Colorado Takeaways, Cruz’s International, and Open Cup Planning

FC CIncinnati is two-for-two on positive results in preseason, a Rapids debrief, info on Cruz’s 7th international, and a look at the U.S. Open Cup inmpact.

Image: Ryan Meyer

The Result

FC Cincinnati’s second preseason effort of 2019 yielded a slender 1-0 victory over the Colorado Rapids. The victory comes with an asterisk, given Kendall Waston’s 21st-minute red card and Colorado’s youth-laden lineup. But the squad is two-for-two on positive results, and more importantly, no injuries were sustained during the contest.

Adding to the positives, Eric Alexander and five of the draftees saw their first in-game action of the preseason. Alexander, the Portage, Michigan native, came into camp with a slight injury and didn’t take part in the first preseason match versus Montréal Impact. Despite being subbed out later on, Alexander logged 30 minutes against the Rapids. Alexander has 212 MLS appearances since 2010, the most on FC Cincinnati’s roster.

Forrest Lasso continued his strong start to the preseason on Saturday, deflecting a header from Hassam Ndam for the only goal. He now has a goal, an assist, and a clean sheet in both of the halves that he’s been on the field.

Alan Koch was especially impressed with the team’s defense against Colorado.

I was impressed with the shape of both groups. We got a shut-out in the first 45 minutes and in the second 45 minutes. When you focus on a lot of defensive work this week, that’s a huge positive.

FCC featured a three-center-back look over the 90 minutes against the Rapids. The team was set up in a 3-5-2 formation, in contrast to the 4-3-3 that FCC ran against Montréal.

Next up is D.C. United on Thursday for a 7 pm kickoff in the last match of FC Cincinnati’s IMG camp.

Cruz’s International

Allan Cruz missed the Colorado friendly in Bradenton and instead played the full 90 minutes in Costa Rica’s 2-0 loss to the United States Men’s National Team. Earning meaningful minutes at the international level at age 22 is impressive, even if a few fans were put off by a perception that the midfielder went down a little too easily at times. That was Cruz’s seventh cap for the Ticos, all of which were earned during 2018 and 2019.

The Greg Berhalter Era of the USMNT is off to a crisp start, despite the first-year coach fielding only MLS-based players. His teams claimed two victories including five goals-for and none against. Hopefully, Greg Garza can get healthy and keep himself on the radar for future national team selection.

U.S. Open Cup Schedule

Last week saw the release of the schedule for the 106th U.S. Open Cup. As expected, FC Cincinnati will enter in the fourth round and play their first match on June 12th. In a scheduling twist, the fifth round will occur just one week later if FC Cincinnati progresses. Those two matches would fill in FC Cincinnati’s only true bye week on the 2019 calendar.

Here is what the June through mid-July match schedule looks like with the addition of the Open Cup matches. This assumes FCC participates in three rounds. If they advance all the way to a semifinal match, that will be played on August 7th.

6/1 at Colorado Rapids
6/6 at NYCFC (Thursday)
6/12 – USOC 4th Round (Wednesday)
6/18 to 6/23 – USOC 5th Round (likely Wednesday 6/19)
6/22 – LA Galaxy
6/29 – at Minnesota United
7/6 – Houston Dynamo
7/10 – USOC Quarterfinal
7/13 – at Chicago Fire
7/18 – D.C. United (Thursday)

The early rounds usually offer some fairy-tale regional stories and kick off May 7-8. Those consist of 19 first-round games featuring 84 teams from all levels. FC Cincinnati’s first U.S. Open Cup match in June could produce an intriguing regional match with an old USL foe like Indy Eleven, who is carrying several players from FCC’s 2018 roster.

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

FC Cincinnati Roster Building: Preparing for the MLS Expansion Draft

Image: Joe Craven

FC Cincinnati made another major roster announcement Monday, officially signing center back Forrest Lasso. Props to the club for now cleverly announcing #19 Corben Bone on the 19th of November and #3 Lasso on the 3rd of December. This brings the current Senior Roster to 5 players, one week away from the MLS Expansion Draft.

Five additional roster spots are up for grabs during the Expansion Draft December 11th at 2pm. Assuming no additional roster announcements are made prior, it’s logical to think that one-half (10 of 20) Senior Roster spots will be spoken for by this time next week.

We recently asked via our Discussion Thread series what strategy the team may make during the Expansion Draft. To better understand how best to answer this question, let’s review the following roster graphic.

FC Cincinnati Senior Roster Matrix

The above table illustrates a realistic approach to how FCC may fill out their inaugural 2019 MLS Senior Roster over the next few weeks. Green highlights a higher proposed target opportunity, yellow a mid-level and red a lower probability.

Players Signed (5 players)

The first handful of FC Cincinnati MLS signees represent a great foundation of talent, consisting of:

  • Fanendo Adi, Designated Player – a proven MLS forward with 50 goals in 120 appearances for the Portland Timbers
  • Emmanuel Ledesma, International – the reigning USL Most Valuable Player
  • Forrest Lasso – the reigning USL Defender of the Year
  • Fatai Alashe – a central defensive midfielder with recent MLS experience in San Jose
  • Corben Bone – a fan favorite and FCC original with MLS credibility

Expansion Draft (5 players)

The club has the unique opportunity given to expansion sides to make a significant impact in shaping their roster next Tuesday. As the list of available players will not be released by the MLS until the day before, it’s nearly impossible to predict the best talent available. Additionally, teams will protect their top 11 players, specifically in high impact positions, such as central defenders, center midfielders and forwards.

Therefore, we’ve taken a theoretical approach to what may be available. We highlight below the higher probability positions and a few players that may just be sitting there for the taking on the 11th.

Goalkeepers

Although it’s not likely that a first team keeper will be on the board, there will be several former starters and back-ups available, such as:

  • David Ousted, DC United – the 33-year-old, 6’ 4” Danish keeper has 159 MLS starts (42 shutouts) for DC United (2018) and Vancouver Whitecaps (2013-2017). Yes, Ousted provides the Vancouver connection we’ve witnessed Alan Koch dip into frequently. The return of club legend Bill Hamid to DC United last summer makes Ousted (Oh-sted) expendable and available. Achievable for right around $500k.
  • Brad Stuver, NYCFC – former Dayton Dutch Lion and Columbus Crew SC, 27-year-old greater Cleveland native. With only 4 MLS starts, Stuver could be a possible back-up if the team feels they have a bona-fide starter in Spencer Richey or Evan Newton.

Central Defenders

High quality center backs are in high demand and pivotal for an expansion side. Look for FCC to seek an experienced MLS veteran to shore up a young and MLS inexperienced duo of Lasso and Paddy Barrett (yes, I went there).

  • Tim Parker, RBNY – my O&B Press colleagues will not be surprised with this one. As a self-professed Tim Parker fan, this would be a gigantic pick-up by FCC. Not only is he another former Whitecaps player (2015-2017), he was also Spencer Richey’s first roommate on the road with the Whitecaps FC 2 USL franchise in 2015. Additionally, the 26-year old Parker, and former 2011 High School Gatorade Player of the Year, has two USMNT caps and 105 MLS appearances in 4 seasons. He is out of contract with the Red Bulls and just might be available in the Expansion Draft.
  • Kofi Opare, out of contract with DC United – the Ghanaian born, U.S./Canadian duel national played collegiately at University of Michigan. He has over 6,500 MLS minutes between stops with LA Galaxy and DC United. A recent foot injury may be a concern but will also keep his salary demands in budget.

Outside Fullbacks

This is a position that is a high target need for the Orange & Blue to fill in the upcoming few weeks.

  • Ronald Matarrita, NYCFC – the 24-year-old, Costa Rican international Matarrita should be left unprotected next week. He is the current back up to former Crew and Dayton Dutch Lion Ben Sweat in NY. Matarrita has played over 4,000 MLS minutes with NYCFC the last 3 seasons. He has 23 caps for the Ticos and is versatile as a left winger as well. He would likely require TAM to buy down his salary to fit within the individual player max budget charge. Matarrita would be dynamic in Orange & Blue.
  • Greg Garza, Atlanta United – the 27-year-old former Liga MX player is signed to a multi-year deal for the MLS Cup bound Five Stripes. However, if he is left unprotected by Atlanta, FCC need to jump on the versatile left back/midfielder. He has 10 USMNT caps and would be a great fit for FC Cincinnati.
  • Jordan Harvey, out of contract with LAFC – the 34-year old, eleven-year MLS journeyman would bring tons of experience at left back for a reasonable price. You guessed it, he’s another player with Vancouver connections having played for the Whitecaps from 2011-2017. Harvey could be a low risk, inexpensive roster filler. He certainly knows what to expect on a new expansion side.

Wingers

Alan Koch has shown a desire to have a stable of wingers that burn pass opponents on the flank. Having a true #9 like Adi in the line-up will also predicate the need for outside midfielders/wingers to get service into his path.

  • Juan Agudelo, out of contract with NE Revolution – although I’ve not been a huge Agudelo fan over the years, he has re-invented himself as a winger of late. Only 26-years-old, the upside here is potentially grabbing a savvy player with 175 MLS appearances. For the right price, Aqudelo may be worth a look.
  • Zoltan Stieber, DC United – the 30-year-old Hungarian has bounced around the top European leagues including stops at Aston Villa, Mainz 05, Hamburger SV and FC Kaiserslautern. He has made 35 appearances for DC United the past two seasons scoring 6 goals. Stieber has UEFA Europa League experience and 22 caps for the Magyars.

Keep in mind, FCC can only take one player from each of the 18 available unprotected team rosters. Toronto FC, Columbus Crew SC, Sporting Kansas City, Seattle Sounders, and the San Jose Earthquakes are all exempt from the Expansion Draft as LAFC chose players from their rosters in the last Expansion Draft.

The positional tactics above appear to align with some of the incoming but unsubstantiated rumors of possible FCC open market transfer targets.

Transfer Rumors

  • Alfredo Morales, recent media reports state that both FCC and NYCFC are interested in the 28-year-old former USMNT center midfielder. Morales currently plays in the Bundesliga for Fortuna Düsseldorf. His club placed a $1M transfer fee price tag on any potential transfer.
  • Ozvaldo Alonso, the Seattle Sounders announced two weeks ago that they would not re-sign their 33-year-old veteran defensive midfielder. The storied Cuban national and former Charleston Battery player will be a hot commodity in the MLS free agent market. His age and recent injuries raise a few doubts, but the “Honey Badger’s” experience and clever play could be a much-needed asset for an expansion side.
  • Matias Campos López, MLS Transfer News reported this week that FCC are targeting the 27-year-old Chilean striker. He has scored 13 goals in 26 appearances this season for Palestino of the Chilean Primera Division.

Who do you see FC Cincinnati targeting, position, and player-wise, in the upcoming Expansion Draft?

Following the completion of the Expansion Draft, FC Cincinnati needs to fill the remaining half of their Senior Roster from a combination of the following: MLS Free Agency, the Waiver Draft, the Re-Entry Draft, the SuperDraft, the international transfer market and from their former USL roster.

Stay tuned to the Orange & Blue Press for your continued off-season coverage and Transfer News.

2018 USL Cup Run: Orange & Blue Press Staff Predictions

The O&BP staff try their hand at predicting the thoroughbreds and dark horses for the 2018 USL Cup playoffs.

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Image: Ryan Meyer

FC Cincinnati’s much anticipated 2018 opening-round playoff match has finally arrived. Having secured the most points in USL history to earn a playoff passage for the third time in three seasons, will the Orange & Blue right past inequities and grab their first-ever postseason victory?  Will FCC finally overcome Nashville and extend their unbeaten streak to 24 games?  Will we see a second-round match come October 27th?

As a lead-up to Saturday’s game, we invited the Orange & Blue Press staff to opine on several USL playoff questions and possibilities. Here are the results…

1. Which team is most likely to knock off FCC in the East?

Graphics by Connor Paquette

Michael Walker (Founder/Managing Editor):  Louisville City FC

As unpopular as it is for Cincinnatians to accept, Louisville City is still the next best team in the East, and now that John Hackworth has some games under his belt, they’re on a winning streak and banging in the goals.

Geoff Tebbetts (Writer/Editor):  Louisville City FC

Louisville City figured FCC out early and often this year, and that hurricane at Slugger really doesn’t count for much in my opinion. I still think FCC can get to Louisville keeper Greg Ranjitsingh a few times, but Lou City’s offense just looks harder to hold back now that Luke Spencer is healthy again. 

Stephen Buckeridge (Writer/Editor):  Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC

The Riverhounds match up well against Eastern rivals Louisville City and FC Cincinnati. They are compact and stingy on defense, their keeper Daniel Lynd is healthy again, and they know how to effectively apply high pressure on the opposing backlines. Their secret weapon though may be their coach, Bob Lilley. He’s a USL playoff veteran and won the USL Cup with with the Rochester Rhinos in 2015.

Connor Paquette (Contributor/Graphics):  Nashville SC

FC Cincinnati earning the 2018 USL Regular Season Title was almost laughably easy. But FCC is not exempt from the Queen City “first-round-and-out” curse that has been plaguing local major league teams for more than two decades. Beyond our playoff curse, FCC failed to produce a win against Nashville all season. If the trend continues and another draw is the finale to this rivalry’s USL chapter, I fear facing Matt Pickens in penalty kicks to decide the match.

Joe Craven (Photographer):  New York Red Bulls II

New York Red Bulls II have a recent USL Cup title of their own. With a consistent finish to the regular season, I predict they will pose a hefty challenge for the Orange & Blue.

2. Which team from the Western Conference will FCC play in the USL Championship Game?

Graphics by Connor Paquette

Connor:  Sacramento Republic FC

One month ago, I would’ve said Phoenix Rising FC. However, though they were once on pace to finish the season as the West’s #1 seed, they dropped their final two games – usually a sign of a burnt-out squad. That in mind, I consider Sacramento Republic FC, who are undefeated in their final eight regular season matches, to be the team to beat in the West. They’re peaking heading into the most important part of the season.

JoeSacramento Republic FC

Sacramento Republic FC has a solid defense and a reputation for performing well during the playoffs, winning the USL Cup in their first season in 2014 under Preki. First-year head coach, Simon Elliott, will lead the Republic side back to the Cup Final.

StephenOrange County SC

Going against the OB&P grain it appears, I see Orange County muscling through the gauntlet in the West. They have a difficult path, even as a #1 seed. OCSC boasts a prolific attack led by Thomas Enevoldsen (20 goals, 9 assists) and former FCC player Aodhan Quinn (11 goals, 14 assists, and a league high 103 chances created). Not to be outdone by their offense, they have a more than adequate defense that is ranked in the top tier statistically. Hosting each game at home, where they are 10-3-4 this season, may be the clinching factor.

Geoff:  Sacramento Republic FC

I am hesitant to stick with my mid-season pick of Orange County SC, so I’ll go with the hotter team, Sacramento Republic. The team has gone undefeated in their last eight games, and Cameron Iwasa has scored 10 goals in his last 15 matches. Sacramento has also managed to beat Orange County twice this year, which helps if they go on the road against them in the conference final. Besides, don’t you want a Sacramento-Cincinnati rematch?!

Michael:  Sacramento Republic FC

The West is wild, and the #1 seed has gotten knocked out early the past two seasons, so don’t expect to see OCSC there necessarily. Sacramento Republic hasn’t grabbed headlines lately, but they are the two seed, have a great home field advantage, and their half of the bracket might be more manageable.

3. Who are your dark horse picks for the East and West?

Michael:

East: New York Red Bulls II. The Red Bulls always produce a steady stream of high-quality talent and have been to the Eastern Conference finals the last two seasons. They won the whole thing in 2016. They’re inconsistent, but when they’re clicking they can beat anyone in the USL.

West: Reno 1868 FC. They’re undefeated in their last 7 including 5 wins. But in truth, whatever Geoff Tebbetts says … he knows that conference better than I do. Can I cheat off of his paper? 

Geoff:

East: New York Red Bulls II. In the East, I still think Red Bulls II is a scary team. It’s hard to ignore what they pulled off last year in the playoffs, and coach John Wolyniec continues to stockpile high-octane pieces on offense.

West: Phoenix Rising FC. Well, I had Reno as my dark horse, but it appears there’s not enough room on this bandwagon. Phoenix, despite their last two games of the season, have a talented offense spearheaded by winger Solomon Asante. If Chris Cortez (17 goals) can remain hotter than the Sonoran Desert, I think they could give Didier Drogba a retirement present.

Joe:

East: Bethlehem Steel FC. I believe Bethlehem Steel FC may surprise people. Their path to an Eastern Conference title won’t be easy for them though.

West: Reno 1868 FC. Reno 1868 FC closed out their season well. Real Monarchs and Reno 1868 FC will be a good match-up in the Conference Quarter-finals.

Connor:

East: Louisville City FC. I’ve already discussed Nashville and the difficult first round playoff hump, so I’m gonna cheat a little and go with the #2 seed. Louisville experienced growing pains after losing Head Coach James O’Connor. However, they seem to be stabilized again after finishing the regular season with six straight wins. Oh, and their last loss? That would be against FC Cincinnati in the rain. Revenge in the eye of the defending champions vs. the 2018 Regular Season Champs in the Eastern Conference title match? Now that’s a finale worthy of the Dirty River Derby.

West: Reno 1868 FC. Reno is only a year off of setting the single season scoring record. Along with this, I’m sticking to my fear of teams who are hitting their stride heading into the playoffs. Reno is undefeated in their last seven games. They also capped off their season by thumping the #1 seed in the West, Orange County SC, 3-1. Ye be warned.

4. Who will be the FC Cincinnati MVP in the 2018 USL playoffs? 

Connor:  Forrest Lasso

Though FCC’s entire team has seen plenty of rotation in 2018, our stalwart central defender has remained the anchor securing Cincinnati’s elite defense. At 25 years of age, this is a perfect time for the young defender to hone his leadership skills and cement the defensive wall – just like he did against FC Cincinnati as a member of the Charleston Battery in the 2016 USL Playoffs. If Lasso struggles, you’ll notice. But he hasn’t and that’s a big part of why FC Cincinnati has the best goal differential in the entire USL.

Stephen:  Emmanuel Ledesma

Hard to not go with the most influential player on the team and the odds-on league MVP. Success in the playoffs is neither guaranteed nor straight-forward. A clever touch, a timely assist against the run of play, an “Olimpico” or a free kick golazo may be the elixir that sees a Cincinnati sports team win in the playoffs. Manu was the catalyst for this team all season; let’s continue that winning formula to the 2018 USL Cup.

Joe:  Forrest Lasso

Keen awareness, hardworking, and willing to sacrifice. Enough said. 

Geoff:  Corben Bone

Assuming that FCC can go far in the playoffs, I think you ride the Cinderella story that is Corben Bone. Team defenses are going to focus on Emmanuel Ledesma and Fanendo Adi so much that Bone will likely have runs at the goal like he had against Nashville in the final game of the season. It would be the perfect postscript to the season.

MichaelForrest Lasso

It’s cliché but defense wins championships. A lot of FCC’s recent success has required them to absorb shots and pressure but not concede goals. Remember that header he cleared off the line against Penn FC? Manu and Adi will provide FCC’s goals, but we’ll need heroic defending and Lasso’s aerial dominance to lift the cup.


Have your own thought on how the 2018 USL Playoffs will unfold? Share your opinions with us as you get ready for the “Blue Out” at Nippert Saturday at 4pm.

* Special thanks to all our Orange & Blue Press colleagues and friends for an enjoyable and fun season covering this team. In addition, thank you Connor Paquette for spurring us on to co-author this glimpse into the Orange & Blue staff’s USP playoff predictions.

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for all of your FC Cincinnati coverage during their 2018 USL Cup playoff run.

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FC Cincinnati 4 – 3 Toronto FC II: Birthday-Boy Bone Takes The Cake

FC Cincinnati ride Corben Bone’s brace and survive a torrid Toronto offense to extend their unbeaten run to 18 games.

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Graphic: Connor Paquette / Image: Ryan Meyer

In a matchup of the top and bottom teams on the table, FC Cincinnati needed all 90 minutes and more to scratch out a 4-3 win over Toronto FC II. While TFC II has never beaten Cincinnati, their recent upset of Louisville City on the road and their 3-3 draw against FCC earlier this season indicated that this would be harder than it appeared. All 27,275 in attendance at Nippert Stadium would have to agree with that statement.

While FCC began the game with solid ownership of the ball, it was Toronto that took the early lead. Midfielder Tsubasa Endoh took hold of a free pass in the 24th minute and fired a deep volley that beat goalkeeper Spencer Richey to his left. This tended to be a common theme, as Endoh enjoyed miles of space in front of the 18-yard-box all afternoon.

However, Endoh wasn’t the only one with a hot foot. Emmanuel Ledesma set a new USL assists record (and then some) in the 31st minute, lacing a free kick into the box for a Forrest Lasso header. The big man’s third goal of the year made it 1-1.

The teams traded goals right before halftime. Fenando Adi flicked a pass over his defender’s head deep in first-half stoppage time to toe-poke a shot past goalkeeper Caleb Patterson-Sewell to claim the lead. However, Endoh evaded coverage a minute later to graze a shot past a diving Richey and knot it 2-2 at halftime.

The second half was almost a carbon-copy of the first. While FCC owned possession again, their efforts were being halted by the Toronto D line pulling them offside. Endoh then potted his hat-trick by firing a shot from distance atop the box past Richey’s left. His eighth goal in six games made the score 3-2 in the 73rd minute.

Coach Alan Koch then appeared to make the right call by switching his wingers. Jimmy McLaughlin, subbed in the 62nd minute, moved to the right side of the pitch, while Ledesma switched to the left. In the 78th minute, McLaughlin chipped a give-and-go to Corben Bone. The birthday boy flicked a right-footed shot past Patterson-Sewell to tie it at 3-3.

Ledesma made his own connection to Bone to win the game late. His cross and league-leading 15th assist in the 88th minute went unclaimed until Bone read the bounce and headed it home. Bone’s eighth of the season gave FCC the 4-3 win in the end. Not a bad way to celebrate your 30th birthday, Corben!

Final Score: FC Cincinnati 4 – 3 Toronto FC II

Standings Update

The win over Toronto and draw between Pittsburgh and Louisville on Saturday puts FC Cincinnati 16 points ahead of the pack. This means that FC Cincinnati cannot finish any lower than second place. With a win over Penn FC Saturday or a Riverhounds draw or loss against Indy, the Eastern Conference crown will belong to Cincinnati. Toronto FC II’s loss keeps them in last place.

Table 0916.png

Highlight of the Match

While he lost points for the dismount, Adi’s goal was a perfect ten.

Quote of the Match

While FCC fought hard to capture all three points, Alan Koch wasn’t too happy about the team’s overall performance. The coach did not mince his words when asked about treating this game as a learning experience and Toronto’s overall game plan.

“No disrespect to Toronto, I thought they came in and they played very well. They had a good game plan—they almost executed it—but we gave a quality player way too much space, first off. And we didn’t play the way we needed to play. Thankfully, we have enough individual and collective class to go out and get a positive result, and at the end of the day that’s the most important thing.”

Stat of the Match

9 – FCC only managed 12 shots to Toronto’s 10, but nine of Cincinnati’s shots (and all four goals) were from inside the box. While Toronto had less shots inside the box, the space left for Endoh gave the team an incredible 50% accuracy from beyond the box.

FCC TFC 0916
While TFC (green) was more accurate from distance, FCC (black) made it count in the box.

Who Started?

Much of the starting XI from last week’s match against Lou City started, with Adi and Lahoud replacing Emery Welshman and Fatai Alashe. Matt Bahner returned to the 18 after a few weeks out with a leg injury, but did not see the pitch. The team also did not see a yellow card issued, so there should be no suspensions for their next game.

Adi (75′ König)
Bone – Albadawi (60′ McLaughlin) – Ledesma
Lahoud (70′ Gibson) – Walker
Smith – Lasso – Barrett (c) – Hoyte
Richey

What’s Next?

FC Cincinnati takes a two-game detour away from Nippert before their last regular-season home game. The Orange & Blue face Penn FC on Saturday at FNB Field with the opportunity to clinch the regular-season title. Penn FC is still fighting for their playoff lives after losing to North Carolina FC 1-0.

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

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Deeper Cuts: FCC Survives Tampa Bay’s Tidal Wave

FC Cincinnati managed to batten down the hatches in Tampa Bay for three points. Here’s some insight on how they weathered the storm.

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Image: Joe Craven

FC Cincinnati is starting to make a habit of busting the ghosts of their short history. After collecting their first win against Tampa Bay earlier this year, the team finally earned their first goal, point, and win in St. Pete’s. The 2-1 victory over Tampa Bay puts FCC in first by 11 points and almost guarantees post-season play. However, it also reverses a disturbing trend when it comes to the summer.

In the 2016 and 2017 seasons, FC Cincinnati wilted in the summer heat, particularly in August. Under both John Harkes and Alan Koch, the team averaged only 1.0 point per game, but the trend has changed in 2018.

August trends.png

Considering that this year’s August journey took FCC through the heart of the South, escaping the month unscathed with a vital win against Tampa Bay was no easy task. The boys in Orange & Blue had to overcome Mother Nature and a motivated Rowdies squad for these three points.

Absorbing the Impact

As if the weather wasn’t making the game hard enough, FCC had to withstand an onslaught from the Rowdies’ offense. Tampa Bay controlled possession (56%-44%) and passing accuracy (79%-76%) in a game where the pouring rain suggested that control would be a necessity. The heat map alone shows that the Rowdies occupied tons of real estate in the FCC 18-yard-box, whereas FCC barely made a mark in the Rowdies box.

FCC TBR Heat 0825.png
Tampa Bay’s heat map (left) vs. Cincinnati’s heat map (right).

With so much possession in the Cincinnati box, Tampa Bay managed 31 total shots, tied for the most in one game this year. Forward Junior Flemmings alone outshot the entire FCC offense (11 to 7). Tampa Bay even blanked Cincinnati on corner kicks, getting 13 of their own. However, FCC’s ability to clog the box and Evan Newton’s solid goalkeeping kept the damage to a minimum. Tampa Bay only managed 6 shots on target, putting their shot accuracy (19%) well below their season average (40%).

Much of the pressure in the first half came from Flemmings’ ability to penetrate, getting off 8 shots inside the 18-yard-box. However, FCC managed to neutralize Flemmings with Forrest Lasso’s physical frame. The big center back was responsible for 10 of Cincinnati’s 18 clearances in the first half. Considering Flemmings and Lasso tussled a bit in the home game against Tampa Bay, this matchup was highly anticipated.

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Tampa Bay’s shots in the 1st half (left) and the 2nd half (right).

In the second half, Tampa Bay altered their approach to encourage more attacks on Newton’s right. Cincinnati did a much better job at blocking shots (blue in the image) from that angle, as Paddy Barrett had three of Cincinnati’s 8 second-half blocks. Part of the defense was good fortune and solid blocking. However, the fact that Tampa Bay’s only two shots on goal (green) came from outside the box in the second half suggests that Cincinnati’s ability to pack the box, even after Blake Smith’s red card, succeeded.

Countering the Barrage

It’s clear that Tampa Bay had heavy advantages in offensive numbers. Even without the strong defensive performance, FC Cincinnati quite possibly could and should have lost this game. However, in these cases, it matters how well you can take advantage of the opponent’s momentary lapses and frustration.

For the most part, Tampa Bay had Cincinnati well-covered. Few of the areas in the heat map do not overlap between the two squads. However, all of that coverage led to the first goal. Tampa Bay was well-aware of the danger Emmanuel Ledesma presented, but his first touch drew the entire Tampa Bay back-line up to the top of their own box. With Nazmi Albadawi skirting to Ledesma’s right, the line left Jimmy McLaughlin wide open. Contact in the box, penalty, shot on goal, 1-0.

That first foul on Tampa Bay was the likeliest indication that referee Kevin Broadley wasn’t going to allow play to get too physical. While the Rowdies held a firm advantage in possession, they committed almost twice as many fouls as FCC (23-12). This allowed FCC to squeeze yellow cards out of their opponent to slow the game down in their favor when necessary.

Even when the eventual hammer came down on Blake Smith for time-wasting, Alan Koch managed to settle his club and make a strategic substitution. Pulling Fenando Adi out for Pa Konate, Koch opted for a 4-4-1 formation that stacked the defense. While this did allow the tying goal by Poku at the time, the frustration to score was still producing more yellow cards in Tampa Bay’s disadvantage (8-4).

And that’s where the eventual game-winning play came about. Tampa Bay pulled back in the 80th minute to reset after their goal, only for the defense to lapse at the right side of Daniel Vega again. With both Konate and Jimmy McLaughlin fresher and without cards, their give-and-go allowed Konate to approach the box with less to lose. The eventual foul reduced Tampa Bay’s squad to ten and allowed the winning penalty kick.

The Perfect Storm

Overall, it’s easy to say that this was a mess of a game. The rain did not help anyone. Tampa Bay proved that a stronger team with nothing more to lose could challenge Cincinnati. Had the weather been more cooperative, this could have easily been a statement Rowdies victory.

However, FCC proved to be a team that could read the environment, play with a calmer demeanor, and use the whistle to their advantage. Part of the good fortune, in the end, may have also been the short week—Stefano Bonomo, who had played well since his purchase from New York, was left off the 18-man roster. Still, sometimes you need a little luck to weather a storm.

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for coverage of FC Cincinnati’s upcoming clash with Pittsburgh and the rest of the 2018 season.

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FC Cincinnati 2 – 1 New York Red Bulls II: Center Back Headers Lead the Way

FC Cincinnati battled a talented Red Bulls II side during a rainy evening in Cincinnati. The match-up between the 1st and 4th place teams did not disappoint with the Orange & Blue extending their unbeaten streak to 10 matches.

New York 7.21_Match Recap
Graphic: Connor Paquette / Image: Joe Schmuck

FC Cincinnati extended its unbeaten streak to ten games in a chippy, rainy night at Nippert Stadium. The Orange & Blue delivered a total team win in front of 23,602 vocal, soaked fans. For the second time this season, FCC was able to outlast the young, talented New York Red Bulls II squad 2-1. While the scoring came in the first half, the action was intense throughout and the match came down to the wire.

The Baby Bulls started the game with the better possession, energy, and chances. Spencer Richey was ready for the task and wisely came off his line in the 15th minute to snuff out a Tom Barlow breakaway. Just two minutes later, FCC gained its first corner kick and chance of the match. Against the run of play, the Orange & Blue were able to claim the lead when Emmanuel Ledesma placed his corner perfectly off of Forest Lasso’s head at the near post for his second goal in two games.

In the 23rd minute, Corben Bone barely missed when he cut the ball back and shot wide of the near post with his right boot. Red Bulls II came down the pitch, earned a free kick from 35 yards out, and were able to equalize off a set piece of their own. Unfortunately for Danni König, the shot deflected off his head and into the net for an own goal.

The first half scoring was not over. Ledesma once again illustrated his precision with the ball, delivering a long range free kick directly into the path of the surging Paddy Barrett. Paddy headed it home for his first tally in the Orange & Blue kit, regaining the lead for the home side.

Although the rain tapered off slightly in the second half, the chippy play did not. Both teams battled hard with three additional yellow cards being issued by the head referee. FC Cincinnati was able to manage the game and fend off a late surge by the Red Bull II attack. A little luck was needed in the 92nd minute when Barlow’s left-footed shot from a cross ricocheted off the inside of the crossbar and fell safely back into play.

Final Score: FC Cincinnati 2-1 New York Red Bulls II

Standings Update

FC Cincinnati’s fifth victory in a row at home enables the Orange & Blue to further distance themselves at the top with 44 points after 21 matches. FCC now stand 9 points clear of Charleston after their 1-0 win at Pittsburgh. The Riverhounds fall to third place in the East with the loss to the Battery, and are now 10 points behind, with three games in hand. The Baby Bulls drop to 5th place after tonight’s loss, falling a point behind Lou City.

Highlight of the Match

For the second match in a row, both FCC goals were the result of set pieces. Ledesma skillfully delivered both dead ball situations, increasing his team and league lead for assists with 10. Both goals were of high quality, but it was the Irishman Barrett’s first goal as a FCC player that proved to be the game winner, and the fourth straight goal by a FCC center back.

Quote of the Match

Paddy Barrett had the following to say about the squad’s depth on a night when he opened his account for FC Cincinnati.

“That’s a credit to this coaching staff. We’ve got 25 players that, no matter what 11 you put out each week, you could put it up against any team in this league and we’re a lot of confident lads … we go out with confidence and get three points, no matter who comes here.”

Who Started?

Completing the third match in just eight days, Koch once again tapped into his deep roster and made 5 changes to the team that started against Charlotte mid-week. Spencer Richey replaced Evan Newton in goal, making his fifth start of the season. Paddy Barrett and Matt Bahner joined the back four in place of Dekel Keinan and Justin Hoyte. Nazmi Albadawi and Danni König returned to the starting line-up. In addition, Koch tweaked the stating formation, placing the squad in an attack-minded 4-3-3.

Ledesma (83′ Ciccerone) – König (90+2′ Ameobi) – McLaughlin
Albadawi – Walker – Bone (90′ Seymore)
Smith – Lasso – Barrett – Bahner
Richey

Barrett and Blake Smith both picked up yellow cards in the game, their 3rd and 4th respectively. Koch brought on three late substitutes, Russell Ciccerone, Will Seymore and Tomi Ameobi.

What’s Next?

Before returning to USL action in two weeks against Nashville SC, the Orange & Blue will host their third international friendly next Saturday. FC Cincinnati faces another Spanish Primera Division side when RCD Espanyol come to town. The Catalonia-based side finished 11th (mid-table) in La Liga last season and are working several new player signings into their squad.

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

New York 7.21_Match Recap

FC Cincinnati 2 – 0 Charlotte Independence: Cincy’s Set-Piece Work Succeeds

FC Cincinnati’s clean-sheet run stretches to four games with a 2-0 dusting of the Charlotte Independence.

Charlotte 7.18_Match Recap

FC Cincinnati extended its unbeaten streak to nine games and exterminated some ghosts in the process. The Orange & Blue got some vengeance for their only road loss earlier in the season by defeating Charlotte 2-0. While the Independence claim this year’s Queen Cities Cup on a 4-3 aggregate, FCC now has four straight shutouts and six in their last eight games.

FCC marched out a similar lineup from Saturday and got out to a flying start. In the 7th minute, Emmanuel Ledesma fired a corner kick that found Forrest Lasso’s forehead, only for the ball to clang off the crossbar. However, Dekel Keinan swept up the crumbs to push the ball into the net for his first goal of the season.

In the 20th minute, FCC finally got their first set piece of the season into the goal. Lasso bent down for a Kenny Walker cross in the box to beat goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra. The defender’s first goal of the season gave Cincy the 2-0 lead that lasted the rest of the game.

While the second half was without offensive sparks, there was still plenty of opportunities. Charlotte’s best chance came in the 60th minute—a free kick from Jay Voser almost skirted past both teams, but Evan Newton dove to his left to pad the ball aside. Ledesma almost gave FCC a three-goal lead in the 78th minute with a stellar Olympico from the corner, only for the goal to be blown dead from a foul. FCC wasted away the remaining time to collect all three points.

Final Score: FC Cincinnati 2-0 Charlotte Independence

Standings Update

FC Cincinnati still sits atop the table, extending their lead to seven points over idle Pittsburgh. The Riverhounds face third-place Charleston on Saturday, giving FCC a chance to extend their edge over at least one of these teams. Charlotte remains in eighth place.

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Highlight of the Match

Both goals were the result of beautiful set pieces, but Lasso’s goal at least gave the big kid a chance to dance.

Quote of the Match

Coach Alan Koch addressed what the team had taken from the 4-1 loss in Charlotte and applied to tonight’s game:

“(The Independence) are a team that is very, very good at finding space. You could see that tonight. When they did find space, they looked dangerous, so we took the space away from them, and we nullified all of their strengths. That’s what we learned from the last game.”

Who Started?

Koch provided two changes to the team that started against Tampa Bay last Saturday. The formation was also more of a 4-2-3-1 setup, with Jimmy McLaughlin replacing Nazmi Albadawi and Emery Welshman on for Danni König.

Welshman
Ledesma (Albadawi 89′) – Bone – McLaughlin (Cicerone 76′)
Walker – Lahoud
Smith –  Lasso – Keinan – Hoyte
Newton

Of note, Ledesma and Welshman both picked up yellow cards in the game. Ledesma’s card is his 7th of the season, putting him at risk of getting a two-game suspension with his next card.

What’s Next?

Ain’t no rest for the weary—the Orange & Blue suit up for the third time in eight days on Saturday against New York Red Bulls II. New York has won three straight after a 2-1 victory over Bethlehem Wednesday night. FC Cincinnati has beaten the Baby Bulls in their last two games, the most recent being a 2-1 win on the road in June.

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s 2018 season.
Tampa Bay 7.14_Match Recap

North Carolina FC 0 – 2 FC Cincinnati: Bonus Track

We take a look at how momentum swung between the teams during FC Cincinnati’s 2-0 victory at North Carolina FC.

Image: Ryan Meyer

The Bonus Track segment is an abridged version of Orange & Blue Press’ Deeper Cuts series. It takes one or two components of a recent match and breaks them down in more detail.

We may be 13 games into FC Cincinnati’s season, but the halfway point of the away schedule is just about here. Save for the hiccup against Charlotte, the team has been rock-solid on the road. The 2-0 clean sheet at North Carolina FC was their sixth road win in eight USL games. Throw in the US Open Cup win on the road against Pittsburgh last month, and FCC has enjoyed their best nine-game road stretch ever (7-1-1).

The more surprising number from the team’s road dominance might be how well the defense is playing. In eight road games, FCC has a +6 goal differential and four clean sheets. However, in five home games, FCC has only a +2 goal differential and zero clean sheets. The numbers might be askew due to facing Louisville there twice already. It also helps that Evan Newton is back to form, as he’s had three of those four away shutouts.

Tale of Four Quarters

The unique 90-minute time limit makes typical soccer games easy to follow. A team will usually show up for one half and disappear in the next, or vice versa. This one felt more like a basketball game, as advantage seemed to swing between teams in the middle of each half.

The game probably wouldn’t have gone the way of the Orange & Blue had it not been for the hot conditions. NCFC fired the first six shots of the game before FCC could muster any offense. Had it not been for solid play by Paddy Barrett and Forrest Lasso, NCFC would have been on the board early.

The hydration break at the 26th minute gave the team a chance to cool down and get their bearings. FC Cincinnati was visibly rattled by their slow start. Manu Ledesma was flashed a yellow card just prior to the break due to a delay in play. After the H2O, FCC controlled possession, shots on net, and goals for the rest of the half. Despite the disparity in shots in the first half (5-8), most from NCFC came from a distance and in the first 25 minutes. FCC used control in the midfield to eventually lead to shots—and Danni König’s goal—inside the box later in the half.

The halftime break reset momentum, as NCFC obtained more control to swing the overall possession numbers in their favor (52% vs. FCC’s 48%). NCFC fired seven shots in the first 30 minutes of the second half to FCC’s one lone shot. However, the defense was instrumental during this stretch, helping FCC lead the half in interceptions (11-5) and clearances (14-7).

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Interceptions (left) and clearances (right) by NCFC (black) and FCC (green) in the 2nd half.

The key substitution—Jimmy McLaughlin coming on for Russell Cicerone in the 73rd minute—basically iced the game. Both teams had six shots after this sub, but FCC’s shots were accurate and at a shorter distance. Four of the six were on target, while only two of NCFC’s shots were on target.

Quality, Not Quantity

That’s the basic summary of this game. FCC used a combination of well-timed clearances and Newton’s hot hand in their half to keep many of NCFC’s 20 shots off-target or from way outside the box. On the other hand, FCC managed to penetrate the box for higher accuracy and success.

FCC NCFC SHOTS 0609.png
Shot chart for FCC (green) and NCFC (black).

Considering that FCC was without a few key players due to Wednesday’s 120-minute affair, the result couldn’t have been better. Let’s see if Alan Koch’s men can ride out their most congested portion of the schedule with wins at home.

Follow Orange & Blue Press for this week’s coverage of the upcoming games against Bethlehem Steel FC and the Richmond Kickers.

Charlotte Independence 4 – 1 FC Cincinnati: Deeper Cuts

We take a closer look at trends in attacking and disciplinary actions that should concern FCC fans after the latest 4-1 loss to Charlotte.

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Image: Joe Craven

FC Cincinnati’s 4-1 head-scratcher of a loss against Charlotte suddenly brings the team’s momentum to a screeching halt. The 10 goals during the three-game winning streak cloaked the fact that the only clean sheet during that stretch came against a struggling Ottawa team. The poor performance comes at a bad time, as Detroit City FC fans will likely be flaunting that score before the second-round U.S. Open Cup tangle on Wednesday.

Here are some items that stand out after the first leg of the Queen Cities Cup.

Difference in Attacks

Four goals given up against a team that hadn’t scored in over 400 minutes could be considered an anomaly, but the trend doesn’t look so good. While winning is ultimately the main goal, opponents have been able to fire shots at FCC.

  • April 28 at Ottawa: 14 shots for, 10 against.
  • May 2 at Indy: 16 shots for, 17 against.
  • May 5 vs. Atlanta 2: 13 shots for, 14 against.
  • May 12 at Charlotte: 9 shots for, 15 against.

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Shot chart for FCC (green) and CLT.

All four goals against Spencer Richey came from atop the 18 directly in front of the goal. However, the line of attack and general spray of the shots came from all angles. Charlotte succeeded in targeting the defense’s inability to keep the ball out of the middle and Richey’s difficulty with the corners of the net.

On the other hand, while FCC managed to crack Charlotte’s defense once, their attack might have been considered predictable. The 4-4-2 diamond formation has been good for ball control, but that has led to one-sided heat maps and average formations. Danni König and Manu Ledesma have been productive, but both have tended to gravitate to one side, leaving the far side relatively unexplored. Even substituting Jimmy McLaughlin on as a third attacker did not lead to a balanced attack.

FCC CLT avg 05122018
The average field positions for the FCC and CLT Starting XI.

Note that Charlotte (black) managed a relatively symmetric attack on FCC’s defensive half, while FCC’s offense was heavily featured to the left of goalkeeper Brandon Miller. If teams do not have to worry about attacks from one side, something needs to be adjusted.

Accumulation Warnings

Perhaps one of the surprising changes from 2016 to 2017—other than the obvious managerial change—was the sudden up-tick in bookings. The Orange & Blue picked up 48 yellow cards and only one red in 2016, but those numbers increased to 64 yellows and nine reds in 2017. That lack of luck and control during some of these games were major concerns in the offseason.

FCC Fouls YC 05132018
Total number of fouls conceded (left) and yellow cards in the Eastern Conference.

In general, fouls conceded by FCC are slightly down from last year, but still at a concerning clip. The team has won 86 fouls so far, but they have given up 128, a little over 14 per game. Only Charleston has given up more fouls in the Eastern Conference.

FCC has done well to avoid the red cards that plagued them early in the 2017 season. However, the team is accumulating yellow cards at a rate much faster than the previous two years. Consider the numbers over the first nine games of the season and how they are trending against FCC:

  • 2016: 10 yellow cards to FCC, 18 to opponents.
  • 2017: 14 yellow cards to FCC, 19 to opponents.
  • 2018: 21 yellow cards to FCC, 14 to opponents.

Mind you, there’s nothing wrong with a physical presence on the field, but the quick accumulation of cards is starting to lead to suspensions. Forrest Lasso will already sit out a game on Saturday against NCFC for picking up his fifth. For comparison’s sake, the first suspension for yellow-card accumulation in 2016 was on July 30th (Harrison Delbridge). The first in 2017 was on August 5th (Aodhan Quinn).

Yellow card suspensions probably were not the biggest concern for this team, as squad depth was ready to be tested. However, nagging injuries and early roster departures have suddenly made certain players indispensable. Let’s hope that this team can right the ship for big USL games against Lou City, Red Bulls II, and NCFC.

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for coverage of this week’s U.S. Open Cup match against Detroit City FC and FCC’s first match against North Carolina FC.

20180331-JRC-FCC at Indy-24-2

Player Pairing of the Match – Keinan & Lasso

Alan Koch emphasized player pairings as a key component of FC Cincinnati’s 2018 roster strategy. Steve Buckeridge examines which pairing stood out for him in the victory at Charleston.

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Photo Credit Ross Almers Photography

Alas, we have regular season action to dissect and analyze. One of the key themes Alan Koch has been conveying this season is the desire to find and create player pairings. He hopes to accentuate and rely on these pairings to produce results and provide much-needed depth (which has been lacking the first two seasons). This will be key for the demands of a 34 game USL regular season, and hopefully, deep US Open Cup and playoff runs.

The 2018 preseason introduced this concept to the Orange and Blue faithful, and we now have ninety minutes of USL play to paint the following portrait of one of these pairings.

Center Back Duo – Keinan and Lasso

This may have been the clearest pairing to evolve and come together this preseason. In a need to shore up a defense that allowed 51 goals against in 32 regular season games last season, and to replace Austin Berry and Harrison Delbridge, Coach Koch set out to scout and sign Maccabi Haifa captain, Dekel Keinan.

November 10, 2017 – Dekel Keinan signs. [FCC Press Release]
“Dekel is a Leader of men”; “He is quite simply a winner…”

Dekel was the club’s first offseason acquisition and was quickly followed by the signing of two more formidable center-backs all within a ten-day time frame.

November 17, 2017 – Paddy Barret signs. [FCC Press Release]
“Paddy is an uncompromising center back who also has the technical skills to play out of the back.”

November 20, 2017 – Forrest Lasso signs. [FCC Press Release]
“He [Lasso] is a major physical presence and for a big man has very good technical skills. He is a supreme danger on set-pieces.”

Dekel earned the Orange and Blue armband for his leadership on and off the pitch, and he is a natural pairing alongside 24-year-old and budding force Forrest Lasso. Besides their clear physical presence and shot blocking prowess within our 18-yard box, this union provides vocal direction on the pitch, a prominent aerial threat on set pieces, and the ability to control possession and play out of the back in multiple scenarios — First, wide to the outside fullbacks; second, a link to the spine and central defending midfield duo; third up the flanks and over defenses to streaking wingers; or finally to connect through balls to the central attacking midfielder and forward.

As seen in the gutty 1-0 season-opening win at Charleston Battery, this pairing played a significant role in helping to keep the clean sheet and to secure the win. Yes, by all means, Evan Newton’s heroic saves earned him Man of the Match (MOTM) honors, and Blake Smith’s winner will be remembered as the keys to victory. However, the tireless work of this center-back duo throughout the game, especially in the nerve-racking closing minutes, earned them my Player Pairing of the Match.

Of note, anytime there was a scramble inside our box (and there were too many for comfort), one of these two appeared to get a head or a body part on the ball to re-direct it out of danger. They commanded the defensive wall for every dangerous Battery set piece and were able to repel those shots and prevent further peril. The Dekel-Lasso combination accounted for 21 of FCC’s 33 clearances and 7 of the 8 defensive blocks on the night as seen in the following clearance map.

Defensive Heat Map

Most importantly though, was the partnership and communication they used to share marking responsibilities for CB93’s athletic threat Ian Svantesson. They limited the Tulsa Roughneck transfer to just two real opportunities, and thankfully Newton’s reaction saves prevented those from reaching the back of the net. The beauty of this pairing is that it should continue to blossom throughout the season and fortify FC Cincinnati’s defense.

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for additional player pairing analyses and more coverage FC Cincinnati’s 2018 season.

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