2018 USL Eastern Conference Playoff Predictions: Conference Finals

Might as well see this through. Our guru predicts the next USL Cup representative from the East.

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Image: Ryan Meyer

Three years of participation in the USL have been beneficial for FC Cincinnati. Paint it any way you like—FCC still advanced further than ever before in the standings this year. The regular-season trophy still has value. Some rivals may brag that it’s not a gold star, but hardware occupies the trophy case.

However, it’s hard to deny that seeing the same names at the top of the marquee at this stage of the season is rough. In all three years of FC Cincinnati’s existence, Louisville City has made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. That alone is frustrating enough, but all three years have also produced the same two opponents in those conference finals. When Louisville has excelled, New York Red Bulls II have been with them every step of the way.

New York won it all in 2016. Lou City took it all in 2017. Now it’s time for the rubber match, and yeah, it stings to watch that from the perspective of the bystander.

There is at least one bright side. Phoenix Rising’s victory against Swope Park means that the West will be represented by a new independent team. While “Team Drogba” took out the Rangers, Orange County SC defeated Reno 1868 to take the fourth and final spot. Yes, the East may be more of the same, but a team west of the Mississippi will get a shot to host its first USL Cup Final since 2014.

This point is where I stop talking about FC Cincinnati. If you’re okay with that, read on, while I take out my crystal ball…


Conference Final Predictions

#2 Louisville City FC (21-6-9) vs. #5 New York Red Bulls II (15-8-13)

Head-to-head record:

New York leads the overall series (4-3-3). However, Louisville is undefeated in the past five matches, including the playoffs.

Past results:

We’ve been down this road before, and the results have been eerily similar but opposite. New York hosted the 2016 Eastern Conference Finals against Louisville and knotted the game at 1-1 before extra time. Red cards were exchanged without a result, but the Baby Bulls managed a 4-3 win in penalty kicks. The 2016 USL Cup in Harrison was surprisingly well-attended, and New York blasted Swope Park 5-1.

In 2017, Louisville got the opportunity to host against New York and took another early 1-0 lead. However, New York again tied the game in the second half, and extra time was penniless. This time around, New York couldn’t find the frame in penalty kicks, and Lou City took that one 4-3. A late Cameron Lancaster goal was the difference in the 2017 USL Cup, with Lou City beating Swope Park 1-0.

And so the sides meet once again. Fifteen of the 18 players on Louisville’s gameday roster from last year are still on the team. The most important piece, ex-head coach James O’Connor, is now piecing together a broken Orlando City team. Pundits wondered if Lou City was washed up with only player-coaches, but the arrival of John Hackworth has done its job. Since their last loss to FC Cincinnati at home, Lou City has gone 8-0-1, outscoring their opponents 25-6. Their game against Bethlehem Steel FC last week was a relative cakewalk. Midfielder Brian Ownby finally returned to form, pocketing a brace to help Louisville win 2-0.

New York’s squad is almost a complete overhaul from 2017, but essential pieces remain. Andrew Tinari still helms the midfield, while goalkeeper Evan Louro has returned to fine form from his run in 2016. Head coach John Wolyniec is the glue that keeps this team together. During his tenure with Red Bulls II, the squad has been one of the most ruthless offenses in the USL—the team has scored an average of 2.01 goals per game since 2016. (Louisville has scored an average of 1.89 in the same span.)

We don’t need to tell you how the Baby Bulls pretty much dismantled FC Cincinnati in the Conference semifinals. A goal in the 12th minute from Amando Moreno stood the entire way, while the defense rattled the Orange & Blue constantly. Perhaps the 1-0 score is misleading, as New York controlled the ball well in small spaces and slowed the game’s pace to a crawl.

This year’s results:

Past games between Louisville and New York were relative displays of control and defense. The two matches this year were anything but that. In the first June matchup at Louisville, Lancaster put in two quick-fire goals for an early 2-0 lead. However, Louisville played a physical game against the Baby Bulls afterward. The team racked up 19 fouls and 5 yellow cards, while New York dominated possession (57%). It took a late header from Magnus Rasmussen to save a 3-3 draw for Louisville.

It appeared that New York had their own game well in hand back in August. Goals from Tinari and Ethan Kutler gave New York an early 2-0 advantage. However, Louisville pulled off their own offensive counter with a hat-trick from Lancaster. When the smoke cleared, Lou City’s fireworks display gave them the 6-4 win.

Prediction:

Both teams have understandably matured since their last game. Hackworth’s steadiness has given Louisville an eight-game winning streak and a path towards hosting another USL Cup. Wolyniec’s leadership has the Red Bulls on their own five-game winning run. Both teams have displayed immense kinetic energy on the pitch and have put up solid numbers against the other.

While both defenses are likely to be put through the wringer, the deciding factor will be the midfield. While Tinari has become a bedrock for New York, Louisville’s Ilija Ilic has played incredible football this year. His first of two goals against New York patched up the leak in that 6-4 comeback win. The Serbian’s numbers (12G, 11A) would have him in the MVP talks if it weren’t for his teammate Lancaster.

It will hurt the Greater Cincinnati region for me to say this, but I cannot see Louisville caving to the same hijinks that undid Cincinnati’s year last week. While New York enjoys playing a compact game, Slugger Field is made for that kind of close contact. On top of that, this Louisville offense is by far the most powerful it has ever been. Both teams will bomb the goal with plenty of strikes, but Lou City will do one better. Louisville 3, New York 2.


Again, the pain won’t go away after this game. No matter which team wins, they’ll be favored to double their cup total in the final. The best thing you can do is tune out the static and become a Phoenix or Orange County fan next week.

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more on the USL Playoffs and all FC Cincinnati news as they transition to MLS competition next year.

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2018 USL Eastern Conference Playoff Predictions: Conference Semi-Finals

Three out of four ain’t bad. We attempt to predict the next two matches in the USL Eastern Conference playoffs.

Image: JES Photography

Is everyone calm and collected after last weekend?

Good, because the matches only get tougher from here.

Now that the opening weekend has come and gone, the smoke has cleared to present two very similar matches in the East. Independent teams dominated the table in the regular season, but two “MLS 2” squads snuck up on their opponents for significant upsets. While one remaining challenge is a rematch from last year’s playoffs (Louisville vs. Bethlehem), the other is a “rematch” of fanbases from the 2017 U.S. Open Cup semifinal (Cincinnati vs. New York).

Considering that Louisville and New York were in similar situations last year, the stage could be set for a rubber match between LCFC and the Baby Bulls. However, Cincinnati’s 24-match unbeaten streak cannot be ignored, and Bethlehem is a much leaner team than they were last year. Any of the four outcomes for a conference final are still possible.

Okay, so I didn’t see the Steel overcoming the Steel Army. 75% is still a good percentage for predicting the future. Let’s ride the hand that Lady Luck dealt and make some more guesses.


Conference Semi-Final Predictions

#1 FC Cincinnati (23-3-9) vs. #5 New York Red Bulls II (14-8-13)

Head-to-head record:

Cincinnati and New York are level in the six matches they have faced each other (3-3-0). New York holds a +3 goal differential, but FC Cincinnati currently holds a 3-game winning streak.

Past results:

People have been debating who FC Cincinnati’s rivals may be in Major League Soccer next year. True, their nearest foes are Columbus and Chicago. Both are within driving distance, and both have fallen by the sword of the Knifey Lions. However, I would argue that perhaps the deepest bond might be with the New York Red Bulls. Despite the accolades thrown about last year, the loss against the MLS squad in the U.S. Open Cup semifinals stung much worse than the loss against Minnesota United this year.

It might not be visible, but the friction between FC Cincinnati and the Baby Bulls is there. In 2016, New York was the one team that FCC could not garner a single point against. The 2-1 loss at Nippert was one thing, but the early red card on Mitch Hildebrandt and the obvious VAR advantage made the 2-0 loss on the road harder to swallow. It didn’t get any better from the embarrassing 4-0 loss on the road in 2017. Both losses were brutal signals that the team wasn’t ready. It also proved that New York had a glut of rich talent in their system, while Cincinnati had to depend on synergy and experience.

However, the tidal wave has receded ever so slightly. A record 30,417 came to the last home game of 2017 to watch the Orange & Blue trounce the Red & Yellow 4-2. The results have been closer this year, but more to our liking. Goals by Emmanuel Ledesma and Danni Konig followed a missed penalty kick by the Bulls’ Brian White to give FCC a 2-1 win on the road to start their current 24-game unbeaten streak. The home game followed a similar pattern, as Ledesma fed Forrest Lasso and Paddy Barrett on set pieces for a 2-1 victory.

The Baby Bulls tend to leave more of their offense at home (49 goals at home, 23 on the road), but they didn’t need many goals last week. Tom Barlow’s goal in the 21st minute lasted the full 90 minutes, and goalkeeper Evan Louro made 4 saves to preserve a 1-0 victory over Charleston. Don’t look now, but that victory was New York’s third win in their last three road games.

Meanwhile, FC Cincinnati needed all 120 minutes and maybe a bit of luck from Mother Nature. Much like the regular season, the Orange & Blue couldn’t figure out Nashville SC. The 1-1 draw finally ended when Justin Davis popped up his penalty kick and Kenny Walker buried his. The goal from Corben Bone in the 95th minute was his 12th in USL play this season and his ninth in the last 12 matches. Meanwhile, Spencer Richey had arguably his best game of the season, making 5 saves to keep out a flood of late attacks.

Prediction: FC Cincinnati 2, New York 1 (after extra time)

I’m already feeling like I’m making the wrong choice. It would be easy to think this game could be an offensive onslaught. New York took 626 shots over their 34-game season, the most in the USL, and scored 71 in the process. Meanwhile, FC Cincinnati was the most accurate, leading the USL with 72 goals and a hefty 21% conversion rate.

Still, Cincinnati’s wins this year were victories on defense. Over both games against Cincinnati, the Baby Bulls led in shots (30-17) but trailed in shots on target (4-8). This stonewalling was partly due to the back line’s ability to block shots. They deflected 9 in total and kept New York’s shooting accuracy to a measly 13.3%. If Cincinnati expects a win, Paddy Barrett and Forrest Lasso need to be physical and unafraid. Both scored on the Baby Bulls last time, but they’ll need to be defense-minded in this one.


#2 Louisville City FC (20-6-9) vs. #6 Bethlehem Steel FC (14-12-9)

Head-to-head record:

Louisville City leads the overall series (4-0-3) and enjoys a +9 goal differential.

Past results:

As the record shows, this is hardly a rivalry. Bethlehem was the first pelt that Louisville claimed in the postseason last year, and the contest wasn’t even close. Louisville had lost at home only twice in 2017, while Bethlehem had limped into the playoffs. James O’Connor’s boys fired 12 shots on target against the Steel in the first round, an astounding 66.7% in accuracy. All Bethlehem could do is rack up frustration and four yellow cards on the way to a 4-0 throttling by the Derby City.

While Louisville’s starting eleven has been relatively unchanged over the season, Bethlehem coach Brendan Burke has tinkered with his lineup. The statistics for the two teams were almost identical in their Week 1 clash at Louisville. However, Louisville attacked goalkeeper Jake McGuire from his left constantly, putting the 3-1 game away early. The rematch at Bethlehem featured a heavy amount of possession by Louisville (65-35), but the use of 31-year-old James Chambers as the captain calmed the Steel down. Bethlehem fired as many shots as Louisville and captured a 0-0 draw.

Bethlehem’s lineup got even younger for their playoff match against Pittsburgh. Burke started six players who were under 20 years old, but it was Santi Moar (1 assist) and Chambers (1 goal) who led the team. Bethlehem’s offense—4th in the East in goal differential—put just enough on the board to force Pittsburgh’s goalkeeper to beat them in penalty kicks. The Steel outlasted Pittsburgh 10-9 in penalty kicks, advancing when Raymond Lee missed his last opportunity.

Louisville’s path was much simpler. The Coopers dominated again in possession (57-43) and put 10 shots on target against Indy Eleven. A brace from Niall McCabe put the game away early in the second half, and thoughts of a comeback were squashed by a brilliant set-piece goal. Louisville’s 4-1 win was nothing new, as they have never lost a playoff game at Slugger Field in eight matches. Their only two postseason losses have been on the road (2015 at Rochester, 2016 at New York).

Prediction: Louisville City 4, Bethlehem 2.

Not many of us predicted Bethlehem would slug back against a strong Pittsburgh defense. Bob Lilley had been automatic in the first round of the playoffs, but perhaps the writing had been on the wall. Pittsburgh had drawn with their opponents 14 times over the season, tied for first in the East. The door was left open for Bethlehem to take command against a team that had faced only one penalty kick all season.

However, if there’s anything close to an automatic win, it should be this week. Since their loss to Cincinnati, Louisville is undefeated in their last eight matches (7-0-1). Their offense has trucked opponents with a combined 23-9 scoreline over that span. Eight of those goals have come from Cameron Lancaster, and at least one more should come this week. Bethlehem can still perform better than their playoff game last year, but experience should trump youth in this one.


If you’re a fan of intense rivalries with more than just bragging rights on the line, you probably agree with my picks, but not everyone wants a postseason Dirty River Derby. What are your predictions for this stage of the playoffs? Let us know!

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more on the FC Cincinnati match against New York this weekend.

Image: JES Photography

2018 USL Eastern Conference Playoff Predictions: First Round

O&BP’s prognosticator crunches the numbers again to predict the first round of the USL Eastern Conference playoffs.

Image: Ryan Meyer

Okay, so Vegas didn’t end well last year.

I was this close to predicting the entire Eastern Conference playoffs last year. In the end, Louisville won all the chips after my half-hearted attempt at a hex fell flat. Still, I had no doubts that the Eastern Conference champ would win. While the jury’s still out on which conference has more punch this year, I can give it another go predicting the future in the East.

Last year, all the first-round games took place between teams separated by at least 650 miles. This year, all four games are thick with rivalry, with three games featuring teams separated by less than 300 miles. While the fourth game isn’t so close, it does feature one of two rematches from last year’s USL playoffs. The USL should see some hefty audiences, as the road teams and their supporters should be able to travel well.

So let’s dust off that crystal ball and test the luck again…


First Round Predictions

#1 FC Cincinnati (23-3-8) vs. #8 Nashville SC (12-9-13)

Last playoffs performance:

Cincinnati – Lost 3-0 to Tampa Bay Rowdies in the 2017 Conference First Round.

Nashville – First appearance.

At the end of the 2017 season, it was obvious that FC Cincinnati had a ton to accomplish to convince naysayers. While the signings were massive and the attendances were growing, reality felt heavy. Louisville had little problems getting a star on their logo in their third year. If the Queen City wanted to really outdo the Derby City, they would have to make deep impacts.

34 games have come and gone, and so far FCC have walked the walk and talked the talk. Yes, the team suffered two early home losses to Louisville, but the Orange & Blue kept marching. Despite their aggressive play, the squad stayed relatively healthy and free of red cards. The offense promised in 2017 showed up a year late, but produced crooked numbers on the scoreboard. While Emmanuel Ledesma has been the spark plug (16 goals, 16 assists), his energy feeds the engine—the team led the league in goals (72) and goal differential (+38). Not only does the team have four double-digit scorers, but they also have the drive of Fanendo Adi at their disposal.

And yet, even with all the records being set, there’s still this feeling that the shine’s being stolen. Nashville SC came into the league with the most fanfare, capturing the first MLS expansion slot before Cincinnati, to many people’s surprise. Their pickup of goalkeeper Matt Pickens in the offseason from Tampa Bay was surprising, but immense. The defense allowed the second-lowest amount of goals in the USL (31), and Pickens’ 14 clean sheets would have been a USL record in any other year. Most importantly, Nashville has been a thorn in Cincinnati’s side, capturing a draw in all three games.

Prediction: Cincinnati 2, Nashville 1.

Cincinnati’s inability to put Nashville away makes this match incredibly hard to predict. Nashville’s defense has been stellar when it comes to facing competition on the road. Against the other seven playoff teams, Nashville is 2-2-4 on the road with three clean sheets. Meanwhile, Cincinnati is 4-2-3 at home against the other playoff teams with only two clean sheets.

The Cincinnati offense should still run smoothly, and the defense should remain stout. This means that the X-factor will have to be the Cincinnati goalkeeping. Whether it is Evan Newton or Spencer Richey, the keeper will need to patrol the back line and keep Nashville’s quick attack out of the net. Of course, a few goals past Pickens wouldn’t hurt.


#2 Louisville City FC (19-6-9) vs. #7 Indy Eleven (13-11-10)

Last playoffs performance:

Louisville – Defeated Swope Park Rangers 1-0 in the 2017 USL Championship.

Indy – Lost 0-0 (4-2 PK) to New York Cosmos in the 2016 NASL Championship.

Lou City’s unheralded trend continued in 2018, despite shifts in the Derby City landscape. The departure of coach James O’Connor forced the team to tread water. Now that new coach John Hackworth is solidly in place, the team is riding a six-game winning streak heading into the playoffs.

Much of the success can be attributed to Cameron Lancaster’s record-breaking 25-goal tally. Despite playing only 2,005 minutes over 30 games, Lancaster has pocketed a goal every 80 minutes of play. However, the team’s 71 goals prove Lancaster isn’t the only producer. Injuries to key figures from 2017 threatened the team, but midfielder Ilija Ilic filled the void and was one of three players in the USL with double-digit goals and assists (11 goals, 11 assists).

With the departure of FC Cincinnati for MLS in 2019, Indy Eleven have emerged as Louisville’s biggest rival. While the season started with uncertainty, Indy cobbled together a decent squad under coach Martin Rennie’s leadership. Despite the heavy competition in the East, Owain Fôn Williams become a dependable goalkeeper, compiling 91 saves and 11 clean sheets while playing every minute of the USL season. The scoring load was rather spread out, with 16 players tallying a goal and forward Jack McInerney leading the team with 10.

Prediction: Louisville City 3, Indy 1.

While Louisville was expected to collapse from the midseason departure of O’Connor, the team has only gotten better. Their 37 points in the second half of the season was second only to Cincinnati (43), and their goal differential ballooned from +6 to +33 in the process. Meanwhile, Indy’s 21 points since the season’s midpoint was the worst of all 16 playoff teams.

On paper, Louisville is healthy and loaded for the postseason, while Indy has tired down the stretch. If Oscar Jiménez and Kyle Smith patrol their defensive edges, Louisville should defeat their northern neighbors handily.


#3 Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (15-5-14) vs. #6 Bethlehem Steel FC (14-12-8)

Last playoffs performance:

Pittsburgh – Lost 4-2 to New York Red Bulls II in the 2015 Conference First Round.

Bethlehem – Lost 4-0 to Louisville City in the 2017 Conference First Round.

The matchup between the Steel and the Steel Army is the only intrastate clash this year (unless Sacramento and Orange County face off later). With Penn FC on hiatus next year, Pittsburgh and Bethlehem will have to embrace a new type of in-state hate.

The turnaround in Pittsburgh shouldn’t come as a surprise. Under coach Bob Lilley, Rochester had the best record in the USL three times and won the Cup once. Lilley’s move to Pittsburgh and focus on a stifling defense led to an incredible 17 clean sheets and a league-low 26 goals allowed. Highmark Stadium is now one of the strongholds in the East, as opponents could only score 8 goals over 17 games. Had it not been for a head injury (in a game against Bethlehem, no less), goalkeeper Dan Lynd could have had more than his 12 clean sheets this season.

The Steel have managed to improve steadily over the past three seasons, despite the movement between the Union’s USL and MLS squads. Their 56 goals were 5th-most in the East, a major improvement from the 32 scored in 2016. The offense has mostly come from the wings, particularly Santi Moar (6 goals, 8 assists) and youngster Michee Ngalina (6 goals). However, their record could be a mirage. Eleven of the Steel’s 14 wins were against teams that missed the playoffs.

Prediction: Pittsburgh 1, Bethlehem 0.

Even though Pittsburgh beat Bethlehem 4-1 last month, there’s a realistic possibility that this game could end scoreless after 120 minutes. While Pittsburgh is known for its defense, its offense has often taken holidays. Of their 17 clean sheets, the Riverhounds failed to score in seven of them.

If Pittsburgh is to win this game, they’ll need a strong performance from the offense, particularly Neco Brett. The Jamaican striker has been a blessing for the offense, scoring 15 goals (11 at home) this season. This year, when he scores, his team ALWAYS wins. Look it up—Pittsburgh is 10-0-0 this season if Brett tallies at least one goal. Pittsburgh has beaten the Steel twice this year, and if Lilley can keep the team focused on this week, they should only need one goal.


#4 Charleston Battery (14-6-14) vs. #5 New York Red Bulls II (13-8-13)

Last playoffs performance:

Charleston – Lost 4-0 to New York Red Bulls II in the 2017 Conference First Round.

New York – Lost 1-1 (4-3 PK) to Louisville City in the 2017 Conference Finals.

Rematches in the playoffs don’t happen often in the USL. Teams have come and gone, and the playoff format hasn’t been constant. However, the marquee rematch in the East might be the most savage. Despite having the third-best defense in the East last year, Charleston were beaten to a pulp by the younger Baby Bulls, an embarrassing 4-0 loss at home.

New York has been another interesting study in keeping the gas pedal down as long as possible. The Baby Bulls have scored 189 regular-season goals over the past three years, tops in the league. However, that potent offense has been accompanied by a fizzling defense. Their +12 goal differential is 6th in the East, despite the 71 goals put in the net. New York has scored 3 or more goals 11 times this year, but their record in those games is only 7-1-3. Midfielder Andrew Tinari, one of the few holdovers from 2017, leads the East in chances created (102), while winger Jared Stroud has excelled in his first professional year (7 goals, 11 assists).

Meanwhile, Charleston proves to be one of the bedrocks of independent soccer. Coach Mike Anhaeuser celebrated his 13th year as head coach by capturing his 200th win, leading the Battery to its 11th-straight season in the playoffs. While the team lost a lot of its young talent (hello, Forrest Lasso), plenty remained. Charleston placed its stock in its capable #10, Ataullah Guerra, who scored 15 goals for the Battery this year. The forward line was completely retooled, and Joe Kuzminsky won the job as the starting goalkeeper, racking up 12 clean sheets in the process. While the team had an outstanding summer with an 11-game unbeaten streak, the Battery dropped vital points down the stretch. They’ve won only five of their last 14 games, and all were against non-playoff teams.

Prediction: New York 4, Charleston 3.

I don’t want to call this game the definition of madness, but it’s hard not to pick the “upset” here. While the Red Bulls II squad has been sluggish on the road (2-5-10), their last two road games have been wins. In fact, over the past four years, the Battery have beaten New York only once in nine matches. Just this year alone, Charleston has given up nine goals to New York in two games, even though they have scored six of their own.

This game may come down to just how accurate the offenses can be. While Charleston was outshot 21-8 in their last game against New York, all four shots on net went in. However, the Battery could not solve super-sub Tom Barlow, who scored a hat trick in only 27 minutes of play. Charleston is going to try to flood New York’s defense early and often, but a second-straight early exit at the hands of the Baby Bulls could be imminent.


So what are your predictions for this first week of the Eastern Conference playoffs? Let us know!

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more on the upcoming USL Playoffs.

#LOUvCIN – The Derby That Wouldn’t Drown

FC Cincinnati returns to Louisville to take care of unfinished business on Tuesday in part two of the final regular season Dirty River Derby.

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Design: CSDIV / Image: Joe Craven

Let’s try this again.

FC Cincinnati resumes this weekend’s postponed match with Louisville City FC tonight in Kentucky. Mother nature intervened on Saturday and FC Cincinnati fans now get to celebrate the final regular-season edition of the Dirty River Derby over two separate days. The game will be televised live on WSTR 64 and streamed live on ESPN+ at 7pm Eastern. The contest will resume in the 38th minute with FC Cincinnati leading 1-0.

For details on the first 37 minutes, check out our recap from Saturday.

Louisville POSTPONED_Match Recap
POSTPONED: Louisville City FC 0 – 1 FC Cincinnati: Weather Stops Match in 38th Minute

Do you have questions about the matchup? Our match program from last Thursday has all the details heading into this contest. A few things have changed since this article was released. Louisville City is now in fourth place. Both Pittsburgh and Charleston leapfrogged John Hackworth’s team with wins over the weekend. Also, Emmanuel Ledesma picked up an assist in the early stages on Saturday’s match and now sits on 12 assists total, leading the USL. Former FC Cincinnati midfielder Aodhan Quinn, now with Orange County SC, sits right behind him with 11.

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Match Program: FC Cincinnati at Louisville City FC

Here is one observation from Saturday to look for in tonight’s match. Fatai Alashe looked for opportunities to move forward and support the attack. On the average position chart below, we see more separation between him and Kenney Walker, the other holding midfielder, than we saw in the matches Fatai played against Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay. FCC’s customary 4-2-3-1 is looking more like a 4-1-4-1 in attack. Alashe’s advanced position was critical in the buildup to FC Cincinnati’s goal in the first part of the match. Formations, of course, are fluid and the position chart below is only for a partial match. However, it is interesting to note this, especially considering that Louisville City’s attack is one of the best in the Eastern Conference.

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Average position from Saturday’s match. FC Cincinnati’s (green) #27 is more separated and advanced from the other CDM (#6) than we’ve seen in previous matches.

One final note on Saturday’s match. If FCC Cincinnati can maintain a lead and collect all three points, they will clinch a top four spot and at least one home playoff match. Check out our playoff scenarios article for more details.

Follow Orange & Blue Press on Twitter for live coverage of #LOUvCIN, and look out for our match recap following the contest.

POSTPONED: Louisville City FC 0 – 1 FC Cincinnati: Weather Stops Match in 38th Minute

FC Cincinnati’s match against Louisville City FC was postponed in the 38th minute due to inclement weather. The match will resume on a date to be determined.

Design: Connor Paquette

FC Cincinnati traveled to a rain-soaked Slugger Field to face their rivals in the final USL Dirty River Derby before heading on to greener pastures.

Considering the wet and windy conditions, both sides played some decent fútbol to start the match. Although Louisville City had the better chances early on, it was the Orange & Blue who got on the scoreboard first. In the 23rd minute, several connecting passes by Fatai Alashe and Nazmi Albadawi released Emmanuel Ledesma down the right flank. Manu cleverly opened his hips to float a cross to a wide-open Corben Bone. The midfielder was ready for the service and connected perfectly on a volley that beat Greg Ranjitsingh. The ball almost stopped on the water logged-pitch before it hit the post and trickled into the net for his sixth goal of the season.

Spencer Richey was up to the wet challenge and contributed to the abbreviated match with several terrific saves. When nearby lightning was noticed, the match official stopped play in the 38th minute. After a 20-minute delay the game was officially postponed until a later date. The match will resume where it left of in the 38th minute with a 1-0 score.

Suspended Score: Louisville City FC 0 – 1 FC Cincinnati (38th minute)

Who Started?

With Pa Konate and Michael Lahoud on international duty in Africa, Alan Koch made 3 changes to the side that roared back to victory over Pittsburgh. Blake Smith returned to starting line-up following his red card suspension. Paddy Barrett replaced Dekel Keinan and Emery Welshman played the point in place of Danni König. Matt Bahner and Richie Ryan were unavailable with injuries.

Welshman
Bone – Albadawi – Ledesma
Alashe – Walker
Smith – Lasso – Barrett – Hoyte
Richey

What’s Next?

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press as we will bring you any news on the reschedule of this match.

Up next on the official schedule, FCC will take on USL D3-bound Toronto FC II at Nippert next Sunday. FCC will look to avenge a late collapse in Toronto in June that led to a surprise draw against the bottom feeders in the East.

Match Program: FC Cincinnati at Louisville City FC

Orange & Blue Press presents a preview of the final regular-season showdown between FC Cincinnati and defending-champion Louisville City FC.

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Design: CSDIV / Image: Joe Craven

Update: Pittsburgh is now in second place after defeating Bethlehem Steel FC 4-1 on Friday.

The final regular-season “Dirty River Derby” takes place this weekend, as FC Cincinnati visits Louisville City FC for their third match in 2018. If the cards fall a certain way, this could be the final USL game between the two sides ever. However, there is still much more at stake than merely bragging rights. A win or draw by the Orange & Blue won’t take the River Cities Cup from Lou City, but it will likely put the Eastern Conference out of reach for FCC’s rival.

Lou City has already taken the regular-season crown between the two squads, dispatching FC Cincinnati twice at Nippert this season. In their home opener, FCC was unable to score, despite owning the ball most of the match and firing 38 crosses to Lou City’s 10. The 13th-minute goal from Cameron Lancaster was all the difference in the 1-0 loss.

In their second match, Lou City’s defensive clamp on the Orange & Blue was far tighter. Goals from Lancaster and George Davis IV put the game out of reach, and FCC could not get any offense. So far, the 2-0 loss in May is the only game where FC Cincinnati was unable to get a single shot on target.

However, since that loss, the two teams’ trajectories have been slightly different. FC Cincinnati’s 2-1 victory over Pittsburgh last Saturday gives the home squad a 16-game unbeaten stretch, equaling the longest such streak in the USL this year. The win lifted Cincinnati to a 13-point lead over Lou City. It also got their newest acquisition Fanendo Adi into the scoring column with his 88th-minute strike. The Orange & Blue are officially in the playoffs for the third-straight year and are close to getting a first-round home game.

The Boys in Purple, on the other hand, are trying to claw their way back to their familiar form. The departure of coach James O’Connor to Orlando City came during a 5-match winless streak (4 draws, 1 loss). While a three-man carousel kept Lou City afloat, the arrival of new coach John Hackworth has had mixed results. Two loud road wins against Charlotte and Richmond were countered by a home loss against Toronto FC II and a draw against Charleston last week.

FC Cincinnati will be without two of their key midseason acquisitions. Both Michael Lahoud (Sierra Leone) and Pa Konate (Guinea) are abroad during international duty. FCC is also likely without defender Matt Bahner and midfielder Richie Ryan due to leg injuries. Louisville City is still awaiting results for injuries to midfielders Brian Ownby (concussion) and Magnus Rasmussen (knee).

Fast Facts

Here are five facts that should keep you satiated until the final “Dirty River Derby” on Saturday:

  • Lou City has gotten into a recent habit of dropping points at home. After winning their first five at home, Lou City has won only once in the last 7 home games (1-4-2). While their goal differential has been good on the road (+14), it is only +6 at home.
  • Goalkeeper Greg Ranjitsingh has started all 26 USL games in net for Lou City, but that could be affecting his numbers. Compare his stats over 26 games the past three years, and it’s apparent that opponents could be figuring him out in 2018:
    • 2016: 77.9% save percentage, 12 clean sheets, 20 goals against
    • 2017: 70.0% save percentage, 12 clean sheets, 21 goals against
    • 2018: 64.4% save percentage, 9 clean sheets, 32 goals against
  • In comparison to Ranjitsingh, Evan Newton and Spencer Richey have shown that two goalkeepers could be better than one. The two have a combined 73.2% save percentage, 11 clean sheets, and 26 goals against over 27 games. FCC had 10 clean sheets in the USL all of 2016 and only 7 last year.
  • Emmanuel Ledesma is proving to be a solid MVP candidate, leading FC Cincinnati in goals and assists. However, Lou City has a gold-caliber contender of their own. Forward Cameron Lancaster leads the league with 18 goals and is the only player in the USL with over 1,000 minutes who averages under 90 minutes a goal. At this current clip, Lancaster will score 24 goals this year and break the record of 22 set in 2015 by Matt Fondy (who also played for Lou City).
  • DID YOU KNOW? A win or draw by FC Cincinnati would match Lou City’s longest-ever unbeaten streak of 17 games. That unbeaten streak in 2016 came to a halt on July 23rd when Lou City lost 2-0 to—you guessed it—FC Cincinnati.

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s possible final match against Louisville City.

FC Cincinnati 0 – 2 Louisville City FC: Deeper Cuts

It wasn’t pretty to look at in person, but we attempt to digest FCC’s one-sided 2-0 loss to Louisville City.

Image: JES Photography

While FC Cincinnati is still in a better place in the standings after their second home loss to Louisville City this year, suddenly the picture is not so rosy. The Orange & Blue are now behind their form from 2016. This season they stand at 6-2-3 (20 pts), one point behind their pace from their first season (6-3-2, 21 pts).

The confidence is still there in the team, but this feels like the definition of madness. This loss may sting more, but it resembled their first loss. An early first-half goal from Cameron Lancaster forced the team to struggle to make up the difference. By the time the offense came to life, Louisville’s pressure had converted a deflected shot into the net.

With this year’s Dirty River Derby all but decided, let’s take a deeper look at Cincinnati’s difficult home loss.

Defensive Miscues

Defensively, this game could have easily been as much a clean sheet as it could have been a second-half blowout. The two goals conceded by FCC were due to Lancaster’s free kick sneaking through an unprotected wall and an unlucky, but bad deflection off Matt Bahner’s leg. If it wasn’t for Evan Newton getting big late in the second half, the score could have easily been worse.

Newton managed to show some flashes from the first two games of the season during the match, making five saves in net. However, we’re starting to see lapses and trends in the defense that could cause concerns against better teams. A +5 goal differential is still decent in this league after 11 games, but that’s more from the spike in offense. The defense is projected to give up 46 goals, not too far from the 48 given up last year.

The zero shots on target should be a concern, but it’s likely more a demonstration of Louisville’s ability to keep the ball away. Only three teams in the Eastern Conference have faced less shots than Lou City (28) so far this season, and only two—Pittsburgh and Indy—have given up less goals. FCC, on the other hand, has already faced 45 shots this year, sixth-worst in the conference.

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Shot chart for Louisville (green) and FCC (black)

A strong offense is a remedy for a shaky defense, but when that’s gone, a scoreless draw is harder to preserve. Until the defense can control the number of shots taken, the clean sheets will be far and few.

Up-field Disconnection

As much as the defense was off its game, the zero shots on target should be circled in red. FCC actually had more shots on target than Lou City in the first matchup this season. This time around, there seemed to be a lack of connection between the midfield and forwards, and the number of chances created by the offense heavily favored Louisville (10-6).

The overall heat maps show that Lou City’s offense-heavy formation produced more penetration, but perhaps that alone doesn’t show the disconnect. The pressure from Lou City forced the FCC midfield to make mistakes they couldn’t recover. The ball rarely reached König or Ledesma in the front third of the field. Quick math indicates that the front six for FCC had just as many successful passes per player as the front seven for Louisville. However, FCC had also two extra unsuccessful passes per player.

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FCC’s heat maps for midfielders (left) and forwards (right).
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Louisville’s heat maps for midfielders (left) and forwards (right).

The heat maps above show just how much distribution the Louisville City midfielders and forwards maintained. In comparison, FCC’s forwards got very little opportunity to handle the ball.

The frustration was obvious at halftime, but the team was unable to overcome James O’Connor’s system. Louisville’s cohesion has dictated play this season, and their solid roster has made it easier to focus on their opponent. Since the 3-2 upset at Slugger Field last year, the Orange & Blue have been outscored 8-0 over the last three games.

With Louisville out of the way until September, FCC has time to figure out O’Connor’s system. However, the U.S. Open Cup only adds to the workload—FCC must now play five meaningful games over the next 20 days. This first comes on Saturday at New York Red Bulls II, where they have yet to get a point.

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for coverage of this week’s impending MLS announcement and next Saturday’s match at New York.

Images: FC Cincinnati 0 – 2 Louisville City FC

Images of FC Cincinnati’s loss to Louisville City FC on Saturday May 26th, courtesy of Joe Schmuck.

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Here are images of FC Cincinnati’s 2-0 loss to Louisville City FC on Saturday, May 26th, courtesy of Joe Schmuck. When browsing the gallery below, for any given image, a high-resolution version can be found by scrolling down and clicking “View Full Size.”

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!

For more particulars of Saturday’s contest, turn your attention to the following article.
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FC Cincinnati 0 – 2 Louisville City FC: FCC Hands Points and Top Spot to League Rival

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

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FC Cincinnati 0 – 2 Louisville City FC: FCC Hands Points and Top Spot to League Rival

FC Cincinnati fell to Louisville City FC for the second time this season, on Saturday, in front of 25K+ at Nippert.

Image: JES Photography

Hoping to ride the wave of recent successes and momentum, FC Cincinnati looked to avenge their home opening loss and remain on top of the table Saturday night. Nearly 26,500 fans at Nippert stadium would see a familiar foe play the aggressor and spoiler yet again. LCFC out-matched the home side blanking the Orange & Blue 2-0.

From the opening whistle the home squad struggled to find any meaningful possession. This allowed last year’s league champs to press high in our defensive third forcing turnovers and creating chances. LCFC’s tactics paid dividends in the 15th minute when a free kick was awarded just outside FCC’s box. Cameron Lancaster’s free kick penetrated a porous wall and found the net to put the visitors in the lead. The Orange & Blue could not respond to the early deficit. They continued to allow chances while creating few dangerous moments themselves. The score would stand at the close of the first half.

FC Cincinnati came out of the break with slightly better energy as they chased after the equalizing goal. It took 55 minutes but an opportunity did present itself as Danni König earned a foul just outside the box. Emmanuel Ledesma was given the task of leveling the score. His free kick beat the wall but not the post as the ball caromed wide and out of danger.

Alan Koch made a change in the 64th minute and Emery Welshman entered for Danni König in an attempt to spark the offense. That substitution nearly produced in the 67th minute as Corben Bone’s cross into the box found the head of Welshman, but the Canadian could not apply the finishing touch into an open goal. Adding insult to injury and essentially sealing the loss, LCFC would find the net a second time as a savable shot deflected over Evan Newton’s grasp. Game over.

Key Events

15′ – GOAL – LOU – Cameron Lancaster
29′ – YELLOW CARD – CIN – Paddy Barrett
33′ – YELLOW CARD – CIN – Richie Ryan
55’ – YELLOW CARD – LOU – Paco Craig
74′ – GOAL – LOU – George Davis IV (assist Oscar Jimenez)
81′ – YELLOW CARD – CIN – Dekel Keinan
85′ – YELLOW CARD – LOU – Devon Williams

Match Notes

FCC falls a spot with the loss to second place in the Eastern Conference, only one point ahead of third place Charleston Battery, and two points ahead of the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, who have a game in hand.

The team will be without Dekel Keinan when FCC visits New York Red Bulls II June 2nd after he acquired his fifth yellow card. That caution will earn him a one-game suspension. FCC has been shutout only twice this season, both times to Louisville at home. This time around the Orange & Blue weren’t able to secure a shot on target.

Starting XI

König (64′ Welshman) – Ledesma
Albadawi (79′ Laing)
Walker (73′ Lahoud) – Ryan – Bone
Bahner – Barrett – Keinan – Hoyte
Newton

What’s Next?

FC Cincinnati continues league play June 2nd as they travel to face a tough New York Red Bulls II squad at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, NJ. Most of the attention of the fans and the front office this week is more likely to be on the event in Cincinnati however. MLS commissioner Don Garber visits Tuesday with an important announcement about the club’s top flight aspirations.

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

Match Program: FC Cincinnati vs Louisville City FC

Orange and Blue Press’ Match Program supplies the information and fast facts you need to prepare for the Dirty River Derby on Saturday.

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Design: CSDIV / Images: Joe Craven (Bone) / Ryan Meyer (march & headball)

It’s not even June yet but the second edition of the Dirty River Derby is already upon us. It’s a colossal matchup between natural rivals who currently sit as the number one and two teams in the Eastern Conference. They’ll lock horns at Nippert Stadium on Saturday, May 26th for a 7:30pm kickoff.

These teams last met in the infancy of the 2018 USL season. It was early April and LCFC spoiled the Orange & Blue’s home opener. Cameron Lancaster scored a 13th minute goal and LCFC defended resolutely in the second half. James Cameron and company escaped Nippert with a 1-0 victory that night. FC Cincinnati had their fair share of chances, but couldn’t find the equalizer they desperately needed.

When looking ahead to Saturday’s match, one has to consider that both teams were involved in the third round of the US Open Cup on Wednesday. The Orange & Blue traveled to Highmark Stadium and snatched an impressive 3-1 victory over Bob Lilley and the Riverhounds.  Jimmy McLaughlin, Lance Laing, and Daniel Haber all contributed goals before Pittsburgh got one back late. Louisville City FC edged Saint Louis FC 1-0 at Slugger Field, benefiting from a long-range Sean Totsch strike in the 58th minute.

Just like FC Cincinnati, Louisville City only has 2 losses on the season. Their recent form has been a little shaky though. The two losses came in their last 3 matches. They recovered from back-to-back defeats to Indy Eleven and Nashville by beating Atlanta United 2 last Saturday with a stoppage time penalty kick.

Fast Facts

Here are four fast facts to share with the people you know who like statistics more than human interactions.

  • Louisville City has produced 21 more shots than FCC on the season, despite playing one fewer match. However, their relatively poor conversion rate of 11% means that LCFC has scored 8 fewer goals. Compare that to FC Cincinnati’s 20% conversion rate which is tied for first in the USL.
  • LCFC’s defense is stingy though. They’re allowing only 0.78 goals per game. Only Pittsburgh and Nashville have conceded fewer goals so far this season. Compare that to 1.30 goals conceded per match for FC Cincinnati.
  • 25-year old English defender Paco Craig is the rock at the center of Louisville City’s defense. He leads his team by some margin in almost every defensive statistical category, including clearances (53), blocks (7), interceptions (20), tackles won (23), duels won (84), and aerial duels won (36).
  • Emmanuel Ledesma is on fire, earning the most recent USL Player of the Week honors. His 7 assists this season leads the USL. He also tops FC Cincinnati in goals (4 – tied), shots (22), shots on target (11), key passes (19), and crossing accuracy (38.5%).

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati versus Louisville City in the second edition of the 2018 Dirty River Derby.