Preseason Kickoff: Take Advantage of the Opportunity and “Make Some Mistakes”

After four days of training at IMG Academy, Alan Koch shares his thoughts before FC Cincinnati embarks on its preseason schedule against Impact de Montréal.

Image: Ryan Meyer

After four days of training at IMG Academy, FC Cincinnati embarks on its seven-game preseason schedule on Wednesday against Impact de Montréal. FC Cincinnati does not currently have plans to stream the 7pm kickoff, so social media will be the only outlet to keep up with the action. In a press conference on Tuesday, Alan Koch stressed the importance of “taking advantage of each one of the opportunities” that these preseason games offer.

Overload of Information

MLS mandated a January 21st date for the start of preseason camps, so FCC’s camp started later than last year. In addition, the MLS season starts earlier than USL. The short story is that the coaching staff doesn’t have the luxury of time in 2019. Koch said he’s spent the past four days “overloading” his players with information about how they want to play. “We wanted to give them a lot of information. Sometimes it clarifies things, and sometimes it confuses them, but regardless it’s part of the process.”

Game One Strategy

Alan Koch shared his roster plans for the tomorrow’s match. The strategy is similar to how the technical staff approached last year’s early preseason games in terms of full-squad rotation.

“We’re going to play 2 groups for 45 minutes. So 20 players, if everyone is healthy, will get 45 minutes each. There will be a few guys who won’t be able to get minutes tomorrow, and we’ll do some extra work with them to compensate for that. We plan on playing Tyton for 90 minutes in the game in goal.”

He noted that Spencer Richey is “not at 100% yet” and that goalkeeper Ben Lundt, drafted 37th overall by FC Cincinnati, has a minor injury which will keep him out. Therefore, Jimmy Hague, also drafted in the SuperDraft, will be the backup goalkeeper against Montréal. Koch commented that Hague has done very well so far during preseason,

Greg Garza is still out with a quadriceps strain, but he trained for the first time with a ball Tuesday. “It’s not too far away until he’s fully integrated into training,” Koch said.

Heavy Physical Workload

Continuing on the theme of making the most of preseason time, Koch confirmed that they would need to push the team physically over the next four-and-a-half weeks before the Seattle season opener.

“We’ll push them more than we did last year because we have less time to get ready. Many players had heavy legs and were a little stiff and fatigued today, and that’s expected. If we were in-season, there’s no way we would push them this hard right before a game. Part of it is getting yourself fit and getting ready. Last year we extended our preseason…we didn’t have to push them as much. This year we have to maximize every day.”

So what is the technical staff looking to see tomorrow? Koch gave us a list, which included no injuries, gaining match fitness, developing relationships, seeing some players exceed expectations, and mistakes. That’s right. “We want to see some mistakes. It’s ok to make mistakes at this stage” said Koch.

MLS Kit Fever

Back in Cincinnati, FC Cincinnati fans have been screaming for new kits since the brand-reveal last November, and news finally came on Tuesday. The team’s inaugural uniforms will be unveiled at Cincinnati’s Music Hall at 7 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 11. The event will be ticketed with all proceeds going to the newly-launched FC Cincinnati Foundation. The tickets are on pre-sale now to Season Ticket Members, and a select number will be available to the general public starting at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, January 30th.

The new FCC kit will also be available for pre-sale purchase at the event and online at the MLS Store later that evening. Those who attend will receive a 10 percent discount on merch, including pre-ordered kits. See the linked article for official details.

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

Preseason Match Two – Takeaways, Player Selection, and Who Looked Good

More on FC Cincinnati’s second preseason match including takeaways, team selection, and who looked good.

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All photos courtesy Ryan Meyer Photography

Two preseason matches have translated into a draw and a win for FC Cincinnati. Here are a few observations from yesterday’s 1-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Rowdies, as the Orange & Blue continue their preseason preparations in Florida.

Match Takeaways

First and most importantly, the squad escaped the match with no additional injuries. After Heinemann’s release and Gibson’s broken leg, the team can’t afford more injury trouble in the preseason. The players continue to build fitness, and the focus now is on learning the tactical system that the coaching staff is putting in place. Saturday’s win is a nice plus, and the team should take some confidence from it.

On the other side of the coin, the Rowdies controlled much of the first half and created clearer chances despite being only a week into preseason. That Tampa Bay squad looks solid, and they strengthened an already strong roster in the offseason. We shouldn’t analyze anything too closely at this point, but it would have been ideal if our first eleven was able to possess the ball more and create more clear chances versus their stronger counterparts. The starters did show some sustained pressure in the closing minutes of the first half and also earned a number of corners and free kicks.

The second-half unit did well to grab the lead and hold onto it with four trialists in the squad. They were playing against a weaker Rowdies eleven, but one that still had good quality (see one Marcel Schäfer).

Closer to a Starting XI

The first preseason match against New England featured two mixed lineups in each half, that blended likely starters with less experienced players pretty evenly. In contrast, Alan Koch fielded a very strong first half lineup against the Rowdies, again in a 4-2-3-1 formation.

First Half Lineup:
König
Haber – Bone – Ledesma
Walker – Albadawi
Smith – Lasso – Barrett – Hoyte
Richey

One could tip quite a few of these players to start in the March 17 opener against Charleston, although it’s still way too early to be certain. The second-half roster was definitely more experimental and aimed at getting a good look at the trialists, while mixing in the experience of players like Keinan, Laing, Bahner, and Newton.

Second Half Lineup:
Trialist #1
Laing – Trialist #2 – Cicerone
Halfhill – De Wit
Trialist #3 – Keinan – Trialist #4 – Bahner
Newton

There were definitely some new faces in the mix yesterday that we haven’t seen in training before. Notably, two of them started in the center forward and attacking midfield roles. Keep an eye on this space, as Alan Koch looks to add additional quality to the roster and find a suitable replacement for Tommy Heinemann.

Who looked good?

1. The goalies. Both Spencer Richey and Evan Newton looked sharp and made key saves to keep the Rowdies off the score sheet. The whole team has to be satisfied any time it can produce a clean sheet, even if it’s preseason.

2. Garrett Halfhill. Halfhill made the headlines with his goal and had another nice outing as a central defensive midfielder, this time lining-up next to Sem De Wit.

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Garrett Halfhill

3. Lance Laing. Laing showed his versatility on Saturday. He started the match on the left wing and provided the assist for Halfhill’s goal. Later in the half, he moved into the back line after McLaughlin entered the match. There, Laing made a critical clearance at the back post to keep to Rowdies off the board late in the game. It was also great to see Jimmy McLaughlin back on the field after his early season foot injury.

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Lance Laing

Two preseason matches are now in the books. FC Cincinnati will conclude its Florida friendlies with a match next Wednesday against the Chicago Fire Reserves.

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

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FC Cincinnati 1 – 0 Tampa Bay Rowdies: Halfhill with the Preseason Decider

Following a solid debut, FC Cincinnati held Tampa Bay in check to score their first win of the 2018 preseason.

Recap-FCC-Tampa-0210With one full preseason game in the books, FC Cincinnati squared off against the Tampa Bay Rowdies, a team that has proven to be difficult for FCC to figure out. The last time the Orange & Blue met up with Tampa Bay, the Rowdies delivered a 3-0 spanking at Al Lang Stadium that eliminated FCC from the playoffs.

The Rowdies were making their preseason debut after adding forward Jochen Graf and midfielder Junior Flemmings to their already-stacked squad, while FC Cincinnati was coming off of a 1-1 draw against the New England Revolution on Tuesday.

Both teams played two different squads in each half, with FCC trotting out a starting XI that carried over seven players from the first-half team on Tuesday. Tampa Bay countered with Graf and Flemmings playing alongside Joe Cole, and that appeared to give Tampa Bay the energy and presence to rattle the FCC defense. Graf got two good looks in the middle, only for goalkeeper Spencer Richey to sprawl to his right twice and deny Graf. Despite the possession being dominated by the Rowdies, both squads went into halftime with a 0-0 score.

FCC provided a trialist-heavy squad in the second half that saw Lance Laing and Russell Cicerone playing on the wings, while Tampa Bay brought in a squad loaded with Marcel Schafer and Georgi Hristov in the middle. Despite the difference in known talent between the two teams, FC Cincinnati took the lead in the 63rd minute—Laing threaded a pass from the right of the Tampa Bay goal back to Garrett Halfhill, who cranked a right-footed shot under a sliding defender and past goalkeeper Akira Fitzgerald to give the Orange and Blue a 1-0 lead.

For the rest of the game, Tampa Bay pressed harder on offense, only for Laing and Dekel Keinan to counter with solid defense. Hristov managed to make the middle a problem for FCC, heading a shot right at Evan Newton in the 75th minute, then clipping the crossbar on a dangerous free kick in the 83rd. FCC made some substitutions late in the game, and the defense salted away some heavy pressure in the box to keep the 1-0 win.

Key Events

21’ Yellow Card – Nazmi Albadawi (FCC)
41’ Yellow Card – Paddy Barrett (FCC)

63’ Goal – Garrett Halfhill, assisted by Lance Laing (FCC)
76’ Yellow Card – Hunter Gorskie (TBR)
86’ Yellow Card – Alex Morrell (TBR)
88’ Yellow Card – Georgi Hristov (TBR)

Match Notes

While the true formations for FCC’s squads were uncertain, it appeared they went with the familiar 4-2-3-1 setup to mirror Tampa Bay’s own formation. Richey got the start in goal in the first half, while Newton took over in the second half. Corben Bone appeared to again be pushed forward into more of a midfield role, while Kenney Walker and Albadawi played behind him.

The squad was completely replaced in the second half with four trialists used mostly down the center of the formation. Two were removed in the 80th minute for Will Seymore and Jimmy McLaughlin. The Pennsylvania native made his first appearance of the spring after spending some time dealing with an injury. Josu, who is still recovering from offseason surgery, did not make an appearance in uniform. Forward Emery Welshman and goalkeeper Mark Village were not inserted into the game.

Naturally, this does not count in the actual win column against the Rowdies, but this should give FCC some good vibes going into their final Florida game. While the team still doesn’t have a starting XI figured out, both squads played well against a talented Rowdies roster that looks to be a handful and should compete near the top of the standings. For Tampa Bay, Graf already appears to be a solid striker after a successful opening season with Rochester in 2017. If goalkeeper Cody Mizell has a season like he did for Charlotte last year, the Rowdies look loaded for bear.

First Half Lineup:
König
Haber – Bone – Ledesma
Walker – Albadawi
Smith – Lasso – Barrett – Hoyte
Richey

Second Half Lineup:
Trialist #1
Laing – Trialist #2 – Cicerone
Halfhill – De Wit
Trialist #3 – Keinan – Trialist #4 – Bahner
Newton

Substitutes:
80’ – McLaughlin (for Trialist #1)
80’ – Seymore (for Trialist #2)

While the audio and video took some time to be adjusted, IMG was able to provide a YouTube video feed of the game that you can access again for a replay.

Next Up

FC Cincinnati’s stacked preseason rolls on with their third and final friendly at IMG Academy against the Chicago Fire’s reserve team on Wednesday, February 14th at 10:30 AM (stream TBD). The team will then return to the Tri-State area for five more preseason friendlies against USL teams and local colleges before they begin the USL season in Charleston.

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

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Preseason Opener – Results vs Process, an Unlikely Duo, and More

More on FC Cincinnati’s preseason opener including Koch’s process over results approach, the unlikely duo, and the number 45 jersey.

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Maybe we shouldn’t dive too deep into the details of the first preseason match of 2018, but we couldn’t help ourselves. It’s been a long while since we last “saw” the Orange and Blue in action. So here are a few things we’ve pondered since the final whistle blew on yesterday’s 1-1 draw with the New England Revolution.

The result versus the process

Results don’t matter in the preseason—we’ve heard that several times from Alan Koch in interviews over the last few weeks, and it’s true. And while the results may not matter, confidence does, and the 2018 squad should take some confidence away from Tuesday’s result. Why?

They drew with an MLS opponent that’s further along in their preseason than FC Cincinnati. Granted, the Revolution were missing some good players due to knocks and discipline, but so was Alan Koch’s side. Not only did FCC draw the match, but they would have benefitted from 17 minutes with a red-carded man advantage had they not been playing a friendly. To add to those positives, all three trialists played and contributed to the 1-1 result, and the team suffered no additional injuries. All-in-all, it has to be considered a good start.

Before leaving for Florida, Koch’s encouraged fans to focus on the process during the preseason rather than the results.

“It’s the process. The games do not mean anything. We can go lose all 3 games, and it’s not going to change how we approach anything. We can go win all 3 games, and it won’t change anything. You obviously feel better when you win. In terms of where we’re going and what we’re doing, it doesn’t change anything at all.”

Not Your First XI

The first eleven selected yesterday doesn’t give us any clues about who will start on March 17 against the Charleston Battery. Koch said as much prior to the match—“The game [against New England] is a chance to get to know each other, [We] also want to see how player relationships develop.”

The first eleven featured six of the seven returning players from 2017 on the roster (that were healthy) with an injection of new talent. The second eleven entered after 45 minutes (excluding goalkeepers) and, except for Matt Bahner, showcased a cast that was entirely new. Here’s a look at the two squads again.

First Half Lineup:
König
Laing – Bone – Ledesma
Halfhill – Walker
Smith – De Wit – Lasso – Hoyte
Newton (replace by Village)

Second Half Lineup:
Welshman
Cicerone – Albadawi – Haber
Trialist #1 – Seymore
Trialist #2 – Barrett – Keinan – Bahner
Village (replaced by Richey)

Unlikely duo shines

Two players that started the game—Corben Bone and Garrett Halfhill—made unlikely contributions during FC Cincinnati’s first outing.

Bone wasn’t even training with the team the day before the game due to a minor knee injury, so it was a small surprise just to see him in the lineup. However, the Texas native showed no signs of wear on Tuesday and bagged the lone goal of the game for FC Cincinnati.

Halfhill surprisingly showed up in the starting eleven as a defensive midfielder rather than a center back, a position we’ve never seen him occupy in Orange and Blue. Additionally, the Xavier product combined with Kenney Walker to protect the back line and keep a clean sheet during the first 45 minutes. Is Halfhill the 2018 edition of Paul Nicholson? He’s a lot earlier in his career development of course, but can he become a player that contributes as a defensive midfielder and a center back, providing minutes for FC Cincinnati when the team is short on depth? Time will tell.

The #45 Jersey

There are several players that FC Cincinnati fans have set high expectations for in 2018, but #45 Emmanual Ledesma might be on top of that list. He didn’t disappoint in the preseason opener. ‘Manu beat two players on the dribble to set up Corben Bone’s opening goal.

You’ve probably heard about Ledesma’s 2017 stats, but they deserve to be repeated; 73 chances created, 10 goals, and 6 assists in only 19 appearances. His ability to play-make, beat players on the dribble, and shoot from range should make him a crowd favorite. I think he’s going to sell a lot of those new diamond-laden jerseys.

Building on tactics

As Coach Koch explained last Thursday, the players went into yesterday’s match with only a very simple tactical “platform.” Now that that is established and they have a game under their belt, the coaching staff will “build on it every single week” during the preseason. Koch also stated that he would experiment with a couple of different systems, so don’t be surprised if they roll out more than one look in these early preseason matches.

Saturday’s game will definitely be streamed, so plan your weekend accordingly. Find a watering hole with reliable internet, and tune in with a new appreciation for the IMG stream.

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

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FC Cincinnati 1 – 1 New England Revolution: Bone Strikes in Preseason Opener

FC Cincinnati played to a 1-1 stalemate with the New England Revolution in their first preseason match of the 2018 season.

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FC Cincinnati played to a 1-1 stalemate with the New England Revolution in their first preseason match of the 2018 season. Corben Bone opened the scoring in the first half with a 40th-minute strike assisted by Emmanual Ledesma. The Argentine playmaker, Ledesma, is a new acquisition from the New York Cosmos, and one of 15 new players acquired in the offseason.

The Revolution evened the score four minutes after halftime through a goal from midfielder Brandon Bye, assisted by Cristian Panilla. A more physical second half featured a dose of drama when Haitian midfielder Zachary Harivaux was sent off in the 73rd-minute for a dangerous tackle on Matt Bahner. New England was permitted to substitute in another player to keep the match at 11 vs 11 in support of Tuesday’s preseason exercise. FC Cincinnati had a couple of late chances to win the game through Dekel Keinan and Daniel Haber, but could not find a winner.

Key Events

40′ Goal – Corben Bone, assisted by Emmanuel Ledesma
49′ Goal – Brandon Bye, assisted by Cristian Penilla
73′ Red Card – Zachary Harivaux, New England Revolution

Match Notes

FC Cincinnati featured a 4-2-3-1 formation during both halves and completely replaced all their outfield players at halftime. The Orange and Blue’s three goalkeepers, Evan Newton, Mark Village, and Spencer Richey each split the game into thirds in terms of playing time. In addition, the three trialists currently practicing with FC Cincinnati all saw action in the second half of play.

Josu, Jimmy McLaughlin, and the recently sidelined Tyler Gibson did not play in Tuesday’s contest due to injury. FC Cincinnati announced today that Gibson will miss four to six months with a broken fibula suffered in training on Sunday. The Tennessee native, who FCC acquired from the SF Deltas, underwent surgery today. That injury, combined with Tommy Heinemann’s release, are two big, early blows to the Orange and Blue’s 2018 roster. Let’s see how Alan Koch can respond in the transfer market between now and the season opener.

The New England Revolution are the only full-fledged MLS competition that FC Cincinnati will face this preseason. Their remaining seven games feature four USL sides, two college teams, and an MLS reserve squad. They also have a friendly match with the University of Dayton scheduled for a week after the regular season begins.

First Half Lineup:
König
Laing Bone Ledesma
Halfhill Walker
Smith De Wit Lasso Hoyte
Newton (replace by Village)

Second Half Lineup:
Welshman
Cicerone Albadawi Haber
Trialist #1 Seymore
Trialist #2 Barrett Keinan Bahner
Village (replaced by Richey)

Details are sparse because the match was not streamed per request of the New England Revolution. All future IMG matches are expected to be viewable on the IMG stream, at http://live.imgacademytv.com

Next Up

FC Cincinnati’s next date at the IMG Preseason Tournament is with the Tampa Bay Rowdies this weekend. Fans won’t need reminding that the Rowdies convincingly eliminated FCC from last year’s USL Cup playoffs. It’s preseason, so these results don’t matter. But maybe the bad taste left in the returning players’ mouths will add a little something extra to that contest. The match will be played on Saturday, February 10th at 3:30pm.

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

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