the fastest cars with the strongest engines hit the wall or dawdle too long in the pit stop. (Don’t know what to tell you guys, Orlando—y’all drove a golf cart most of the season.)
However, the standings in the East last year may not have been so different from reality. Over the past ten years, Orlando, Chicago, Toronto, New England, and Montreal have missed the playoffs over half of the time (13 total appearances over 41 attempts). Meanwhile, the top teams from last year have made the playoffs 29 times over the last 45 attempts.
I’m not saying that these six teams are a lock to make the playoffs again. I’m just saying that they have good arguments that they’ll stay competitive in 2019 and beyond. Here’s how they’ve retooled to make sure they do so.
2018 Finish Line: 6th in Eastern Conference (15-14-5), 50 pts. 49 goals for, 50 goals against.
Despite a rough start to the season, the Union went on a solid run over the last three months to sneak into the playoffs. It’s probably fair to consider 2018 an overall success—the Union blew through the Red Bulls, Chicago, and Orlando to get to the U.S. Open Cup final before losing 3-0 to Houston. However, lack of a consistent scoring threat left the team toothless—none of their scorers ranked in the Top 25 in goals. The Union wilted to close out the season, losing to NYCFC 3-1 in both the season finale and the knockout round. .
OUT: M Fabian Herbers, D Keegan Rosenberry, M Borek Dockal
IN: F Sergio Santos, D Kai Wagner, M Marco Fabian
Sneaking into the playoffs may not sound like a big step, but the 2018 version of the Union was arguably their best team yet, scoring the highest number of wins (15) and points (50) in their nine-year existence. The promotion of goalkeeper Matt Freese and midfielder Brenden Aaronsen means the Union now have seven homegrown players on their roster. The midfield appeared to be a question mark, but the signing of Mexican international Marco Fabian may be the biggest DP splash in team history. The addition of Sergio Santos also provides a third scoring threat that the Union couldn’t get from David Accam last year.
On paper, this is the most improved team in the East. On paper. Philly already had one of the stronger USL squads to begin with, and those youngsters are starting to get deserved call-ups. Goalkeeper Andre Blake asserted his status as one of the best in the league last season, racking up 118 saves and 10 clean sheets. More importantly, Fabian should immediately produce dividends with both feet and be able to feed forwards Cory Burke and C.J. Sapong. Those assists lost from letting Dockal go should return in bunches. Philly could find themselves challenging for the top of the conference, as long as the youth grows into their defensive roles.
2018 Finish Line: 5th in Eastern Conference (14-11-9), 51 pts. 43 goals for, 45 goals against.
Ownership issues? What, me worry?
Despite a season of attendance worries and threats to split for Austin, the Crew exceeded expectations to make the playoffs. Yes, their 43 goals scored tied them with Orlando for second-lowest in the league, but their trade for Gyasi Zardes paid back in spades (20 goals in 2018 after 15 in the previous three seasons). The Crew almost shocked the Red Bulls in the playoffs, beating New York 1-0 at home before losing 3-0 on the away leg.
OUT: M Cristian Martinez, M Mike Grella, GK Zack Steffen
IN: GK Joe Bendik, M Robinho Barbosa, D Waylon Francis, F
While not much movement has taken place within the roster, the largest movement was obviously within the front office and coaching staff. Gregg Berhalter departs to coach the U.S. national men’s team, and Caleb Porter moves in to coach the team he beat in the 2015 MLS Cup when coaching Portland. The ownership group will turn over and gladly spark more joy within the fanbase, especially with Anthony Precourt on his way out and an in-state rival on the way in.
The lack of movement may mean that the team is comfortable with its lineup, but the Crew will need to activate its offense by midseason. The 43 goals scored by Columbus was the lowest of all 12 playoff teams, with 44% scored by Zardes. Another scoring threat will be required to take pressure off the midfield of Justin Meram, Federico Higuain, and Pedro Santos, who will all be 30 or older. The anticipated departure of Steffen will require Joe Bendik to step in seamlessly, so if offense hasn’t arrived by then, it’s hard to say if the defense will stay solid to repeat their form. Look for Columbus to be one of the teams to take a step downward.
2018 Finish Line: 4th in Eastern Conference (14-11-9), 51 pts. 60 goals for, 50 goals against.
There probably hasn’t been such a Jekyll-and-Hyde season
before like DCU’s 2018 season. With their new home stadium set to open in July,
DCU played 12 of their first 14 games on the road, winning only twice. However,
the signing of Wayne Rooney and the opening of Audi Field led to an incredible
turnaround—DCU went undefeated in their final 10 games (7-0-3) to make the
playoffs, only to lose to Columbus in the knockout round.
OUT: F Darren Mattocks, M Yamil Asad, D Nick DeLeon, GK
IN: D Leonardo Jara, M Lucas Rodriguez, GK Chris Seitz, F
The roller-coaster season from 2018 continued in the offseason with the on-again, off-again relationship with midfielder Lucho Acosta. Once thought to be gone to Paris Saint-Germain, Acosta is still with the team and likely looking for a contract signing in 2019. It’s a good thing DCU held onto Acosta and bought the rights to Lucas Rodriguez from Atlanta—the departing Mattocks and Asad had 19 goals last season, so offense will be at a premium. Ousted’s ousting means that this is now goalkeeper Bill Hamid’s team, but the trades for Seitz and Earl Edwards Jr. at least provide depth for backup (or at least a start on the Loudoun United USL team.)
Had it not been for that Zlatan guy in the West, Wayne Rooney probably would have been the Newcomer of the Year. (Admit it—that video of him slide-tackling Will Johnson and setting up a stoppage time game-winner to Acosta’s in your YouTube “Favorites” section.) Still, he’s one of only two experienced forwards on this team’s roster, so can he last 34 games? Where will the goals come from? The midfield tandem with Acosta, Rodriguez, and Paul Arriola should form a strong shield behind Rooney and the newly-signed Amarikwa, but it’s hard to say how much offense can be produced if there’s no help on the horizon. At least the road schedule is less hectic and easier than the grueling trek in 2018—four of the six Western away games are at teams that missed the playoffs last year.
New York City FC
2018 Finish Line: 3rd in Eastern Conference (16-10-8), 56 pts. 59 goals for, 45 goals against.
Say what you will about Yankee Stadium not being a good field for soccer. The constricted dimensions smother an opponent like the summer subway air. The Bronx Boys in Blue lost only twice at home all season (13-2-4), but one of those losses was to Atlanta United in the conference semifinals. Despite Patrick Viera’s departure in June, interim head coach Domènec Torrent kept NYCFC afloat just long enough to earn the permanent role.
OUT: F David Villa, F Jo Inge Berget, M Rodney Wallace, M
IN: F Alexandru Mitrita, M Juan Pablo Torres, M Keaton
Parks, M Tony Rocha
How do you recover quickly from a heart transplant? David Villa was the soul of NYCFC for four years, scoring 77 goals in only 117 games. Only Robbie Keane scored more goals at a faster clip (83 in 125 games). Villa’s departure for Japan meant that the City Football Group had to dig deeper into their pockets to pony up for Alexandru Mitrita. The striker already has 12 goals after 16 games this season with first-tier Craiova in Romania. The team may not be finished, as Spanish striker Carlitos could join as well. Much of the defense remains the same, which will suit goalkeeper Sean Johnson (10 clean sheets) just fine.
As long as NYCFC plays at Yankee Stadium and adapts to its smaller dimensions, the home wins should continue. However, the departure of Villa and Berget leaves the team without an actual center forward. Maxi Moralez will have to work to become the new face of the club, and if he’s able to dictate play as a true #10, he will likely lead the league in assists. NYCFC does get the benefit of a soft schedule to start the season—only three of their first 12 matches are against 2018 playoff squads. They also face their rivals only twice in the Hudson River Derby this year, which could be a blessing in disguise. They’ve only beaten the Red Bulls four times in 14 contests.
Atlanta United FC
2018 Finish Line: 2nd in Eastern Conference (21-7-6), 69 pts. 70 goals for, 44 goals against. 2018 MLS Cup champions.
The first match of the season was a surprising 4-0 loss to a Houston team that floundered in midseason. No big deal. The “A-Train” dropped points only 12 times in the next 33 games. Despite finishing below the Red Bulls in the standings, there was no stopping Atlanta on their way to a 2-0 victory over Portland in the MLS Cup final. The Five Stripes have scored 140 regular-season goals over two seasons, and 50 of those have been by Josef Martinez. Over that same two-year span, the entire Colorado Rapids team has scored 67.
OUT: D Greg Garza, M Miguel Almiron, M Chris McCann
IN: D/M Brek Shea, M Pity Martinez, D Florentin Pogba
The biggest change is obviously the one at the top, as Gerardo
Martino traded his Five Stripes for the Green, Red, and White as the Mexican
national team head coach. While Tata’s shoes are arguably hard to fill,
bringing in Ajax stalwart Frank De Boer
to helm Atlanta was a bold decision. Name recognition is one thing, but De
Boer’s winning percentage hasn’t been great outside of the Netherlands (6-2-11
in two very quick stints over the past three years).
Miguel Almiron’s departure for Newcastle is mammoth, but resigning Martinez and pairing him with another Martinez (Pity) only makes the offense stronger. The biggest loss is likely Garza, as the left back spot now goes to either homegrown George Bello or fallen star Brek Shea. However, many of the pieces are still in place, including the extremely-vocal crowd, which definitely contributed to the 11-2-4 home record last year.
Truthfully, this team should have enough energy from 2018 to coast into the playoffs in 2019. However, the same was said about Toronto FC last year, and the deep run into the CONCACAF Champions League depleted Toronto in the regular season. At least this CCL is a knockout-style tournament, but it’s still a lot of travel in the spring if Atlanta wins their way up the bracket.
While Atlanta’s vibrant offense will be bolstered by Pity’s talent, the pressure will now be on Julian Gressel and Tito Villalba to distribute in Almiron’s place. There are plenty of midfielders to pick up the slack if neither get the job done, but those minutes will be hard to distribute—Darlington Nagbe is already rumored to want out. The defense is a year older in the middle and newer on the edges, so it will be interesting to see if the shots at goalkeeper Brad Guzan increase.
All those points of caution shouldn’t matter. It’s Josef Martinez, guys.
New York Red Bulls
2018 Finish Line: 1st in Eastern Conference (22-7-5), 71 pts. 62 goals for, 33 goals against. 2018 Supporters’ Shield champions.
Despite only missing the playoffs once over their 13 years as the Red Bulls, New York has made only one MLS Cup appearance, losing to Columbus in 2008. They lost their head coach Jesse Marsch to a June transfer to RB Leipzig’s coaching staff, but that didn’t crush their spirits. Their +29 goal differential in 2018 was tied for the fifth-best ever in MLS history, thanks largely to Luis Robles’ 14 clean sheets. Still, all that success only produced an insurmountable deficit against Atlanta in the conference finals, losing 3-1 on aggregate.
OUT: M Tyler Adams, D Aurelien Collin, D Hassan Ndam
IN: M Marcus Epps, D Amro Tarek, F Mathias Jorgensen
The offseason was a bit quiet for incoming transactions, but the Red Bull machine managed a big get by signing 18-year-old forward Mathias Jorgensen, who had excelled in the Danish Superliga’s developmental system. The key loss is, of course, the move of Tyler Adams to Red Bull Leipzig in the Bundesliga. While this is an immense developmental move for the 19-year-old, it leaves RBNY empty in the defensive midfielder zone. The natural move is to insert Cristian Casseres Jr., but I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the opportunity to promote Andrew Tinari from the Red Bulls II affiliate. Of course, all of the first-team reserves that were cut away can easily be replaced by the USL backups, so there isn’t much movement necessary. That could make the Red Bulls dangerous for years to come.
It could be possible to suggest the only way is down. Chris Armas didn’t have much weight to pull last year as interim head coach, but now the pressure will be on him to produce trophies bigger than a Supporters’ Shield. If the hook is pulled early, don’t be surprised if Red Bulls II coach John Wolyniec gets the promotion.
Bradley Wright-Phillips is showing little signs of rust, blasting his 100th MLS goal for the Red Bulls last season. He has 124 over all competitions in his five years with New York, but he’s also logged a ton of minutes. BWP has played in at least 40 games each of the past four seasons. If he does go down, Jorgensen and local product Brian White will have to be ready to fill the void.
The defense was the best in the league in 2018 (33 goals against) and should still be solid without Adams in the midfield. Re-signing Tim Parker to anchor the back line with 2018 Defender of the Year Aaron Long was key, and goalkeeper Robles should be able to duplicate his performance from last year. If Atlanta is unable to find traction under De Boer, the Red Bulls should be ready to dominate the conference. Again.
That puts a pretty bow on the Eastern Conference previews. There won’t be any quizzes later on, but now you know how the field appears on the starting line. Strap on your seat belts, roll down the window, and enjoy this crazy ride.
Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more preseason coverage and previews of the remaining Western Conference squads.
A look at FC Cincinnati and last year’s Eastern Conference teams that missed the MLS playoffs, to see how they finished, transfers, and their playoff odds.
A common adage is that a season in any sport “isn’t a sprint; it’s a marathon”. That could also apply to soccer, but perhaps the more appropriate description for this region of the country is that “it’s not a drag race; it’s an Indy 500”.
We’ve gotten used to that feeling here in Cincinnati, except that now the pit-stop in the middle of the season involves less home friendlies and more transfer-window panic. Yes, there’s an All-Star Break somewhere in the middle, but for the most part, unless the wheels have come off, the vehicle can still be repaired and sent out again.
But what do these sports-car clubs have under the hood to start the race? This is no longer a league where Cincinnati can be content to take its time out of the gate and cruise into the playoffs. The competition is harder, and the trips are now to Los Angeles and New York City, not Louisville and New Jersey. This is the big time that calls for monster trucks, not Micro Machines.
Of course, all of these racers are looking to compete from the wave of the starting flag. Let’s take a look at last year’s non-playoff wreckages (and FCC’s own entry) to see how they finished last year, the major pieces they added in the offseason, and their chances at making the Winner’s Circle.
2018 Finish Line: 1st in USL Eastern Conference (23-3-8), 74 pts. 72 goals for, 34 goals against.
The regular-season USL champions only made it to the conference semifinals, but the team set USL regular-season records for their consecutive-wins streak (10) and unbeaten streak (23) during the regular season. (We swear we won’t talk about the individual accolades and attendance records, even though there were many.)
OUT: Half of the 2018 regular-season USL champion team
IN: The other half of the 2018 regular-season USL championship team, as well as 5 trades, 4 transfers, 4 expansion draftees, 5 Superdraft draftees, and GK Przemyslaw Tyton
Can you call an expansion season an “overhaul”? Perhaps you can, considering 11 players were kept from last year’s USL squad. It almost feels that head coach Alan Koch took his Best XI with him to the MLS team. Many of the holes have been filled with international talent (too much to hold within the allotted amount), and the defense has been beefed-up with stronger defenders in Kendall Waston and Greg Garza. The offense hasn’t had much of a facelift (but the arrival of winger Kekuta Manneh could provide a boost).
There still needs to be a little work done to figure out who
goes where and if any of the Superdraft or ex-USL players get loaned out. Most
importantly, it will be interesting to hear and see who the vocal leader will
be on this team. No captain has been announced yet, but there’s a good
possibility that Waston takes the mantle.
Many dice have been rolled for Cincinnati’s first MLS season. Not much time has been allotted to get a strong squad together, and some voids appear to still exist (attacking midfielder, second capable striker next to Fanendo Adi), but that possibly keeps the cards available for a mid-season transfer. This team should be potent on defense, but it will be interesting to see if Jack Stern’s “GK Union” can be restructured and fine-tuned to combat MLS-level offenses.
The hardest pill to swallow will be the starting schedule. Nine of the first 10 matches will be against teams that made the playoffs last year. While it’s good to be positive, a playoff finish might be just out of reach if they cannot start strong.
Orlando City SC
2018 Finish Line: 11th in Eastern Conference (8-22-4), 28 pts. 43 goals for, 74 goals against.
An early-season 6-game winning streak was followed by a
devastating 9-game losing streak which ultimately cost head coach Jason Kreis
his job. The team went on to give up 74 goals, an MLS single-season record, and
their -31 goal differential was worst in the league.
OUT: M Yoshimar Yotun, GK Joe Bendik, D Mohamed El-Munir, D Jonathan
Spector, F Stefano Pinho
IN: F Tesho Akindele, D Joao Moutinho, D Danilo Acosta, M
Sebastian Mendez, GK Greg Ranjitsingh
Head coach James O’Connor now gets to build this team from Day One, responsible with translating his success at Louisville to Orlando. 15 players from last year were either let go or traded, including most of the D-line. Acosta and Moutinho are young resets on defense, and Mendez should be the key defensive midfielder the Lions needed. However, the team is rolling the dice with Greg Ranjitsingh given the keys to the net.
Supposedly, this team still operates around Dom Dwyer’s offensive skill and Sacha Kljestan’s distribution, but both were shells of their former selves last year. The defense can’t possibly get worse, but the release of Spector also means that the team is without an assigned captain, and Ranjitsingh has not played a single MLS minute. Midfielders Chris Mueller and Josue Colman will solidify next to Kljestan, but will it matter if Orlando can’t get a striker to complement Dwyer? It’s hard to see this team making a run at the top and probably need another season to mature.
2018 Finish Line: 10th in Eastern Conference (8-18-8), 32 pts. 48 goals for, 61 goals against.
Chicago suffered a mid-season 8-game losing streak that
doomed their season, forcing them to miss the playoffs for the fifth time in
six seasons. Had the team not had the lowest number of shots (341) and shots-on-goal (129) in the conference, perhaps their -13 goal
differential would have been better.
D Matt Polster, D Brandon Vincent, F Alan Gordon,
D Marcelo, F Fabian Herbers, M Przemyslaw Frankowski, M Amando Moreno
The Fire had a headscratcher of a season last year. Midfielder Aleksander Katai was an instant success with 12 goals and 5 assists, but there wasn’t much else that contributed. The team could not put two straight wins together and were sunk by midseason. That didn’t discourage the team’s confidence in their squad, as Bastian Schweinsteiger and Johan Kappelhof were re-signed in the offseason. The addition of Marcelo should make the defense stronger and push Schweinsteiger up higher, but Fire fans might also wonder what would have happened if they kept homegrown talent Andrew Gutman.
While Orlando has traded everything but the kitchen sink, Chicago has been content with just letting contracts expire. The Fire will be rolling with a lot of experience in the offensive end now that Schweinsteiger can push upward, but that also means an older offense. The other question area is in net—Richard Sanchez returns after only 3 shutouts and 13 losses last season, and backup David Ousted might not be at 100%. It’s hard to see this team keeping up with faster and younger squads, so the playoffs might be another miss for Chicago.
2018 Finish Line: 9th in Eastern Conference (10-18-6), 36 pts. 59 goals for, 64 goals against. Canadian Cup champions.
The defending MLS Cup champions almost defeated Mexican side Guadalajara in the CONCACAF Champions League final. However, the congested schedule also led to only 3 wins and 10 points in their first 11 games. They also had the distinct honor to have the worst penalty-kick conversion rate, missing 4 out of 9 attempts.
OUT: F Sebastian Giovinco, M Victor Vasquez, F Tosaint
Ricketts, D Nick Hagglund
IN: D Laurent Ciman, F Terrence Boyd, D/M Nick DeLeon, M Tsubasa Endoh
The offensive machine had some issues in Toronto, but the 64 goals against indicated that there were major concerns in the defense. Perhaps the rough CCL schedule hurt them early, or perhaps the thin USL reserve team presented weaknesses in squad depth, but the team just wasn’t the 2017 championship squad anymore. This forced a need to sacrifice offense—the team trimmed 36% of their goals and 39% of their assists by transferring Giovinco and Vasquez to Middle Eastern teams. While Laurent Ciman and Nick DeLeon are big defensive additions, the team has the top spot in the Allocation Order and may be hunting for more DPs.
The Reds might have a difficult season ahead of them, if the demoralizing 5-1 preseason loss against Las Vegas Lights is any indicator. Toronto again has the CCL ahead of them, but they may opt to focus more on the MLS season. It will be important to see if Jozy Altidore can stay healthy after a difficult 2018 and work in tandem with fellow national-teamer Boyd. It’s hard to envision this team getting to the same level in 2017, but if midfielder Jonathan Osorio surpasses his 2018 numbers (10 goals, 7 assists), they can cash in a spot in the playoffs.
2018 Finish Line: 8th in Eastern Conference (10-13-11), 41 pts. 49 goals for, 55 goals against.
The rebuild in head coach Brad Friedel’s first year wasn’t
too painful, and their pressing football forced the most corner kicks in the
league (224). However, the Revs still couldn’t perform well on the road. New
England have only won five away games in the past three seasons.
OUT: M Kelyn Rowe, D Claude Dielna, D Chris Tierney
IN: D Edgar Castillo, F Carles Gil, F Juan Fernando Caicedo,
F Tajon Buchanan
In his first year, Friedel almost took New England back into the playoffs, but the team failed to score a positive goal-differential for the third straight season. While defense has been the Revs’ weakness, the team stacked more offense in place, claiming Juan Caicedo on a transfer and promoting more homegrown talent. However, Carles Gil may be the biggest pickup, as the Revs have needed an attacking midfielder after the departure of Lee Nguyen in early 2018. The defense has been tooled, but the loss of Tierney to retirement may be hard to replace with just Castillo.
There is suddenly a lot of offense on a team that doesn’t have a USL reserve squad. The Revs have eight forwards on their current roster, and all could benefit from Gil’s playmaking. However, that also means that there could be unrest and demands for more minutes—forward Diego Fagundez has already stated his desire to be traded. If the midfield can effectively connect the front and back thirds, Friedel can hide the lack of adjustments to the back line and get the Revs in the playoffs.
2018 Finish Line: 7th in Eastern Conference (14-16-4), 46 pts. 47 goals for, 53 goals against.
The Impact went cold to start the season, losing 10 of their
first 13 games. While they bounced back behind Ignacio Piatti’s 16 goals, the
team could not succeed on the road enough to make the playoffs (3-12-2). The -6
goal differential is a bit deceptive, as the team was +15 at home and -21 away.
OUT: M/F Alexandro Silva, F Matteo Mancosu, D Chris Duvall, M
IN: F Maxi Urruti, F Harry Novillo, D Zachary Brault-Guillard
The above listing may not show it, but Montreal opted to decline, trade, and transfer a lot of contracts. 14 players were dealt, while only six (including only one from the Superdraft) were pulled in. However, the trade to pick up Max Urruti (8 goals, 11 assists) from FC Dallas at least fills the loss of Silva to Paraguayan club Olimpia. The offensive pieces may be a good addition to Piatti in his last contract year, while the addition of Brault-Guillard could be a good counter to left back Daniel Lovitz.
Not many changes have been made to Montreal’s defense, which might have been the difference between making the playoffs and barely missing them. A lot of trust is being placed in Evan Bush’s gloved hands and his defensive line to do better than last year. The Impact dealt USL stud goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau to Vancouver. While the front office and coaching staff is depending on a thin forward line for offense, the harshest reality might be the Impact’s schedule. They will play 10 road games in their first 13 matches, including the first six alone. Montreal can’t let their road woes extend into the 2019 season, but perhaps their strong home form could push them into the playoffs.
Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more preseason and preview coverage. Next time, we’ll take a look at the Western Conference.
*NOTE: The Offseason Overhaul does not include every move made by the team in the offseason, only those the author chose to highlight.
Now that FC Cincinnati is guaranteed a first-round home match, what potential matchup could spell the most trouble?
The common cliché in sports is that you need to take things “one game at a time.” Looking too far ahead in the future will catch you napping against your next opponent. As good as this undefeated streak has been, coach Alan Koch has emphasized doing what you can against the next opponent, not the one you might play in the USL playoffs. The near-loss to Toronto FC II this weekend was a reminder of that.
While it helps to scout the opposition before the last minute, the planets could still align badly in the playoffs. Last year, #2 Charleston couldn’t beat #7 New York during the regular season, then got trucked at home by the Baby Bulls the first round. The same thing happened with FC Cincinnati in 2016—despite the strong end to the season, FCC couldn’t figure out the Battery during the regular season, then wilted in the second half to get knocked out early.
Basically, solid preparation is good, but the last thing you want is for fate to provide a difficult opponent. For this article, without looking too far ahead, we scout FC Cincinnati’s possible first-round opponents and rank the six in order of upset potential.
The Playoff Picture
Currently, FCC is the only team that has safely qualified for the playoffs. While the competition is getting closer to the top, Pittsburgh, Louisville, and Charleston still own paths to first-round home games.
Aside from Toronto, Richmond, and Atlanta, the rest of the pack is still realistically alive. Charlotte, Tampa Bay, and Penn FC all have a tough road to get to that coveted playoff line, and while all could upset FC Cincinnati if they make it in, for the sake of brevity, we’ll focus on the closer competition.
6. Ottawa Fury FC
Record: 12-13-5 (41 pts.), currently 7th Schedule: at Louisville, at Toronto, vs. Bethlehem, vs. Charleston
While they started out of the gate with three losses, Ottawa has been able to hang in the middle of the table. Goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau leads the East with 13 clean sheets, while the defense has kept the powerful New York Red Bulls II offense checked over three games. Forward Tony Taylor has managed to get hot lately with five goals in 11 games.
However, it’s hard to really view the Fury as a credible away threat. The team has been shut out seven times in 15 road games and has yet to score on Cincinnati’s defense. In fact, most of Ottawa’s points have come against the poorer competition—they have no wins against the Top 4 teams (0-1-5). While the road wins against Indy and New York are notable, until they can break out a credible secondary scorer, Ottawa’s chances at pulling a first-round upset appear slim.
5. Indy Eleven
Record: 12-8-9 (45 pts.), currently 5th Schedule: at Pittsburgh, vs. Tampa Bay, at Cincinnati, vs. Bethlehem, at Louisville
This position in the rankings could be debatable. For one thing, it’s hard to guess what position Indy may finish—four of the final five games are against projected playoff teams. On the other hand, Indy has yet to face FCC at Nippert Stadium, so it’s hard to gauge just how difficult a team they are on the road.
Goalkeeper Owain Fôn Williams has quietly claimed 10 clean sheets in 29 games started, and seven of them have been on the road. Forward Eugene Starikov (5 goals in his last 10 games) has become a solid second scorer next to Jack McInerney, while Ayoze (4 goals, 6 assists) is still a mammoth presence in the defending line.
Again, Indy could legitimately be higher after their game at Cincinnati—we’ll see how well they can perform at Nippert—but so far, they’ve yet to figure out FCC. They may also be searching for that extra threat on offense, as their other big offseason pickup, forward Soony Saad, hasn’t scored since Week 11. Their away offense also may need improvement, as they’ve only scored 14 on the road in 14 games.
Their proximity to Cincinnati could bring a huge away crowd to Nippert in the playoffs. Right now, the game on September 29th could be the indicator of how difficult Indy would be in the playoffs.
4. North Carolina FC
Record: 10-10-8 (38 pts.), currently 10th Schedule: at Atlanta, at Charleston, vs. Richmond, vs. New York, at Louisville, at Charlotte
While the former Railhawks dug themselves into an early-season hole, NCFC has bounced back. They started the first 14 games with 7 losses (including two to FCC), but have gone 6-5-3 in the next 14 games.
Forward Daniel Ríos has been a blessing on loan from Guadalajara and currently sits second in the Golden Boot standings (17 goals). Midfielders Kyle Bekker (2nd in assists) and Austin da Luz (2nd in passing) are also high on the stats charts. The potent offense is ranked fifth in the East and has gotten better with the addition of midfielder Zach Steinberger from Indy.
Considering that NCFC still has four road games to play against difficult teams, the final stretch could show how serious the team is against competition. That would require a statement away win at either Louisville or Charleston. Without either, they may miss out on the playoffs completely.
3. Bethlehem Steel FC
Record: 12-12-6 (42 pts), currently 6th Schedule: vs. Toronto, at Ottawa, at Indy, vs. Tampa Bay
Bethlehem’s form may not scare most, as their inconsistency will flare up at bad times. Of their 12 wins, 11 have come against teams currently below them in the table. Their only marquee win is a victory at Indy Eleven in Week 10. They’ve also suffered bad losses to Penn FC twice and Atlanta. It’s hard to say which Bethlehem squad will show up.
That’s what makes them difficult to predict. So far, FC Cincinnati is the only team in the top half of the table that hasn’t defeated Bethlehem. The Orange & Blue looked inconsistent and shaky on the road, needing a Nazmi Albadawi goal late to force a 1-1 draw. The home match was even more deluding, as the team couldn’t take advantage of a lead late against a 10-man Bethlehem squad.
In total, 21 players have scored for Bethlehem, and their 50 goals ranks them fourth in the East. Santi Moar is a solid midfielder (6 goals, 8 assists) who has given FCC trouble this year, while forward Chris Nanco has improved over the season. This is an offense that will rarely be shut out. However, it’s also a team that will also rarely shut down your side. The goalkeepers have only six clean sheets, and their 40 goals allowed are tied for sixth-worst in the East.
As frustrating as the draws were against Bethlehem, let’s keep in mind that these two teams were vastly different then. Emmanuel Ledesma was serving a yellow-card suspension during the 2-2 home draw. FCC also have added Fanendo Adi and Fatai Alashe to the team since that match, while much of the Bethlehem offense has been promoted to the MLS squad. On paper, a match between the squads would look a lot different.
2. New York Red Bulls II
Record: 10-8-11 (41 pts), currently 8th Schedule: at Charlotte, at Nashville, at North Carolina, at Penn FC, vs. Pittsburgh
I don’t blame people if they see the Baby Bulls as less of a threat than the past two years. New York has been counterproductive on the road, as they haven’t won in 13 away games (0-5-8). Much of their talent could be frozen in place on their MLS squad, and the defense is the fourth-worst in the East (54 goals allowed). However, their defense was dead-last in the East last year, and they made it to the Conference Finals!
Even though they have no players with double-digit goals, Red Bulls II still leads the USL with 62 goals scored. Six of their players have five or more goals, including forward Jared Stroud, who is tied for second in the East in assists (10). The team has almost 100 more shots than the nearest competition (544 to Phoenix’s 442). They also play a very aggressive game—their 438 tackles lead the East, as well.
However, the top teams in the East still have the Red Bulls’ number. Their lone win over the Top 4 has been a home victory over Charleston. FC Cincinnati has also appeared to figure them out over the last three matches played (3-0-0). However, this is still a young and hungry team that sees the USL as a feeding ground, not as a training ground.
1. Nashville SC
Record: 10-9-9 (39 pts), currently 9th Schedule: vs. Tampa Bay, vs. Charleston, at Atlanta, vs. New York, at Richmond, vs. Toronto, vs. Cincinnati
FC Cincinnati has exterminated a lot of ghosts this season. The Orange & Blue managed to claim their first victories over Charleston and Tampa Bay this year. They have also beaten Louisville and Charlotte after losses to both earlier.
However, there is one ghost they have not been able to bust—the enigma known as Matt Pickens.
Over the past two years, Pickens has had Cincinnati’s name. His Tampa Bay Rowdies squad eliminated FCC in the 2016 U.S. Open Cup and the 2017 USL Playoffs. While he may not have been the sole reason for the victories, Pickens only gave up one goal against FCC in four games as a Rowdie.
Pickens has only gotten better with the change of scenery. In 24 starts for Nashville SC, Pickens has conceded only 19 goals. His 12 clean sheets put him second in the USL and are already better than his numbers from last year. His 67 saves also puts him at fourth in the East. Over three seasons against Cincinnati (6 games), Pickens has never lost, giving up only two goals (3-3-0).
That solid wall in front of Pickens just adds to the frustration FCC fans have had with Nashville. While the offense has not been at Cincinnati’s level, forwards Brandon Allen, Ropapa Mensah, Alan Winn, and Tucker Hume have the potential to crack defenses. The team has shown that it is unafraid of the large Cincinnati crowds, which may be the kryptonite for an upset in the Queen City.
Most importantly, of the teams that are trying to make the playoffs, Nashville has the best record when it comes to playing the Top 4 (2-4-1). NSC is one of only two teams to have beaten the Riverhounds in Pittsburgh, and their only loss was a Week 1 loss at Louisville. Considering the team also has a U.S. Open Cup victory over an MLS side, the potential for a Music City upset is there.
Of course, they must make the playoffs first, and they’ll need to face FCC once more to do so.
Which team outside of the Top 4 terrifies you the most in a potential first-round matchup? Let us know what you think!
We’re halfway there! Which players would make up a theoretical Starting XI for a USL Eastern Conference all-star squad?
It’s taken a few weeks, but the USL has finally hit its “All-Star Break”. All 33 teams in the USL have played half of their 34-game schedule. Of course, there is no actual USL “All-Star” game—it’s hard to create a pocket during the season when all teams can afford time off. Demand to see the best in both conferences is not as high as what one would experience in the MLS.
However, let’s never say “never”. The growth of the USL as a second division league and the exposure provided by the YouTube/ESPN+ partnership could make the faint possibility a reality in the future. It all depends on how hungry fans will be in the future to see more East versus West match-ups.
This progressive rise of the USL has made it easier to follow which players are succeeding individually. While a lot of coverage tends to be regional, let’s at least try a shot at forming a mid-season team composed of USL Eastern Conference players. Maybe one day we’ll get to see a USL team of talent challenge an MLS team of talent. (My breath isn’t being held very long for that.)
Judging by results, statistics, and my personal gut instincts (which have only failed me in Vegas), this is my Starting XI for your 2018 USL East All-Stars.
Bob Lilley (Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC)
Considering that the USL Eastern Conference has already had four managerial changes over the past two months, some of the sour cream has already sunk. Louisville’s James O’Connor could have run away with the award early, but Bob Lilley’s form of defensive soccer has revitalized the Riverhounds. Pittsburgh has only conceded 7 goals over 17 games and 12 clean sheets in the process. Remarkably, this is even better than the rate Lilley enjoyed back during the 2015 Rochester Rhinos championship campaign (15 goals against and 17 clean sheets in 28 games). If the Hounds find a scoring streak, Lilley could lift another title.
Alternates: Alan Koch (CIN), Gary Smith (NAS)
Matt Pickens (Nashville SC)
There was some doubt when Nashville opted to build their team around the 36-year-old Pickens, but the former Tampa Bay Rowdies keeper has improved with age. Pickens has played every regular-season minute for Nashville, claiming 9 clean sheets and giving up only 11 goals over 17 games. While Pittsburgh’s Daniel Lynd has given up less goals, Pittsburgh also has also only allowed 40 shots on goal. Pickens has made his saves while facing 57 shots on goal, indicating his worth to the team’s overall defense.
Alternates: Daniel Lynd (PGH), Maxime Crépeau (OTT)
Ayoze (Indy Eleven)
Ken Tribbett (Penn FC)
Paco Craig (Louisville City FC)
While goal production in the Hoosier State has been relatively uniform, Indy Eleven’s Ayoze has been arguably one of the stronger offensive defenders in the league. Yes, three of his 4 goals have come from the penalty spot, but his other goal and three assists have come from set pieces. Ayoze is also in the Top 20 in both crosses and chances created, two categories not normally reserved for defenders.
After two injury-plagued seasons with Philadelphia and Bethlehem, Tribbett has returned to Penn FC and seen a resurgence. While he has only played 14 of the team’s 19 games so far, the Penn FC captain has contributed 5 goals (tops among USL defenders), 53 interceptions, and 59 clearances from the center-back position. Those numbers have helped Penn FC stake out a realistic shot at the playoffs.
Craig may not be glorious in the offensive categories like Ayoze and Tribbett, but he and Sean Totsch have been massive defensive stalwarts that have kept Louisville high in the table. While Totsch’s distribution numbers tick ahead slightly, Craig has been the defensive stallion, leading the team in clearances (83), tackles won (35), and interceptions (40). If Lou City can endure their coaching changes, Craig and Totsch could both be on the All-USL squad come season’s end.
Alternates: Blake Smith (CIN), Sean Totsch (LOU), Marcel Schäfer (TBR)
Jorge Herrera (Charlotte Independence)
Andrew Tinari (New York Red Bulls II)
Kyle Bekker (North Carolina FC)
Corben Bone (FC Cincinnati)
Frankly, the midfield features a ton of patrolling talent in the East. Some teams (FC Cincinnati, Red Bulls II, Pittsburgh SC) could field their entire crew and then some, but field generals dominate my coveted four choices.
Much like Pickens in goal, Herrera has turned back the clock this year. Herrera has spent a good decade of his career in Charlotte, scoring 63 goals with the Independence and the former USL incarnation of the Eagles. His production doesn’t seem to be ending—the 37-year-old Colombian striker has 9 goals and 3 assists over 19 games and may end up setting a career high for minutes in a season.
Considering his team has constantly changed around him, Tinari has been a rock-solid part of the potent Red Bulls II offense. The 22-year-old leads the team in minutes and has 64 created chances – the nearest competitor in this category in the East has only 40. While he has 5 goals and only 3 assists this year, that should change with Brian White, Armando Moreno, and Jared Stroud all getting more time in the forward line.
Bekker has flown under the radar due to NCFC’s slow start out of the gate. He is second in the conference in assists (7) and in the Top 10 in chances created and crosses. If the North Carolina defense can fortify to free up Bekker for more distribution to forwards Daniel Ríos and Marios Lomis, his production numbers should go up.
The choice of Bone for my Starting XI could be considered a biased pick, but when looking at the remaining candidates to fill the midfield, Bone’s overall numbers feel stronger. His passes (870) and success rate (83.4%) are among the highest in the conference, and his 3 goals and 4 assists show his workhorse mentality. While Moloto and Jimenez have the stats, I feel Bone has done more to lift the FCC midfield than people think.
Alternates: Nazmi Albadawi (CIN), Lebo Moloto (NAS), Santi Moar (BTH), Oscar Jimenez (LOU)
Emmanuel Ledesma (FC Cincinnati)
Cameron Lancaster (Louisville City FC)
Ataullah Guerra (Charleston Battery)
There is no doubt that Ledesma would be my runaway pick as the mid-season USL MVP. Manu’s 9 goals and 8 assists allow him to lead the league in combined points, and he is among the conference leaders in chances created, shots, and crosses. His physical play also identifies him as one of the more aggressive forwards in the league, and his distribution to Danni König and Nazmi Albadawi has given FCC one of the strongest front lines in the league. (And some of Ledesma’s 2018 goals have been pretty sweet, too.)
In a season where Lou City has started without their most prolific scorer from last year, Lancaster has managed to be productive when it counts. While he has only played an average of 66 minutes per game, Lancaster has taken 45 shots and scored 9 goals. His clip of a goal every 102 minutes puts him as one of the most productive scorers in the East. If he can remain healthy before the return of Luke Spencer, he could help Louisville in the long run.
While Guerra may not score in bunches, he has been a model of consistency for Charleston this season. The native of Trinidad and Tobago leads the East in goals (10), as well as game-winning goals (4), all without collecting a single brace or hat trick. Considering that Charleston’s remaining schedule features a lot of teams not projected to make the playoffs, Guerra’s stats could surge.
Alternates: Neco Brett (PGH), Daniel Rios (NCFC), Lucky Mkosana (PEN), Danni König (CIN)
Does this lineup remotely match what you had in mind for a Starting XI? Is Geoff a complete Homer for FC Cincinnati players? Let us know what you think!
Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for continued coverage of the 2018 USL season.
FC Cincinnati has new unis! But what other 2018 kits in the USL Eastern Conference will be flying off the shelves? We give you our take on the top five.
With all of the uncertainty surrounding FC Cincinnati’s stadium applications and roster alterations, the fan base has been anxiously waiting for change. To coincide with the team’s third USL season, there were indications that FCC’s kit designs would be changing. On the whole, fans loved the initial 2016 blue-orange bomb-pop designs. However, the 2017 all-black third jerseys felt recycled from the San Antonio FC collection and a step back from the previous year.
2018 felt like a complete facelift was in order. Pittsburgh and Harrisburg were revamping their logo and appearance, while Nashville and Fresno were coming out of the blocks with a fresh look. However, both were completely upstaged by the neon-and-confetti Las Vegas Lights FC kits with emoji faces on the inside.
FC Cincinnati had to make a splash, and I feel they hit all the right buttons with the concept. The new primary kit rocks a hooped orange-on-blue design, while the secondary white kit with orange sleeves has me thirsty to spend my hard-earned dollars. For both designs, the Bavarian diamonds are exactly what the team needed to make the brand unique.
All of the kit changes have me wondering—which ones are the best in the Eastern Conference? Which kit would I be willing to trade for? Since it’s hard for me to stay unbiased, I’m going to keep the FCC threads out of my rankings. Here are my Top 5 from 2018.
Last year’s black-and-yellow design was cool with a top-to-bottom gradient transitioning from shoulders to hem. Still, if you’ve witnessed Charleston’s quarter-century history, the horizontal look was a step back from the traditional black-and-yellow vertical-stripe design. The team returned to that thick-striped iconic look from the past and introduced secondary and third jerseys that are photonegatives of each other. Bengals diehards will likely shy away from the primary kits, but the black “25th Anniversary” alternate jersey is pretty sweet with the Battery logo in black and white.
This is the point of the list where I could honestly see myself purchasing any of the kits available this year. Philadelphia Union tried before with a 2013 ode to the old 1920s Bethlehem Steel, but the bloated Bimbo logo was a hindrance. Bethlehem’s kits from 2016 were a solid restart and a comfortable dichotomy of a collared white secondary with a non-collared dark primary kit. Even though the big red B on the hem may be gone, the new primary kits look quite nice with the diagonal pinstripes, opting to use the Bethlehem-logo red in the collar.
You may laugh at my choice of Penn FC at this point of the list, but I like variety. I’m a big fan of having one kit with a collar and the other without it. It tells me that the team wants to stand out between the home and away models. The electric-blue and white color scheme is bold, a daring choice for a reset team that needed to make an immediate splash in the USL. The secondary kit’s staggered collar, white sides, and dotted-line shoulders stand out from other away kits, and the home kit’s polo collar is pronounced, blue on a white shirt. Take away one of the three logos on the front, and I’m buying one.
There have been some chuckles about the Riverhounds’ branding in the past. However, it’s 2018, and the complete logo refurbishing has led to a really solid improvement in kit design. As overused as the yellow color may be, it’s a constant torchbearer and unifying scheme in the Pittsburgh sports scene. The primary jerseys with horizontal black stripes are eye-catching, and the yellow color is brighter than last year’s mustard. The tertiary jersey is also quite unique, as its vertical black stripes are composed of finer smaller stripes. The secondary kit—a black-and-grey half-and-half design—is a little distracting like Louisville’s third design, but overall the kits make these designs a terrific upgrade.
It’s hard for me to deny that Tampa Bay has the most remarkable color scheme in the second division. A team in the Sunshine State needs to have something as citrusy as possible, so the lemon-lime hoops make sense. The home and third designs are merely flopped versions of each other, but the white away kit is unique to both. Look closely, and you’ll see a very light yellow tiger-striped edge to the white-green hoops. The Hard Rock Café logo is perhaps one of the more recognized ones in the USL, and I can’t imagine the Rowdies not wearing that sponsor now or in the future.
What USL team kits have caught your eye this season? What are your thoughts regarding the new FC Cincinnati jerseys? How bad is the Louisville City FC third kit? Let us know what you think!