#MLS2Cincy Hall of Fame – The Players Who Got Us Here

In an enthusiastic take on Cincinnati’s top flight ambitions, Connor Paquette takes a look at the FC Cincinnati players who earned the privilege of being recognized for epitomizing #MLS2Cincy.

It’s over. It’s going to be announced. Cincinnati will host a Major League Soccer team. While the massive effort by the front office and supporters has taken center stage, it’s still incredibly important to remember the local legends that have risen to the occasion for our city. Certain players have been the catalysts that sparked the unrivaled juggernaut that is Queen City soccer.

With that in mind, come with me as I take a look at the most intrinsic players behind one of the Midwest’s worst kept secrets: the blossoming powerhouse known as Cincinnati soccer.

Due to my focus on listing the “Hall of Fame” players who contributed the most, ensuring Cincinnati’s rise to Major League Soccer (and for the sake of avoiding petty drama), this list will only feature players who have played for the team during the 2016 and/or 2017 season(s), as new signings simply haven’t played long enough to really make a sincere impact.

And now! Without further ado . . . my list for the FC Cincinnati players who have earned the privilege of being recognized for epitomizing #MLS2Cincy for all eternity.

Honorable Mentions

Give a humble thank you to these men who’ve joined us to lift this incredible city even higher. We are grateful for every ounce of effort contributed.

  • Matt Bahner (D), 2017 – Present
  • Austin Berry (D), 2016 – 17
  • Omar Cummings (M), 2016 – 17
  • Josu (D), 2017 – 18
  • Danni König (F), 2017 – Present
  • Justin Hoyte (D), 2017 – Present
  • Paul Nicholson (D), 2016 – 17
  • Tyler Polak (D), 2016 – 17
  • Eric Stevenson (M) 2016 – 17
  • Andrew Wiedeman (F), 2016 – 17

5. Jimmy McLaughlin (M), 2016 – Present

Mr. McLaughlin is a peculiar case because he’s not consistently in the starting eleven, let alone a stats machine earning Player of the Year honors. However, he does have one attribute that has simply taken the Queen City by storm. What Jimmy has that sets him apart, something that can’t be taught, is an absolute ruthless love for the game of soccer and all who adore it.

I hear it whenever I’m in the stands at a game “We want Jimmy! We want Jimmy!” This is always followed by a standing ovation when he enters the field (or even when he’s subbed off). No matter what insanely amazing move, goal, save, etc. a new member of the 2018 season accomplishes, they will simply never get the cheers that “Pennsylvania Messi” does.

To not be the best scorer, not have the highest stats, and sometimes not even play, but still be one of the biggest draws for the game is mind boggling. I can’t wrap my head around it – until I’m reminded why. Whenever there’s a run to a deep corner in the opposition’s territory, running as though his life depended on it, Jimmy is tracking the ball down and juking an opponent into oblivion.

In an instance of casual keep-away, Jimmy creates game changing chances that take the audience’s breath away. When he’s on the field the game becomes an intense drama. His lively fervor is naturally contagious and raises the spectators in a unanimous symphony of roaring support. When a goal is scored you can bet your house there’ll be a ridiculously silly dance he’d been practicing in the mirror for a week. Perhaps his natural quirks are what make him so relatable: so human. He’s a performer on the stage, but a hero in our hearts. There has simply been no one else like him.

The first real FC Cincinnati soccer star, Jimmy McLaughlin was surely one of the most important pieces required when attracting supporters. We’ve fallen in love with the kid, and his commitment to us is showing off.

4. Harrison Delbridge (D), 2016 – 2017

I think for many reading this, you’ll agree with me when I say that, arguably, Harrison Delbridge is the best pure soccer talent to have donned the Orange & Blue. Starting nearly every game that he’s been on FC Cincinnati’s roster next to captain Berry in central defense, it was Harrison who always anchored the back line with incredible tackling precision and rugged but thoughtful challenges.

While many (including myself) were extremely disappointed to see him sign with Melbourne City FC after the 2017 season, this was a good thing. Let me explain. There is never a finish line when it comes to sports. The game is always changing and evolving. When one legend dies, another is born. Harrison Delbridge, just like any other player when it comes to the sport, is another spoke on the wheel.

But Harrison’s journey didn’t end when he left FCC, he began a new chapter. Harrison’s aspirations were to represent his home of Australia on the national stage, and he made strides in his journey by joining a top team there. This only proves to soccer analysts, that when players join FC Cincinnati, they grow.

Whether it be due to the supporters aggressively asking for just a little more from the team, our coach’s ability to guide each player to be the best they can be, or just top talent demanding a player rise to the occasion every day, FC Cincinnati is a hub for evolving soccer talent to its next level.

This is absolutely essential to be considered one of the top teams in the country. The best soccer players sign here because Cincinnati is a breeding ground for unlocked potential. So as soon as we rise to division one, players will think twice when signing elsewhere. Harrison Delbridge’s success is a reminder of that, and we continue to wish him the best on his journey.

3. Djiby Fall (F), 2017 | Sean Okoli (F), 2016

Be honest, do you remember who Sean Okoli is? If you were one of the original seven thousand or so season ticket holders, I’m sure you do. The Golden Boot winner with 16 goals in FC Cincinnati’s inaugural season, Okoli was voted the league’s MVP. He scored the team’s first home goal in breathtaking fashion when he scissor-kicked a pass out of nowhere into the back of the net. His dominance in the game helped FCC finish in third place in 2016. He was so good that many supporters called for the team to go after him in 2018 to help bolster the attack after a lackluster 2017 season. But similar to Harrison Delbridge, Cincinnati lifted him higher and Sean has enjoyed plenty of professional success ever since – he signed with MLS’s New York City FC in 2017.

Djiby Fall, while similar in success, was quite different as a person. Very quiet in his day-to-day life, his actions were loud on the field in comparison. While some moments were controversial, Djiby’s intoxicatingly odd field presence caught the attention of every FCC supporter. He set a franchise record in a single game by breaking the 2017 home schedule open with a four goal performance. But his most important contribution came in the earth shattering 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup run.

Djiby set records on his way to being named one of the tournament’s top players. He scored four game winning goals in total, most of which came against a variety of top opponents including: 2017 USL Champions Louisville City FC, 2017 NASL Conference finalist Miami FC, and 2017 MLS Conference Finalist Columbus Crew. All of his efforts culminated into one of the most incredible tifos I have ever witnessed, unveiled by The Bailey in the Open Cup semifinals against MLS’s New York Red Bulls.

Image: JES Photography

As I’ve mentioned, the success of this team is without a doubt one of the most compelling reasons to attend one of their matches. Without Djiby and Sean Okoli, you have to wonder where this team stands and whether they might have missed the playoffs otherwise. What if the U.S. Open Cup run ended in the 120 minute marathon against NPSL side AFC Cleveland? America and the rest of the soccer world took notice of FCC directly because of the impact these two players made. For that, I recognize them in the Top 5 most important players that contributed in making Cincinnati a division one soccer city.

2. Kenney Walker (M), 2016 – Present | Corben Bone (M), 2016 – Present 


The crucial field presence like Okoli and Djiby; the conductors catapulting the team to new heights like captain Berry; the irrational and insane dedication to the game they love like Jimmy; arguably the best this team has to offer like Delbridge; all of this while only dedicating the spotlight to their teammates and supporters, Corben Bone and Kenney Walker are two of the greatest minds to ever take the field for the Orange & Blue.

I have little to say about these two originals because you simply need to watch their games to fully grasp how much FC Cincinnati became because of them. Frustrating me at times, it’s only because they’ve eclipsed all my expectations, causing me to raise them further game after game. Yet, they continue to surprise me. I genuinely believe these two men are among the three individuals essential in creating the FC Cincinnati of Major League Soccer quality that we know and love today. However, there is still another who went above and beyond even them…

1. Mitch Hildebrandt (G), 2016 – 2017

Hot take: Cincinnati would’ve failed our endeavor for this round’s expansion bid if Mitch Hildebrandt never stepped on Cincinnati soil. The 2016 USL Goalkeeper of the Year had one very distinct moment that shouted defiantly into the ears of all neigh-sayers that “CINCINNATI IS A MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER CITY!” It came over the course of about 10 minutes on Wednesday, June 28, 2017, broadcasted live to the entire nation on ESPN’s flagship channel.

Never in my life have I nearly suffocated due to my own stubbornness of refusing to take a breath. I couldn’t; I wouldn’t allow myself. Mitch needed all the support he could get. I had to keep yelling; I had to be loud. Or so, that’s what I thought when we went to penalty kicks against the Chicago Fire in the Round of 16 of the 2017 U.S. Open Cup.

We missed our first penalty kick. I thought it was over. We weren’t supposed to win, and I had even convinced myself long before of it being just fine if we didn’t. Having the opportunity for our humble little team to go against top soccer squads in the state locale was enough. But then we made it to overtime. And then we made it to penalty kicks. And then, well, see for yourself…

Here’s the bottom line. Of all the FC Cincinnati players to take the pitch at Nippert, Mitch Hildebrandt is far and away the most important of them all. After all, what hasn’t Mitch accomplished in the city of Cincinnati? “Mitch says no!” Will go down in history as the most iconic dialogue of all the lore in the Orange & Blue bible. Simply put, without Mitch Hildebrandt’s life changing contributions in the 2017 U.S. Open Cup, I don’t believe Cincinnati would, at the very least, be considered so early for an MLS expansion team. His titanic performances destroyed the floodgates revealing Cincinnati’s enormous love for the game to all in the nation. For all he has done, he’s earned my #1 spot atop the #MLS2Cincy Hall of Fame.

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Players I’m Going to Miss – Mitch Hildebrandt

2016 USL Goalkeeper of the year. The “Mitch Says No!” chant. The Chicago Fire PK shootout. A stroll down memory lane and a look at how FCC will cope without Mitch Hildebrandt in 2018.

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Before the preseason begins, Orange & Blue Press is covering some of the players who have moved away from the squad in efforts to further themselves either on or off the pitch. While some have retired, others have moved to bigger athletic challenges…

When the first Starting XI for FC Cincinnati was announced with Mitch Hildebrandt as the goalkeeper, there were admittedly some big gloves to fill from the onset. However, people that did their homework understood that Mitch had been slowly gaining confidence since turning pro in 2012, playing half the games for Minnesota United in the 2015 season.

Little did people in the Queen City realize that a team-building legend was being born in the process.

While it took a few weeks before the communication between defensive line and keeper stabilized, Hildebrandt became a bedrock for the 2016 FC Cincinnati season and a keystone that bridged the span between team and supporters. Mitch’s double-save effort against Toronto FC II in April 2016 gave FC Cincy its second SportsCenter Top 10 mention in three weeks, and his performances steamrolled from there.

Photos courtesy Ryan MeyerJoe Schmuck, and Joe Craven

Hildebrandt may not have burned down the record books in 2016, but considering he played in every game during the regular season, he put up iron-man numbers, playing the most minutes of any goalkeeper in the USL while giving up only 25 goals in the process (0.86 GPG). While the clean sheets were not as plentiful in 2017, Hildebrandt still played over 2,800 minutes and made 105 saves over 32 games.

Favorite Moments

Call it cliché to focus on the 2017 US Open Cup for most of Mitch’s work, but the other three games of Hildebrandt’s four-game clean-sheet run against Louisville, Columbus, and Miami often go forgotten in comparison to his incredible performance versus the Fire. Surprisingly, all of Hildebrandt’s 10 saves came after halftime. Of course, you all know what came next once PKs had started…

Even if you leave out the heroics from the US Open Cup run, the calls of “Mitch Says No!” were still quite loud from his performances during regular-season penalty kicks. The opposite hand sprawl save vs. Rochester was a defining moment of the 2016 season, while his last-second “three-point save” against Charlotte likely lifted the team into the 2017 playoffs.

The clutch saves from Hildebrandt often led to his celebratory claps with the Bailey after a home win, something that’s going to be hard to replace now that he’s moved down to Atlanta.

The Bad News (and the Good News)

Mitch absorbed a lot of punishment down the stretch in 2017 from a deteriorating defense, and after the crushing playoff exit against Tampa Bay, it appeared that he would have to compete to get his starting spot in net. Perhaps that was the writing on the wall, as Hildebrandt signed with Atlanta soon after the season ended, trading in one mesmerizing fan atmosphere for another.

However, while the cords sometimes get severed when a popular player leaves the squad, Hildebrandt was courteous and humble in his departure. He returned shortly after the announcement to help auction off his gear for charity and worked closely with Listermann Brewing to create a series of beers to honor military veterans and his late father.

There may end up being a complex silver lining in the end. Since the signing, Atlanta has announced their own “United 2” USL team, so if Hildebrandt isn’t able to ascend the ladder to get a place on the MLS squad, there’s an awfully good chance that Mitch will come back to Cincinnati on May 5th to say “No!” once again at Nippert Stadium. (Granted, it will be for the other team, so that’s a bittersweet pill to swallow.)

Who Can Replace Him?

FC Cincinnati finds themselves in a position they were in two years ago, as all three goalkeepers from last season are no longer with the team. This has forced Coach Koch to seek out another batch of net-minders to protect the pipes, and in the process, he’s brought in Jack Stern, FCC’s third goalkeeper coach in three years. Stern’s work with West Bromwich Albion in the English Premier League and Montreal Impact in the MLS could be the kick needed to keep the level of goalkeeper play high despite the turnover.

FC Cincinnati managed to sign three capable keepers who all could likely fill the role left by Hildebrandt. In terms of USL seniority and capacity, Evan Newton is likely the first name to be circled. The 29-year-old Newton took the starting GK role in 2017 at Sacramento and played very admirably, making 73 saves and gathering 7 clean sheets in 26 starts (2,370 minutes). While Hildebrandt’s PK performance against Chicago was impressive, Newton himself was a wall in the 2017 playoffs—facing the #1 seed Real Monarchs in the first round, Newton stymied the Monarchs in PKs, saving two of the four shots he faced. His experience could be the decider for the starting position.

If FCC opts to trust youth and MLS experience, they could put their stock in Spencer Richey, who is on loan from the Vancouver Whitecaps. The 25-year-old Richey played most of the games with the Vancouver USL affiliate over the past three years, meaning that he has worked quite a bit with Koch as his head coach. While his USL numbers (3 clean sheets, 1.29 GPG) have been average, he performed well for the Vancouver MLS side early last season in the Canadian Championship semifinal and CONCACAF Champions League.

The longest shot to start is Mark Village, who also played for Vancouver Whitecaps 2 over the past few years. Unlike Newton and Richey, the 25-year-old Village has only one professional game under his belt, picking up 4 saves in a 1-1 tie against Real Monarchs late last season. (He did get USL October Save of the Month in that one game, denying now-teammate Daniel Haber in the process.)

The other big consideration is the distribution of minutes for all three goalkeepers. Hildebrandt’s star status in Cincinnati meant that he played an incredibly high number of minutes, topping the USL in that category the past two years. An argument could be made that Hildebrandt burned out late last season from overuse, while backups Dallas Jaye and Dan Williams were saved more for US Open Cup and friendly matchups. Coach Koch may have to be flexible with his new three-man squad, and Cincinnati fans will have to think of new chants for their keepers.

Even “Mitch-A-Palooza” Must End

It was quite likely that all of Cincinnati knew Hildebrandt would be in high demand after his USOC performances against Columbus and Chicago. While there may be a low probability Mitch gets the starting nod over Brad Guzan in net, it is wonderful to see him get his shot as the next FCC original to make the step to the MLS.

That doesn’t make the parting that much easier. We owe a lot to Mitch for making our Orange & Blue so much fun to cheer for, and it will be difficult to fill the void when the first big save of 2018 is made. We are gracious for every sprawl, catch, and victory clap you gave us in the Queen City, Mitch—while this isn’t a permanent goodbye, here’s hoping that there are many more times you say “no” in the future.

Thank you.

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

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Toronto FC II 3 – 4 FC Cincinnati: Four Numbers That Mattered

FC Cincinnati rides a solid second-half output over Toronto FC II to enter the playoffs on a positive note.

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Credit: Ryan Meyer Photography

Although their playoff ticket had already been punched on Thursday, FC Cincinnati squared against Toronto FC II at the Ontario Soccer Center with an opportunity to claim a higher seed. Considering that Toronto II had a surprising home record before the game (4W-5T-6L) with wins over Louisville, Charleston, and Orlando B, FCC had a rough game on their hands, but escaped Toronto with a come-from-behind 4-3 win.

The start appeared to be more of the same from the Cincinnati defense, going down 2-0 in the first 30 minutes. Forward Ben Spencer managed to get his head on a cross in the 10th minute that Mitch Hildebrandt couldn’t collect, setting up a right-footed goal from forward Tsubasa Endoh. In the 31st minute, Endoh collected his brace from a similar slot, slotting home a shot Austin Berry couldn’t deflect. In both cases, the defense appeared hesitant, allowing Spencer and Endoh to infiltrate the box on crosses.

For the rest of the first half, FCC appeared to find their footing, while Toronto II pulled their attack back and allowed Cincinnati to gain control. Momentum finally swung FCC’s way after Danni König skied high for a header off a Kenney Walker free kick in the 41st minute. His 11th goal of the year made it 2-1 at halftime.

The momentum continued to roll after the first goal, as FC Cincinnati started to hammer shots at goalkeeper Mark Pais, twice finding the woodwork. In the 49th minute, Walker used a give-and-go with Corben Bone to skid a shot from outside the box past the keeper’s left, his second goal of the season making the score 2-2.

The momentum was then halted abruptly in the 53rd minute. Forward Shaan Hundal managed to collect a long pass beyond the back line, looping a soft shot over Hildebrandt when the keeper came off his line for a risky challenge to give Toronto II the lead again.

However, for the last thirty minutes of the game, it appeared that Coach Koch had unleashed the wings on both sides of the field to get the equalizer. Jimmy McLaughlin had been challenging the left side of the defense all game, and his left-footed cross in the 66th minute found Djiby right in front of the goal. The striker’s 12th USL goal of the season knotted things at 3-3.

Kadeem Dacres then came on in the 68th minute, and that substitution caused chaos on the other side of the pitch to set up the final goal. Walker looped a pass in the 86th minute to the front of the goal with Bone and Justin Hoyte charging from the right. Hoyte flicked the pass past the keeper to deposit his second goal of the season, giving FCC the hard-earned three points.

With the win in hand, FC Cincinnati finishes the regular season with a 12-10-10 record, putting them in 6th place. If Bethlehem Steel doesn’t win against Saint Louis FC in their home finale, FCC will travel to Tampa Bay to face the Rowdies in the first round. However, a Bethlehem win would push them back to 7th and an away match against Charleston Battery, the same team that knocked them out of the playoffs last year.

Four Numbers That Mattered

12 – The win was the 12th time this season FC Cincinnati has come from behind to capture points. While their play may not have been consistent, FCC has been showing this year that they can pull themselves out of a hole (if it’s not too deep). The team has salvaged a total 16 points (2W-10T) after falling behind this year. Of course, goals given up early from now on won’t be as easy to recover.

19 – The number of shots taken by FC Cincinnati in the second half alone. Arguably, no numbers displayed more desperation in the FCC game than the attacking statistics. While the playoffs had been assured, the team still played with an aggression in the second half that belonged to a team outside the Top 8. Of the six first-half shots, only two were within the 18-yard box, but nine of the 19 in the second half were within the box, including the game-winner.

#6 – The jersey number of the day’s MVP, Kenney Walker. While Walker put up solid passing numbers (83% accuracy, 10 successful long passes) with his one goal and two assists, it may be his synergy with teammates that makes the team better—FCC’s worst games were arguably when Walker was serving card suspensions against New York Red Bulls II and Ottawa, and Corben Bone had one of his more productive games this season with 94% passing accuracy in the Toronto II half.

-16 – FC Cincinnati’s goal differential on the road. The wins on the road versus Toronto II and Charlotte have shown the team can compete, but if FCC wants to write another Cinderella script for the USL playoffs, they need to stop the goals from pouring in. The team has given up 1.93 goals per game (31 total) on the road this year, compared to a paltry 0.93 gpg (14 total) last year.

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more news, analysis, and color commentary on FC Cincinnati.

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Charlotte Independence 0 – 1 FC Cincinnati: Four Numbers That Mattered

Mitch Hildebrandt’s clutch PK save in stoppage time rescues all 3 points for FC Cincinnati.

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Credit: Charlotte Independence

Remember that miracle at Nippert Stadium when Mitch Hildebrandt said no three times in penalties against Chicago this year? Apparently, the FC Cincinnati keeper still has the wizardly ability to summon that magic. He turned away a stoppage-time penalty kick to secure a 1-0 win at Charlotte that provided three crucial points and a claim to this year’s Queen Cities Cup for the Orange & Blue.

Playing the second of four games on the road to close the season, FCC had to get out of the gate early against a stacked Charlotte offense. The Independence have two of the top seven most prolific scorers in the USL in midfielder Enzo Martinez (16 goals) and forward Jorge Herrera (12). FCC trotted out their own stacked 3-4-3 pattern, putting Djiby, Jimmy McLaughlin, and Danni König in the front line.

Much like their recent performances on the road, FC Cincinnati did not have much success in the first half. The team failed to record a shot—let alone any on frame—by the time the first-half whistle sounded. Meanwhile, Charlotte managed to control the ball for much of the first half, but could only muster one late shot on frame. Martinez skirted around Hildebrandt in the 21st minute for a free shot on goal, only for his momentum to send the ball wide.

The second half began much the same way it ended—while Cincinnati played from their heels and conceded corner kicks, Charlotte was putting more shots on goal. However, while the front line found difficulty in receiving passes from the midfield, the back tandem of Austin Berry and Harrison Delbridge kept the Charlotte offense off-balance and off the scoring sheet.

FC Cincinnati found their offensive hero in an unlikely form when Kevin Schindler came on for König in the 74th minute. Not only did the big German quickly have FCC’s first shot on frame, but he put in the game’s only goal. Djiby directed a header on target from a Kenney Walker corner kick, only for Schindler to deflect the shot into goal in the 75th minute.

Like their last two away games, FCC’s flare for the dramatic took center stage. Walker was sent off in the 89th minute for a second yellow card, giving Charlotte multiple chances on net. After Herrera skied a wide-open shot inside the box, it appeared that Charlotte had gotten a well-deserved point after Corben Bone fouled Martinez in the penalty area. However, Herrera’s penalty kick with seconds left in stoppage time was blocked by Hildebrandt sprawling to the right, rescuing the win for FC Cincinnati.

With the Queen City Cup in hand, FC Cincinnati (11-9-10, 43 points) now heads to Canada for their final two games. They stay in 6th place but are now five points ahead of the playoff line. Wins over both Ottawa and Toronto will assure them a spot in the postseason and possibly a home playoff match, but Cincy will have to develop a sharper offensive game if they intend to go far.

Four Numbers That Mattered

3 – The number of penalty kicks that Mitch Hildebrandt has saved in USL play this year. While FCC has given up a whopping 10 penalty kicks this season, Mitch has managed to say no three times, the third being perhaps the biggest save of his USL career. Mitch has 88 saves this year, putting him second in the USL (which is not necessarily a good thing if there are a lot of shots to save).

18 – The number of interceptions by FC Cincinnati. Stop us if you’ve heard this one before, but while FCC had a disadvantage in possession (48% to 52%), shots (6 to 20), and passing accuracy (78% to 82%), they managed to intercept and stop the flow of attack better than Charlotte (18 interceptions to 8). Of course, much of the momentum was also stopped by fortunate misses, but that’s another stat for another time.

9 – Kenney Walker’s red card in the 89th minute marked the 9th that FCC has received this season, compared to 2 all last season. The big difference this time around was that this was the first game that FC Cincinnati managed to get a win in a game they also received a red card. This means that Kenney will miss the big away game in Ottawa next weekend.

59 – The number of days between clean sheets for FC Cincinnati. While people have bragged about Cincinnati’s long scoreless run in the US Open Cup this year, the last time Cincinnati managed a shutout was back on August 2nd (1-0 over Miami FC). Their last USL clean sheet was their 3-0 home win over Harrisburg on July 22nd. If the team wants to excel, they’ll need their defense to bend and not break like it did in this game.

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more news, analysis, and color commentary on FC Cincinnati.

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FC Cincinnati 3 – 1 Ottawa Fury FC: Four Numbers That Mattered

Seeking to right the ship, FC Cincinnati halted their slump with a convincing victory over Ottawa Fury at Nippert Stadium.

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Photo courtesy of Ryan Meyer / Ryan Meyer Photography

After two USL road losses that left FC Cincinnati embarrassed and looking for answers, the boys in Orange & Blue rebounded on a short week. They turned in arguably their best bounce-back performance of the season, beating the Ottawa Fury 3-1 in front of 20,058 at Nippert Stadium.

Resorting back to a 3-4-3 formation to match Ottawa’s own, coach Alan Koch leaned on returning players to give others a breather—Tyler Polak returned to the Starting XI for the first time since spraining his foot against Louisville July 15th, and both Kenney Walker and Sem de Wit returned after serving one-game suspensions.

After thirty minutes trying to find their form and letting Ottawa be the more physical team, FCC produced a physical presence of their own. Danni König snaked around his defender and tapped home a left-footed cross from Polak in the 34th minute to give FCC an early 1-0 lead.

Ottawa pressed their offensive line a bit harder after the goal, almost equalizing in the 39th minute. A Steevan dos Santos deflection was kept out of goal, parried acrobatically off the goal line by Harrison Delbridge. The pressure from Ottawa led to a perfect counterattack opportunity in the 42nd minute. König redirected a midfield pass to a streaking Jimmy McLaughlin, who deposited a right-footed shot past goalkeeper Callum Irving for a 2-0 lead at halftime (and an entertaining ode to Robbie Keane in his goal celebration).

The hits kept coming in the second half as FCC capitalized from Ottawa fouls. Fury FC failed to clear a Polak set piece from the right in the 57th minute. It found Sem de Wit’s left foot to give FC Cincinnati a 3-0 lead—the Dutchman’s first professional goal of his career.

With a lead that felt almost too comfortable, FC Cincinnati had to survive a barrage of shots in the remaining 30 minutes. A 63rd-minute goal from dos Santos skirted past Mitch Hildebrandt to make the game 3-1, but the goalkeeper returned to form with sprawling saves in the 81st and 92nd minutes to seal the deal.

FC Cincinnati’s win lifts them to 9-9-7 (34 points) and sixth place, while Ottawa falls to 7-9-7 (28 points).

Four Numbers That Mattered

+10 – FCC’s advantage in clearances (27 to Ottawa’s 17). Having built a large lead after 60 minutes, FCC demonstrated a clear ability to keep the ball away from the aggressive Ottawa front line. While Ottawa led in possession, passing accuracy, and shots on target, FC Cincinnati used a bend-not-break approach for the rest of the game—22 of Cincinnati’s 27 clearances came in the second half.

9 – The number of goals scored by Danni König this year. While FCC may not be scoring at the clip Jeff Berding had hoped for at the start of the year, the team has found its dual threat. König has assembled a bounce-back season after scoring 21 goals in 2015 and only 5 last year. Perhaps King König likes home cooking—8 of his 9 goals have come at Nippert.

20,058 – The number of FC Cincinnati fans in the stands on a Wednesday during the first week of school. Fans could have easily sat this one out, but tonight’s draw not only keeps the average attendance over 20K, but indicates that faith has not been lost yet. Home field advantage has given FCC 26 total points over 14 games, compared to only 8 over 11 away games.

10 – The number of days until FC Cincinnati’s next game (September 2nd vs. Pittsburgh). This is the team’s longest breather of the year, and it may be coming at the right time. Last year, FCC went 4-0-1 down the stretch in September, and they’ll need fresh legs and bodies to repeat their form this September.

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more news, analysis, and color commentary on FC Cincinnati.

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FC Cincinnati 1 – 0 Miami FC: Four Magical Numbers That Mattered

Four numbers that mattered from FC Cincinnati’s thrilling 1-0 win over Miami FC in the 2017 U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals.

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Photo Courtesy Miami FC

 

It was only appropriate that FC Cincinnati’s magic in the 107th U.S. Open Cup continued with a win in the Magic City.

Three weeks after they were scheduled to tangle with Miami FC in the USOC quarterfinals, FC Cincinnati returned to Miami to resume their match, this time under rain-free conditions. The Cinderella run for FCC has yet to strike midnight, as the squad managed to tame another offensive juggernaut with stingy defense and a timely goal from Djiby for a 1-0 win.

With their numbers restored from rest and reinforcements, FCC started the first half with a starter-heavy starting XI—both Djiby and Danni König were set at the front of the familiar 3-5-2 formation with Sem de Wit and Kevin Schindler getting their first starts of the year. Miami FC countered with a solid front three of Enzo Rennella, Kwadwo Poku, and Stefano Pinho, a trio who had combined for seven of the 11 Miami FC goals in their Cup run.

The first 45’ was dominated by neither side—while Miami had the slight edge in possession and control, Cincinnati was getting more opportunities at the net. Double-coverage on Djiby often left König room to work, while the midfield was allowed some space to pressure the offensive third. Both teams seemed unable to take advantage of lapses in judgment, but in general the flow of the game was favoring FCC and their vocal traveling support.

The second half certainly indicated that coach Alessandro Nesta had made the right call to conserve energy in the first half. Miami came out with more pressure in their attack, forcing the FC Cincinnati defense to foul and concede corner kicks to keep the pace under control. A streaking Pinho in the 59th minute could have easily produced the first goal of the game, but Mitch Hildebrandt came off his line to smother the opportunity and keep his historic goalless run intact.

The lead finally went FCC’s way in the 68th minute. Justin Hoyte managed to isolate defender Hunter Freeman on the left side of the box, beating him with a right-footed dribble. Hoyte then skirted the back line with a left-footed cross that found Djiby at the near goalpost, who tapped the pass through goalkeeper Daniel Vega’s legs for the 1-0 advantage.

For the rest of the game, the Cincinnati defensive line withstood the remaining attacks by plugging passing lanes and clearing opportunities. Miami’s equalizer appeared to be in reach in the 89th when Poku danced and dribbled around defenders, only for his shot to glance off Hildebrandt’s leg and just miss Rennella’s forehead. The midfield managed to handle the ball for most of stoppage time, and the final whistle produced overjoyed chaos on the Cincinnati sideline and in bars all over Cincinnati.

The victory gives FC Cincinnati another wild matchup against an MLS side for the opportunity to possibly host the U.S. Open Cup final. A few days before their match with the New York Red Bulls’ “2” squad, our Boys in Orange & Blue will host their parent team on Tuesday, August 15th at Nippert Stadium. A win versus the Papa Bulls will produce the first non-MLS U.S. Open Cup finalist since Charleston Battery in 2008.

Four Numbers That Mattered

21 – The number of days since the date of the originally-scheduled match between FC Cincinnati and Miami FC. The extra three weeks of rest turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the spent FC Cincinnati side—Justin Hoyte, Austin Berry, and Harrison Delbridge were all left off the original lineup on July 12th, but all three were in the Starting XI when the actual game was played, and all three made a big difference. Mother Nature must be a Queen City fan!

4 – The number of goals Djiby has scored in this year’s U.S. Open Cup. While this number is a bit deceptive (as Cincinnati has scored only four goals in five games), the Senegalese striker has been opportunistic—Djiby is the first player in the Modern Era to score four game-winning goals in the same U.S. Open Cup tournament.

+5 – The advantage in interceptions held by FC Cincinnati (13) over Miami FC (8). While Miami enjoyed a 57/43 advantage in possession, FCC once again employed a sturdy 3-5-2 defensive pattern that allowed the backline of Berry, de Wit, and Delbridge to clog the middle and take away challenges. Pinho (4 goals) and Poku (2) had been part of a solid Miami offense that enjoyed a +22 goal differential over 16 games to start the NASL season, but were primarily neutralized until their chances late in the game.

469 – The number of consecutive shutout minutes Mitch Hildebrandt has gone in US Open Cup competitions. Starting from the 11th minute of the loss to Tampa Bay in 2016, Hildebrandt has not let in a single goal, leaving him 4 minutes shy of the modern-day record (Jon Conway had 473 consecutive minutes for San Jose in 2000 and 2001). In fact, string this with Dallas Jaye’s 120 minutes of clean-sheet play vs. AFC Cleveland, and FC Cincy hasn’t allowed a goal in 589 minutes of Open Cup play, also a Modern-Era record.

Bonus Number!

2008 – While a USL team has not made the USOC semifinals since 2011, a USL squad has not hosted a semifinal draw since 2008, back when Charleston hosted and beat the then-USL Seattle Sounders. If Cincinnati can defeat the Red Bulls, it will be the first time that an MLS squad lost to a non-MLS squad in the semifinals since the Rochester Raging Rhinos beat the Columbus Crew in 1999.

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s cup run and the 2017 season.

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Cheat Sheet: FC Cincinnati at Orlando City B

An information graphic provides the vital details for Saturday’s match between FC Cincinnati and Orlando City B. Plus, four fast facts.

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Image for header and information graphic courtesy of Ryan Meyer Photography

FC Cincinnati is on the road for the first of two games in Florida over six days. They face Orlando City B for a late 8:30pm kickoff on Saturday, before making the short trip to Tampa on Thursday to face the Rowdies at Al Lang Stadium. They’ll be brimming with confidence but short on rest, after their penalty kick triumph over the Chicago Fire in the US Open Cup.

On May 13th, FC Cincinnati played a game to forget against this same Orlando City B side. They were beat at Nippert by a 2-0 scoreline, the heaviest home defeat of the club’s one-and-a-half year history. That game was marred by refereeing controversy. Card happy official Calin Radosav issued cautions to Bahner, Quinn, Delbridge, Bone, König, and McLaughlin, all by the 67th minute of the match.

Orlando City B has posted mixed results since their victory in Cincinnati. They’re 2-3-1 over that stretch, including a loss to cellar-dwellers Toronto FC II, who only have two wins all season.

At the conclusion of Saturday’s game, FC Cincinnati will have completed one half of their 32 game USL season.

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Here are four fasts to serve as a backdrop for Saturday’s contest.

  • FC Cincinnati has won only one game away from home this season. That victory came exactly three months ago against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, who they beat 1-0 at Highmark Stadium.
  • OCB’s playmaker and US Youth International Pierre Da Silva currently sits second in USL in assists with six total this season, second only to Vincent Bezecourt of NY Red Bulls II.
  • Leading goalscorer Djiby missed Wednesday’s match against the Chicago Fire with an ankle injury. His return for this match is questionable.
  • This match features two of the best shot stoppers in the Eastern Conference. Mitch Hildebrandt is 2nd in the conference in saves at 38. OCB’s Earl Edwards Jr. leads the conference with 40 saves over 15 matches.

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more coverage of Saturday’s contest.

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Blog: Subplots, Chicago Fire US Open Cup Victory

Subplots from FC Cincinnati’s US Open cup victory including scary selection, Hoyte’s central role, and Wiedeman’s glorious disallowed goal.

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Photo courtesy of JES Photography / Joe Schmuck

There are so many storylines from Wednesday night’s triumph at Nippert. I jotted down a few thoughts on the smaller narratives that people aren’t talking about enough in my opinion. The majority of the chatter is about Mitch’s master performance, the games implications on the MLS bid, what it meant to Austin Berry and Corben Bone, and even what it means for American soccer. All valid topics, but some of the less obvious talking points are more interesting to me. Screw clicks, right?

Ballsy Lineup

Alan Koch set the team up in a 3-4-3 formation that looked like a 5-4-1 when Chicago had the ball. Critically, HE MADE SIX CHANGES from the strong eleven that started last Saturday in USL action. If you didn’t gulp when that lineup was announced, to match-up against a Schweinsteiger-led Chicago Fire, you’re one of those overly-positive people I’ll never understand.

Everyone expected some rotation. Everyone expected König to play a role. Djiby of course was hurt. But six changes and no Jimmy Mac, no Kenney Walker, no Corben Bone, no Wiedeman? Koch started Stevenson and Dominguez, both players I like, but both young players that haven’t figured much in the starting eleven this season.

The beauty is that it worked, somehow. He put a lot of trust in the squad and it paid off. They certainly needed the spark and possession-play from McLaughlin, Bone, and Wiedeman as substitutes. They needed a game-of-your-life performance from Mitch Hildebrandt to pull off the victory, but wow. It could have backfired. In light of the result, you have to tip your hat to the coaching staff. I’m still not sure whether it was genius or crazy.

Hoyte Steps into the Back Three

Justin Hoyte started in the center of the back three, and combined with Berry, Delbridge, and defense-minded wingbacks to keep the Fire at bay for 120 minutes. Surely Hoyte is a quality defender, and we know he has the ability to play center back. But we’ve only seen him at fullback or wingback this season, and Nico’s been a rock there recently. Was now the time to experiment? In arguably the biggest match in club history to date? Again, it worked. Hoyte was stingy in defense. Berry was everywhere, and the best at the back in my opinion. Bahner cleared a sure goal off the line. Delbridge was a monster in the air as always. In truth, the entire defense had a great performance.

Wieda One Bad Call Away from All the Headlines

Every article you’ve read about this match has one man on the cover photo, Mitch Hildebrandt. And rightly so. His performance during the game, and in the shootout was at a different level.  I’m not trying to minimize that at all. One should also point out that Mitch was quick to heap praise on his teammates and give them all the credit in post match interviews.

However, Andrew Wiedeman’s extra time goal was SO onside. It should have been the game winner and if that had happened, think about how different the dialogue and the headlines might be. Who would be on the cover photos? Also think about the outrage that would have ensued about that incorrect offside call if Chicago had won the shootout. We talk a lot about statistical trends, aggregate numbers, and the like to analyze matches. But individual moments and decisions, by players and officials, usually define matches. It’s part of why this game is so unpredictable, and why we love and hate this sport all at the same time.

Danni and Kadeem’s Effort

Thursday was truly a team performance. Danni König and Kadeem Dacres don’t get many mentions in the write-ups, but I thought they absolutely ran their socks off, especially in the earlier portions of the match. The Fire were pressing for the opening goal, and these two were a big part of a defend-from-the-front approach, that made life difficult enough to keep the Fire off the score sheet. Effort isn’t everything, but these guys really laid it out there on Wednesday night. Staying in the game despite Chicago’s early onslaught was a key part of this US Open Cup success.

No Djiby, No Kenney, No Problem

If I had to write down the starting eleven for any FC Cincinnati match, Djiby Fall and Kenney Walker would likely be the first two names I would write down. The fact that we beat an almost full strength, in-form Chicago Fire team without those two players is incredible. The depth of this roster, which has been touted since preseason, paid off on Wednesday. We’ll continue to need that depth as the Orange and Blue will play six matches in the first 15 days of July. That run starts tomorrow against Orlando City B. Just one more day left to savor that historic US Open Cup win.

So many storylines, which is one of many reasons why this match will live on in FC Cincinnati legend for some time.

Any underreported storylines that I missed? Let me know in the comments section or on social media.

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more news, analysis, and color commentary on FC Cincinnati.

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Match Photos: FC Cincinnati 0 – 0 Chicago Fire (3-1 PKs)

Fourty-five images of FC Cincinnati’s victory over Chicago Fire at Nippert Stadium in the US Open Cup, courtesy of Joe Schmuck.

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Here are 45 images of FC Cincinnati’s US Open Cup victory over the Chicago Fire 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.”

Also see the post-match article: FC Cincinnati 0 – 0 Chicago Fire (3-1 PKs): Four Numbers That Mattered

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s cup run and the 2017 season.

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FC Cincinnati 0 – 0 Chicago Fire (3-1 PKs): Four Numbers That Mattered

Four numbers that mattered and the match changing moment from FC Cincinnati’s round of 16 US Open Cup triumph over the Chicago Fire.

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Photo Courtesy JES Photography / Joe Schmuck
NO. NO. NO.

In what could be considered arguably the biggest “cupset” of the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, FC Cincinnati continued their miracle run with a win over the Chicago Fire of MLS, winning 3-1 in penalties after 120 minutes of 0-0 action. Most of the honors will go to Cincy goalkeeper Mitch Hildebrandt, as all 26 shots fired by the Fire, 10 of which were on goal, were parried or stopped by the 2016 USL Goalkeeper of the Year. His efforts were seen by a national audience, thanks to ESPN’s coverage of the 5th-round game.

The entire first half of the game was a wait-and-see approach by Chicago, controlling the ball and forcing Cincinnati onto their heels. With most of the action taking place in their defensive third, FC Cincinnati’s back line was forced to deflect shots out for corner kicks. The highlight clearance came at the 16th minute when a juicy cross by Bastien Schweinsteiger found Juninho, only for the misdirect to be narrowly cleared off the line by Matt Bahner.

The second half started with more of the same pressure put on Hildebrandt, who had to make three sprawling saves within a 20-minute span. However, once FC Cincinnati started to slide in their substitutes, the pace of the game changed dramatically. Jimmy McLaughlin and Corben Bone came in and began to take advantage of the Chicago press, intercepting in the middle and sprinting ahead of the tiring Chicago defense. Both were denied scoring opportunities in stoppage time, only to be turned away by goalkeeper Matt Lampson and a questionable non-call in the Chicago box.

Extra time saw some point-blank saves by both keepers, as action ran from goal line to goal line. An early extra-time substitution almost paid dividends, as Andrew Wiedeman’s intense 109’ goal celebration was cut short with an offsides call. That chance was followed by more fingertip saves by Hildebrandt, and a late near-post save by Lampson.

With all the time played with no resolution, Hildebrandt outperformed Lampson in penalty kicks, letting in only one shot to Lampson’s three. After watching Hildebrandt deflect Juninho’s final attempt, the bouncing Nippert crowd erupted in cheers and blue-orange smoke while the team dog-piled on the hero of the day in excitement.

This win marks the furthest a USL team has made it into the U.S. Open Cup tournament since then-USL Orlando City upset Colorado and Kansas City to make it into the quarterfinals in 2013. FC Cincinnati now travels to play NASL division-leaders Miami FC on July 12th, as Miami upset MLS’s Atlanta United with their own late-game heroics, advancing on a 3-2 win after a 93rd minute goal by Kwadwo Poku. This matchup guarantees a D2 team in the USOC semifinals for the first time since the Richmond Kickers did it in 2011.

Match Changing Moment

Mitch Hildebrandt’s first PK save on Chicago’s Nemanja Nicolic. After Aodhan Quinn had skied FCC’s first PK attempt, Hildebrandt slapped the MLS scoring leader’s shot away to the left with a sprawling save. Had it not been for this play, FCC could have been forced to come from behind for the win. Instead, Josu, Harrison Delbridge, and McLaughlin calmly stepped up to bury their shots, while Mitch said “No!” two more times against Arturo Alvarez and Juninho.

Four Numbers That Mattered

18-7 – The advantage Chicago had in corner kicks. While FCC managed to adjust and make more ventures into the Chicago box in the second half, most of the possession belonged to Chicago, who held a 70-30 advantage over the entire game. Chicago received the first 9 CKs of the game, only for the FCC D-line to bend and not break. Outside of the possession and corner kick battle, Cincinnati managed to keep it close in shots (20 to 26), shots on goal (7 to 10), and fouls (13 to 14).

66’ – The minute that Jimmy McLaughlin came on to substitute for Eric Stevenson. With Cincinnati struggling to keep consistent possession during the game, McLaughlin was subbed on to give a spark on the edge. McLaughlin immediately stretched the field with his speed, matching König for most attempts on goal (5).

499 – Number of minutes since the last time FC Cincinnati conceded a goal in U.S. Open Cup play. Ever since the 11th minute in the loss at Tampa Bay June 1st of last year, the combination of Hildebrandt and backup Dallas Jaye have completely shut down the opposition over the four games this year (three 1-0 wins and the 0-0 result vs. Chicago). All of Hildebrandt’s 10 saves came in the second half and extra time, not including those stellar three blocks in PK time.

32,287 – People packing the Nippert Stadium stands. This goes without saying. The crowd once again flooded the seats and stayed rocking throughout the game. FC Cincinnati and Chicago played in front of the second-largest modern-day U.S. Open Cup crowd ever, bested only by the 35,615 who witnessed the 2011 U.S. Open Cup final, in which Chicago also lost (this time to Seattle).

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s cup run and the 2017 season.

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