Deeper Cuts: First 30, Lapses, and Roster Questions

Image: Ryan Meyer

The ‘new manager bump’, or an uptick in form following the arrival of a new head coach, might have already worn off for Yoann Damet’s squad. Orlando SC’s 5-1 rout over Cincinnati highlighted how FCC’s problems may go beyond a simple coaching change.

Of course, it is important to note the adversity the Orange & Blue faced. Family emergencies, injuries, and extreme heat all impacted both the lineup selection and the game plan. Despite these hurdles, the score was deadlocked at halftime amid a competitive – yet sluggish – Sunday afternoon affair. What went wrong for Cincinnati in the Sunshine State?

First 30 Minutes

Fans may have wanted to watch the fast, possession-oriented style of play Damet teased them with in his coaching debut. Perhaps due to the limited roster, he opted for a lower line of confrontation and a more defensive approach in Orlando. The conventional belief behind this strategy is to play safe and limit mistakes, and to hit strong on the counter.

FC Cincinnati did this relatively well the first 30 minutes. Frankie Amaya and Emmanuel Ledesma were receiving the ball, turning, and dribbling up the field with pace before making defenders commit. Darren Mattocks did well on the day to create an opportunity for Ledesma which blasted off the crossbar, and to clinically finish a half-chance into the roof of the net surrounded by four purple defenders. Truthfully, Mattocks was lucky to never be closed down on his goal, and Robin Jansson dived in when all he had to do was contain and push out wide.

Costly Lapses

The positives stop there. Mattocks had only 11 touches before his substitution. After the first goal, FCC began to sit back and afforded Orlando more opportunity to dictate play. Some players, meanwhile, switched off at critical moments.

After the deflected goal from Tesho Akindele put Orlando on the scoreboard, FC Cincinnati looked shell-shocked in defense as James O’Connor’s side tallied 10 shots after half-time and over 200 more passes throughout the match.

FCC was also second best on three separate corners. The first mistake, Kendall Waston’s WWE maneuver leading to Nani’s rebound penalty conversion, was the epitome of the type of defense that landed Cincinnati in its rough predicament.

The 2-1 score line gave Orlando all the momentum it needed to bury FC Cincinnati with pace, possession, and set pieces, while Cincinnati looked toothless in attack. Fitness may have been an issue, as numbers rarely supported the player on the ball, and attackers were not tightly marked with conviction in crucial moments as the match progressed. Getting a point or three on the road looked very unlikely at that stage, and the late game substitutions did little to quell these fears. Spencer Richey did well to keep the game as close as he did.

Roster Questions as Gold Cup Looms

Damet finds himself in one of the toughest coaching environments in the country right now. He must, as the youngest MLS coach in history, find a way to inspire a limited roster of players while Jeff Berding scours the planet looking for his inevitable replacement.

Alan Koch may have lost the locker room, and with it, his job. An interesting development after his departure is that some of the team’s highest profile players are still not starting. Are there injury issues at play or do recent choices in player selection go beyond that? Will Damet have the support of the dressing room and front office to make these tough calls?

Fanendo Adi, the star striker and highest-earning player on the team, was not brought to the Queen City as a backup. It remains to be seen how Damet will utilize Adi, but there is little evidence to suggest he provides a spark off the bench.

Where does USMNT player Kenny Saief fit into this club’s short-term or long-term plans? Is Greg Garza reliable enough to build around given his very unfortunate but continued injury troubles?

Has Justin Hoyte overtaken Nick Hagglund as Waston’s center back partner, despite the funds the organization gave up obtaining Hagglund? Additionally, the club is currently using an international spot on the second-string keeper.

Selecting strong matchday squads will only get harder for Damet as the Gold Cup approaches and players leave for international duty. It will give other players an opportunity to shine, and luckily for Cincinnati, there is a still a lot of season left to be played.

At this point in the season, however, a four-goal loss to 10th place Orlando is a big blow to a club aiming for a playoff berth.

Orlando City SC 5 – 1 FC Cincinnati

Graphic: Connor Paquette

Orlando City SC roared back against FC Cincinnati after Darren Mattocks scored the opening goal in the 34th minute. Tesho Akindele scored two, Nani scored two, and Dom Dwyer added insult to injury by adding a fifth in the 82nd minute. The Orange & Blue drop their eighth game out of 13, and fall from 11th to the bottom spot in the Eastern Conference.

Additionally, Greg Garza left the match in the 7th minute with an apparently severe calf injury.

Orlando City SC 5, FC Cincinnati 1

Orlando City Stadium | Orlando, Fla.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

SCORING SUMMARY

CIN – Darren Mattocks (Eric Alexander) 24’

ORL – Tesho Akindele (Will Johnson, João Moutinho) 37’

ORL – Nani (unassisted) 50’

ORL – Nani (Ruan) 59’

ORL – Tesho Akindele (unassisted) 64’

ORL – Dom Dwyer (Josué Colmán) 82’

FC Cincinnati: Spencer Richey, Mathieu Deplagne, Justin Hoyte, Kendall Waston ©, Greg Garza (Alvas Powell 10’), Eric Alexander, Victor Ulloa, Frankie Amaya, Emmanuel Ledesma, Kekuta Manneh (Kenny Saief 65’), Darren Mattocks (Fanendo Adi 64’)

Bench: Przemysław Tytoń, Nick Hagglund, Nazmi Albadawi, Caleb Stanko

Stats: Shots 5, Shots on goal 3, Saves 4, Corner kicks 4, Offsides 1, Fouls 13, Possession 38.9%, Passes 351 (83.5%)

Orlando City SC: Brian Rowe, Ruan, Lamine Sané, Robin Jansson, Sebastián Méndez, Will Johnson, João Moutinho, Cristian Higuita (Josué Colmán 78’), Nani (Dom Dwyer 66’), Chris Mueller (Benji Michel 85’), Tesho Akindele

Bench: Greg RanjitsinghKyle Smith, Kamal Miller, Oriol Rosell

Stats: Shots 17, Shots on goal 9, Saves 2, Corner kicks 11, Offsides 0, Fouls 9, Possession 61.1%, Passes 547 (88.8%)

MISCONDUCT SUMMARY

ORL – Will Johnson (caution) 43’

ORL – Sebastián Méndez (caution) 45’+4’

CIN – Alvas Powell (caution) 45’+6’

CIN – Victor Ulloa (caution) 71’

ORL – Dom Dwyer (caution) 74’

CIN – Frankie Amaya (caution) 75’

CIN – Emmanuel Ledesma (caution) 87’

REF: Nima Saghafi

AR: Eduardo Mariscal, Chris Elliott

4TH: Luis Guardia

VAR: Geoff Gamble

AVAR: Eric Weisbrod

Weather: 90 degrees and sunny

Attendance: 22,341 (reported)

Match Program: FC Cincinnati at Orlando City SC

FC Cincinnati returned to winning ways under interim head coach Yoann Damet last week, and look to extend their success…

Design: CSDIV

FC Cincinnati returned to winning ways last week under interim head coach Yoann Damet and look to extend their success against Orlando City SC this Sunday. They’ll reacquaint themselves with former rival, James O’Connor, in the process. O’Connor coached Louisville City FC from 2015-2018 before taking the reins at a struggling Orlando City last June.

Orlando City SC are in tenth place in the Eastern Conference, one place and one point ahead of FC Cincinnati in the standings. The Florida outfit come into Sunday’s match on the heels of three consecutive defeats, including a 2-1 midweek loss to the Seattle Sounders at CenturyLink. They rotated heavily for that match so many of their usual starters should be rested for Sunday’s contest.

Corben Bone, Kenny Saief, and Allan Cruz are all listed as questionable for FC Cincinnati.

Fast Facts

  • 42% of FC Cincinnati’s attacks come down the left side. That percentage is tied as second most left-sided attack in the league. That percentage is typically even higher when Greg Garza is in the match. In comparison, Orlando City FC is fairly balanced but favors the right slightly at 39% of attacks originating there.
  • FC Cincinnati are second-best in MLS in aerial duel success rate at 53.9%. Only LAFC does it better.
  • Greg Garza returned from injury to start last Saturday, and led FCC in total passes (91), total passes in Montréal’s half (37) and total touches (107).
  • FC Cincinnati have the fewest total yellow cards, at 14, in MLS and the fewest cards per game at 1.2. Orlando City SC, in comparison, have 22 yellow cards after 12 matches.
  • Nani has lived-up to his DP billing for Orlando City SC. In just 8 starts, he has 5 goals, including 2 game-winning goals, and 4 assists. However, he has been nursing a calf injury and did not play in OCSC’s last two matches.

All stats via mlssoccer.com and whoscored.com.

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for coverage of FC Cincinnati at Orlando City SC on Sunday.

Deeper Cuts: Damet Rings the Changes, Shot Conversion, and Player Confidence

Following a tumultuous few weeks in club history, FC Cincinnati returned to Nippert Saturday with a new coach and mindset. Winless in 7 matches …

Image by Ryan Meyer

Following a tumultuous few weeks in club history, FC Cincinnati returned to Nippert Saturday with a new coach and mindset. Winless in 7 matches, and having gone 655 minutes scoreless from the field of play, FCC abruptly made a coaching change Tuesday. The club decided to place their foreseeable trust in the youngest MLS coach ever, previous assistant coach Yoann Damet. That decision was rewarded by the players with a flowing, decisive 2-1 victory over an in-form Montreal Impact. Many adjectives come to mind regarding the team’s performance … refreshing, encouraging, hopeful, enjoyable!  

With less than 100 hours since being named coach, how did Damet and his team turn the tide?

Tactical Changes

Damet made several tactical changes to the formation and line-up from what we’ve witnessed this season. The most significant and impactful change was to the midfield. Instead of rolling out a pair of Central Defensive Midfielders, “Yo” as the team refers to him, changed from a double pivot to a single pivot midfield formation.

He entrusted Victor Ulloa with a field general role that fostered connectivity between the back line and attacking players which FCC has been lacking all season. In Italy, they refer to this deep-lying midfield general as the “regista” – the director. Ulloa looked comfortable and ready to take on the regista role for the Orange & Blue. Ulloa had 93 touches in the match, 43 more than any other midfielder from either team. Here is Ulloa’s dynamic and effective distribution map for the game.

Victor Ulloa Distribution Map (via mlssoccer.com)

This use of the single pivot formation enabled the Orange & Blue to control possession and create fluidity from the back line through the midfield to the attacking third. Both of FCC goals were the result of double-digit pass sequences. The first goal was arguably one of the most patient, methodical team goals in FC Cincinnati history. Each field player gets a touch on the ball and contributes to the one-minute full field build-up resulting in Allan Cruz’s second goal of the season.

Shot Conversion

Over the first eleven matches, FC Cincinnati had a woeful shot conversion rate. Shot conversion rate is calculated as goals scored divided by shots attempted. Prior to Saturday’s contest, FCC had scored 8 goals over 112 total shots attempted, a rate of only 7.1%.

As noted by OptaJack before the game, no other MLS expansion team since 2015 had a season rate under 11.0%. Saturday’s two-goal haul over only six total shots translates to an efficient 33.3% rate for the game. By far the most productive goals per shot ratio of the season, thereby increasing their season average to 8.5%. Note, however, that FC Cincinnati only had 6 total shots.

Confidence in His Players

Possibly as important as the tactical changes unveiled on Saturday was the confidence the manager showed in his squad. Damet was both humble and effusive towards his players in his post match remarks. “The most important pieces are the players. We want to provide an environment that allowed them to express themselves, and the players showed tonight that they are capable of playing football.” He continued, “They deserve fully the credit for the performance of this afternoon.”

One result does not guarantee a continued positive trajectory, but the improved atmosphere and energy surrounding the team is evident.

Happy Mother’s Day to all of our fantastic supporters who are Moms!

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press as FCC travels to Orlando next Sunday to take on former Louisville skipper James O’Connor and his Orlando City SC squad.

Photos: FC Cincinnati 2 – 1 Montréal Impact

Here are images of FC Cincinnati’s 2-1 victory over the MontréalImpact on Saturday, May 11th.

Image: Ryan Meyer / Graphic: Connor Paquette

Here are images of FC Cincinnati’s 2-1 victory over the MontréalImpact on Saturday, May 11th.

When browsing the gallery below, after clicking on any given image, a high-resolution version can be found by scrolling down and clicking “View Full Size.” All images are courtesy of Ryan Meyer.

All images are copyright protected to safeguard the creative rights of our photographers. We’re very open to sharing our work with those who want to show support for FC Cincinnati. We simply request that you ask (via DM on Twitter or email) and give credit where it’s due. Thanks!

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s 2019 MLS season.

Match Program: FC Cincinnati vs Montréal Impact

After a tumultuous week where FC Cincinnati fired head coach Alan Koch, the team attempts to regroup on home turf against the Montréal Impact

Design: CSDIV

After a tumultuous week where FC Cincinnati fired head coach Alan Koch, the team attempts to regroup on home turf against the Montréal Impact. Interim head coach Yoann Damet now leads the team, and interestingly, he was an academy coach with the Montréal Impact for three years prior to joining FC Cincinnati in 2017.

The Orange & Blue have lost five straight matches and have not scored a goal in that timeframe. Their most recent disappointment was in San Jose where they suffered a 1-0 defeat despite having a man advantage for most of the second half.

Montréal arrives in the Queen City buzzing after a 2-1 midweek win over the Red Bulls in New Jersey. They were without star playmaker Ignacio Piatti and rotated their roster, but still won. As a result, they occupy third place in the Eastern Conference. Further, they are tied on points with the two leaders in the East, but a -3 goal differential leaves them in a lower position. Piatti will also miss the match against FC Cincinnati on Saturday.

Greg Garza, Corben Bone, and Alvas Powell are all listed as questionable for this contest, although Garza did return to practice this week. Kickoff is at 1 pm Eastern Time.

Fast Facts

  • FC Cincinnati is second in the league in aerial duels won, with 19.4 per game. Only the New York Red Bulls can boast a higher rate.
  • FC Cincinnati and Montréal Impact have the second and third worst shots per game averages in MLS. However, Montréal at 10.6 shots per game have scored 14 goals and FC Cincinnati, at 10.2 shots per game have netted only 8.
  • The Montreal Impact have scored twice as many goals from open play, 10, as FC Cincinnati have, 5, this season. FCC ranks last in the league in this category.
  • The Impact lead MLS in successful dribbles with 148. In comparison, FC Cincinnati are 15th with 102 total. Keep in mind that Montréal has played one additional game at this point in the season.

All stats via mlssoccer.com and whoscored.com.

Montréal Insights

For some insights on this week’s opponent, we reached out to our friends in Montréal for perspective on FC Cincinnati’s new head coach, Yoann Damet and Saturday’s matchup.

Antony de Varennes, co-editor in chief of culturesoccer.com, shared the following on Damet’s philosophy as a coach.

“Yoann Damet is a coach that likes to be close to his players. He strongly believes that the human side of the players is as important as the tactical approach. On the pitch, he focuses on the players as a group and not as individuals as he thinks that a well-balanced group will enhance individual performance.”

For additional insights on Damet, check out the article below from Culture Soccer (you’ll need a browser translator if you don’t speak French).

Il était une fois Cincinnati E1 : Construire un effectif

Additionally, friend of the blog Hady Raphaël and co-editor in chief of culturesoccer.com, gave us some insights into Montréal’s squad rotation on Wednesday and who we might see line up on Saturday.


For Saturday, the lineup and formation all depends on our injured players. We had eight injured players on Wednesday, that’s why Garde changed his tactical system from a 4-3-3 to a 3-4-3.

If everybody’s healthy except Piatti, I’m pretty sure we’ll go back to our normal 4-3-3 (right to left):

Bush
Sagna-Diallo-Raitala-Lovitz
Azira-Piette-Taider
Novillo-Okwonkwo
Urruti

If we still have injuries we will keep our same tactical formation in 3-4-3 with Taider in the lineup for sure and I’m pretty sure we’ll see Sagna back in the lineup too.


Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati versus the Montréal Impact.

Koch Out as FC Cincinnati Head Coach

Alan Koch is out as FC Cincinnati’s head coach. Assistant Yoann Damet will serve as interim manager until a new coach is hired.

Alan Koch is out as FC Cincinnati’s head coach. Assistant Yoann Damet will serve as interim manager until a new coach is hired.

A press report released on Tuesday morning indicates that the decision was based on management’s perception that Koch had not maximized the talent at his disposal.

This decision is not driven by recent game results themselves, but rather the underpinnings that have led to those results,” said President and General Manager Jeff Berding. “We have not come close to maximizing the talent we have in the dressing room this year, nor have we seen a foundation being built that will set us up for success this year and into next year. Our whole locker room is committed to our club goal of earning an MLS postseason bid, and we need to put them in the best position to do so.”

Koch’s dismissal comes after a streak of 5 consecutive defeats for FCC despite a positive start to the season. The team currently sits at 2-7-2 in 11th place, second from bottom of the Eastern Conference after 11 matches played.

FC Cincinnati will undergo an “international search” for their next head coach.

The Top 5 U.S. Open Cup Opponents FCC Should Face

FC Cincinnati still has a ways to wait until the enter the U.S. Open Cup. What teams are we most excited to square against?

The 106th U.S. Open Cup kicks off tonight at 7pm ET. FC Cincinnati possesses one of the most incredible Cinderella stories to ever grace the tournament with their 2017 climb to the Final Four. Since then, the tournament has been a fan favorite and the only opportunity for supporters to see the Orange and Blue take on rivals outside of their league.

This year, the format changes slightly, as FC Cincinnati don’t play until two rounds later than usual. With that in mind, here are the Top 5 teams for lower division clubs that I personally want to see FCC face when they enter the tournament in Round 4.

For simplicity, we’re keeping our choices aimed at Northeast/Central teams, since FC Cincinnati is most likely to join one of those regions in the bracket.

Honorable Mentions: Greenville Triumph, FC Baltimore, Birmingham Legion, Memphis 901 FC, Nashville SC

5. Louisville City FC

I was originally going to put Lou City in the honorable mentions, but I believe they need an explanation as to why they’re not ranked higher. After all, in my biased opinion the Dirty River Derby was the rivalry of lower-division American soccer. From Streamer-Gate to Bite-Gate, from James O’Connor’s bee-suit promo to the Hurricane at Slugger, there was so much drama when these two clubs met on the pitch.

But that’s just it–they’ve faced each other so many times in the past. Not to dismiss the quality of play, but there have already been so many incredible games and stories between these two clubs. No matter the divisions, these cities and teams will be linked for the rest of their existences. While a trip down Memory Lane in the form of another Open Cup match would certainly draw, it simply wouldn’t have as much impact, since the last rivalry game has been so recent.

With Louisville repeating as champs in 2018, their former head coach O’Connor being hired by Orlando City, and Cincinnati winning the regular-season pennant on their way out the door, it felt like the page had been turned. Now we need to let time pass so that it will be a fresh start when the rivalry is one day revisited.

4. Saint Louis FC

Rumors are circulating that the Lou is next in line to join Major League Soccer. Now would be a wonderful opportunity for FCC to build on rivalries ripe for explosion. I was uncertain if Nashville SC belonged here, but while FC Cincinnati has already had a fair share of moments against Nashville, last year Saint Louis was treading water as a big-time club under-performing in a different conference.

But that’s changed over the past year. With many former FCC players on the roster (Kyle Greig, Kadeem Dacres, Matt Bahner, and 2018 fan-favorite Russell Cicerone) Saint Louis currently sits at 2nd place in the Eastern Conference. With their potential to rise ever further in the American soccer landscape, recognizable names for long-time FCC supporters, and relative proximity to the Orange and Blue, a reunion would be a welcome match to help FCC kick off their 2019 U.S. Open campaign.

3. Forward Madison FC

This one is a bit personal. Forward Madison FC is a ridiculously fun club making its mark in USL League One already. Their social-media presence has been a phenomenal addition, and they are setting the standard for what lower-division soccer clubs are capable of in terms of fan experience both inside and outside matches.

With that in mind, an encounter against one of football’s recent great creation stories in FC Cincinnati would be a fantastic way to help a club with so much potential build their brand and make a tremendous impact on a city newer to the professional soccer landscape. Give me the ‘Mingos!

2. Indy Eleven

Congratulations to Indy Eleven for being recognized as a top-tier team alongside the likes of the Indiana Pacers and Indianapolis Colts. Dreams for MLS expansion on the mind, Indy put together an incredible campaign to earn the support of their local and state government to build a soccer-specific-stadium as part of a much larger development.

Indy being so high on this list shouldn’t come as a surprise. FC Cincinnati supporters only got a small taste of the potential rivalry Indy brought to the table when they transitioned from the NASL during the 2018 off-season. Their close proximity enticed thousands of FCC fans to travel for the Orange and Blue’s second game of the year. I imagine a very similar crowd would sojourn once more.

What’s even more exciting about the potential of facing the Indy Eleven is the reunion with familiar faces of many fan favorites. Former players Kenney Walker, Paddy Barrett, Tyler Gibson, and Evan Newton all signed with Indy for the year. Orange-and-Blue blood streams through all of them, and it would be all the more pleasurable to kick off the cup campaign by inviting them back to the place they helped build.

1. Dayton Dutch Lions

Nearly all the teams I’ve mentioned to this point have faced FC Cincinnati at one time or another. However, one club, just an hour north of Nippert, has never had the opportunity to play one of Ohio’s biggest clubs. It’s time to change that. The Dayton Dutch Lions are entering their 10th year as a club. What better way to further develop their history than to play FCC?

It’s very likely Dayton is a target market for FC Cincinnati when they eventually create a USL affiliate. Whether or not they pursue that location route, building a relationship with a top market in the state (and one FCC is competing with Columbus over) is not only necessary, but recommended. It’s a win-win situation. Of all the prospective match-ups the U.S. Open Cup could provide, this is the team we’d be most fortunate to face.


Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press to follow FC Cincinnati’s season and their potential entrance into the U.S. Open Cup.

And They’re Off: 6 Possible U.S. Open Cup Dark Horses

The U.S. Open Cup begins again. What lower-tier teams are expected to go far this year?

Source: Ryan Meyer Photography

It has been almost one year since FC Cincinnati was accepted into Major League Soccer’s grandest stage. There have been perks from the call to the expanded field—scintillating match-ups against deeper talent, travel to bigger cities, the meaty prospects of a “Hell Is Real” Derby rematch twice a year—but a major downgrade is the fact that the Orange & Blue are no longer the underdogs. That also means we’ll have to wait before we see a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup match that matters.

Fans in the Queen City owe a lot to the tournament that shined a light on the underdogs the brightest. FCC’s miracle run in 2017 was amplified even more by teams such as Miami FC blazing through Orlando and Atlanta, Sacramento Republic crushing Real Salt Lake, and local-qualifier darlings Christos FC rattling D.C. United. While there still hasn’t been a non-MLS team in the finals since 2008, each year another lower-tier team makes us believe.

For now, those “underdog” days are over for FC Cincinnati. The Orange & Blue now join the competition in the fourth round with 20 other MLS teams. However, we cannot forget that the Open Cup lifted our profile even higher than before, and that’s why we should be following the 106th edition of the Cup from the first round (which is still easy to do with the games all on ESPN+). We owe a lot to those phantasmic games in 2017.

But which teams could make a similar run for the Cup this year? This article will cover the lower leagues involved and the teams that could make the deepest invasion in the open competition.

Local Qualifiers – NTX Rayados

Since 2014, there has been at least one amateur team that had survived qualification rounds and climbed all the way to the fourth round to face an MLS squad. While a “local qualifier” has not managed to get further than this, last year’s highest-advancing amateur club, NTX Rayados from Dallas, TX, could likely repeat the run.

The glut of MLS, USL, and NPSL squads means that only 8 local amateur teams make the competition this year (compared to 13 last year). However, the Rayados have been a powerhouse in the United States Adult Soccer Association and have qualified the last eight years. Granted, they have only gotten out of the first round twice, but last year’s squad scored three times in added extra time against Oklahoma City Energy FC for the second-round upset.

While the team was hammered 5-0 by eventual champions Houston Dynamo, the team has pulled in help from a national junior-college champion team to keep the squad young and talented. It took two long penalty-kick wins to make it this far this year, including one that went eleven rounds, but NTX could easily find themselves in a rematch against OKC if they can get past Little Rock in the first round.

USL League Two – Des Moines Menace

Remember when FC Cincinnati had a mini Ohio derby against AFC Cleveland in 2017? If Cleveland didn’t get past the first round, FCC would have had to travel to face the Menace in the second round. While Des Moines missed qualifying last year, their 13-1-0 record in 2018 gets them back into the tournament for the 11th time in 18 years.

Although the Menace failed to make it past the quarterfinals in the USL PDL tournament last year, the team returns a great deal of talent. The team has brought in Mark McKeever to helm the team this year, who led the Mississippi Brilla to the third round in the Open Cup last year. The Menace also bring back 2018 USL PDL MVP Ryosuke Kinoshita—the University of Louisville forward scored 17 goals for the Menace last year. He could be key in helping the team reach heights they haven’t seen since 2005, back when they beat USL1 teams Pittsburgh, Charleston, and Atlanta to get to the fourth round.

The run might not be easy though—a win means the Menace would have to host St. Louis FC in the second round. Considering they lost to St. Louis back in 2015, perhaps there’s an opportunity for an upset.

USL League One – Richmond Kickers?

Is there really a team in the USL’s brand-new Division III league that could go far in the Open Cup? Only six of the ten teams are unaffiliated and can compete, so the pickings are slim in the first place. Much of the meat in the league would have to face the top teams in the USL (Nashville SC, Charleston Battery, Indy Eleven), and Forward Madison would have to send an untested team 1,400 miles to face El Paso.

We threw a dart at a map of the U.S., and it landed nearest to Richmond. Why not roll with the team that won it all way back in 1995 and reached the semifinals in 2011? Granted, they have a steep challenge ahead of them in drawing NCFC if they get to the second round, but young striker Joe Gallardo has done well to start the season with 3 goals in his first six games with the Kickers. Maybe lighting strikes a few times in a row?

NPSL – Miami FC

While USL League Two (then PDL) has been considered the developmental half of Division IV soccer, the NPSL has to be considered the more regionally competitive half of the tier. The league has the most semi-pro representation in the U.S. Open Cup this year (14 teams), and it’s likely that the former NASL giants Miami FC could progress the furthest in the tournament this year.

Miami FC took major steps back last year in more ways than one. Forced to flee to NPSL when the NASL collapsed, the semi-pro squad was unable to get out of the USOC second round last year. However, the team still rode the hot feet of midfielder Dylan Mares and striker Ariel Martinez to win the 2018 NPSL Title, and the team’s only gotten better by signing ex-Red Bulls pro Lloyd Sam and former Toronto goalkeeper Mark Pais.

Can Miami FC repeat the success that got them past Orlando and Atlanta in 2017? That might be a bit of a harder challenge, but Miami FC’s 10-0 win over division rivals Storm FC this past week ought to strike fear in the USL Championship and League One teams. Miami FC should be able to trounce local-qualifiers Florida Soccer Soldiers on their way to facing a shaky Charlotte Independence squad next week. The step beyond that, however, could lead to a clash of ex-NASL giants…

USL Championship – Tampa Bay Rowdies

Part of me says that I shouldn’t play my chips this way. Tampa Bay has had that rock-star persona over the past few years with big names like Joe Cole and Marcel Schäfer gracing the pitch. However, this incarnation of the Rowdies has not gotten far in Open Cup play. Their biggest win was a third-round upset of Seattle in 2013, but they’ve never gotten past the fourth round since starting in 2010.

Why should this year be any different? First of all, it feels like the facelift to personnel has finally made the team younger and hungrier. 2018 felt like a sendoff to multiple players heading into retirement (Cole, Schäfer, Michael Nanchoff, Georgi Hristov), so it became the right time for new coach Neill Collins to stockpile talent. MLS discards such as midfielder Andrew Tinari and goalkeeper John McCarthy have fit in well, while forward Sebastián Guenzatti is leaving his mark as the new strike force. Talented USL standouts such as Zach Steinberger and Antoine Hoppenot have filled out the rest of the roster.

With that complete roster, Tampa Bay has started the season as one of two USL teams still undefeated. Considering they have the weekend off before their second-round matchup against local USL League Two talent, as well as a home stretch after that, Tampa Bay could go far in the Open Cup. If the luck of the draw means they don’t have to travel great distances, I could see them upsetting an Orlando City or Atlanta United squad down the line.

USL Championship – Las Vegas Lights FC

The immense explosion in USL expansion has created scenarios where USL Championship squads will likely face each other or a USL League One squad in the second round, so predicting an easy route to the third round isn’t so simple this year. Six teams in the Western Conference for the USL Championship will have to slug it out against each other, leaving some room for the untested teams.

The most intriguing of those teams appears to be Las Vegas. Their inaugural 2018 season was more circus than soccer with pre-game llamas, money-drop promotions, and a head coach who smoked in the stands during a preseason tilt against Vancouver. However, the hiring of MLS stalwart Eric Wynalda suggested that the team was ready to be taken seriously. Midfielder Irvin Parra has come back to the USL revitalized, scoring five goals in the last five games, while goalkeeper Thomas Olsen has started the season with four clean sheets.

Las Vegas will take on a relative lightweight in either FC Mulhouse (NPSL) or Cal FC (UPSL), and either team will have to travel far to get there. If Las Vegas win and get paired against Reno 1868 FC in the third round, the in-state rivalry could spark a streak.

Are the Lights ready for MLS competition? Perhaps. The 5-1 victory over Toronto in the preseason might be a measuring stick for such matters. If Vegas can make it to the fourth round and avoid matchups against the Los Angeles teams, I see an upset in the cards.


What teams in this year’s competition will go the furthest? What giant-killing opportunities lurk on the horizon? The only way we’ll find out is by letting it all play out to completion.

Deeper Cuts: FC Cincinnati’s Power-Grid Out(r)ages

FC Cincinnati’s fifth consecutive loss comes at a moment where the team could really use the boost in morale. The uplifting feeling…

Image: Joe Craven

FC Cincinnati’s fifth consecutive loss comes at a moment where the team could really use the boost in morale. The uplifting feeling from starting hot against some of the strongest teams from last season has now given way to sullen acceptance that achieving the playoffs might be a pipe dream if something doesn’t change. It’s getting harder to locate the good coming from the games when the team is struggling to get healthy and cohesive.

Short-Term Blips

It is hard to say if the team hit rock bottom from their 1-0 loss at San Jose, but a better team would have found a way to win with the advantages presented to them. The first 51 minutes of the match were understandably in San Jose’s favor. FCC has found it difficult to out-possess teams this season, and Saturday was no different. The ‘Quakes had hefty advantages in possession and pass success, as well as a 9-3 advantage in shots.

Major stats for San Jose (orange) and FCC (blue) before 51st-minute red card
Source: whoscored.com

Suffice to say, had Cristian Espinoza not gotten his red card in the 51st minute, we may have seen more of the same. However, the man advantage did flip the statistics—FCC enjoyed a possession advantage after the red card that brought the overall possession to a 52/48 split for San Jose. Despite not finding the net, FCC had their own 9-2 advantage in shots.

Major stats for San Jose (orange) and FCC (blue) after 51st-minute red card
Source: whoscored.com

Perhaps the hardest pill to swallow is that, even with a man advantage over 40 minutes in the second half, FCC weren’t able to break through with the goal they so dearly miss. Despite substituting in players with offensive potential—Manu Ledesma, Roland Lamah, and the returning Fanendo Adi—the zero was hung for another game. Only two shots were attempted on frame in the second half, and both were from midfielder Fatai Alashe.

The tide could still be turning. The big number that stood out when FCC beat Portland for their first win this year was the number of shots taken inside the 18-yard box (12/6). Even with the penalty kick factored in, seven of FCC’s eight goals have been from inside the box. However, despite having eight shots inside the box to San Jose’s four, the results have been threadbare. And perhaps that is where Adi can finally produce now that he’s healthy and hopefully ready for full 90-minute games.

Long-Term Blackouts

So far, the Orange & Blue have failed to score in five games and a total of 501 minutes. Those numbers have been announced repeatedly and are starting to build. FCC has been shut out in six games already this season, something that happened only five times last year.

Stretches of play without a goal is, fortunately, not as much a rarity in MLS play as people would imagine. Matthew Doyle pointed out the longest stretches of inefficiency when Montreal was undergoing a small stretch of their own last year. While the Impact figured out their issues and almost made the playoffs in 2018, history doesn’t paint a rosy picture for FCC.

The worst stretch belonged to Toronto FC in their inaugural 2007 season. Not only did they start their first season with four straight clean-sheet losses, but they eventually went nine games without scoring a goal, losing seven and drawing two. That TFC squad won only 6 times in 30 games, ending the season with only 25 goals and a -24 goal differential. Expectedly, both of those numbers put them dead last in their first year in the league.

MLS scoreless streaks and how the teams finished in standings and goal differential

Of note, both Toronto FC and Real Salt Lake opened their first season with longer scoreless streaks, and both finished near the bottom of the MLS table. Their goal differentials also were believably bad, which is to be expected from teams that could not produce offense.

However, if there is any sort of bright spot, Colorado had a similar scoreless streak in 1999, but still managed to make the playoffs. Yes, the number of teams in the league is now double that of the league in 1999, but it’s still a positive sign. There is time to turn the ship around, especially now that FCC gets two home games and two (hopefully) winnable road games against Orlando and Colorado.

Of note, this power outage is affecting the entire state of Ohio. Columbus have lost their last five games, having scored only 2 goals of their own.

The Bright Bulbs

At least this game gave us a chance to analyze Frankie Amaya in his first professional start with FC Cincinnati. Given the chance to work before his substitution in the 67th minute, Amaya was efficient when he had the opportunity with the ball. He led the starters in pass success (95%) and tied with Kenny Saief in team-high for tackles (4). However, his possession numbers were still relatively low (2.5%), as the ball was primarily controlled by Ulloa (10.5%), Waston (5.5%), and Lasso (5.1%).

The other positive is that this was the first game where both Adi and Ledesma were on the pitch at the same time, albeit both in a substitution role. Ledesma had a significant amount of possession (2.3%) and was 4th on the team in Audi Index numbers for only 25 minutes of play. While Adi’s numbers were hard to monitor, getting him onto the pitch was the first step.

It’s a small victory in itself, but considering that both last year’s USL MVP and major DP signing have only played 24% and 18% of the minutes this season, it was good to get them back to Square One. If Greg Garza is able to return to full health and the best midfield tandem can be decided, maybe Koch can crank out the fullest, most effective lineup and bail this sinking ship out.

Until the next goal for FCC can be scored, however, the fans will be wondering when the lights will come back on.


Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press as FCC prepares for their home tilt against Montreal next Saturday.