Images of FC Cincinnati’s penalty-kick victory over Nashville SC on Saturday, September 20th at Nippert Stadium.
Here are images of FC Cincinnati’s penalty-kick victory over Nashville SC in the USL Cup Playoffs on Saturday, October 20th. When browsing the gallery below, for any given image, a high-resolution version can be found by scrolling down and clicking “View Full Size.” A watermark identifying the photographer can be found on each photo. All images are courtesy of Joe Craven and Ryan Meyer.
For more particulars of Saturday’s contest, turn your attention to the following article.
All images are copyright protected to safeguard the creative rights of our photographers. We’re very open to sharing our work with those who want to show support for FC Cincinnati. We simply request that you ask (via DM on Twitter or email) and give credit where it’s due. Thanks!
Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s 2018 season.
FC Cincinnati was eliminated from the U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday, falling to Minnesota United FC on penalty kicks.
After the preseason, the teams were tied. After threeregular-seasongames, the teams were tied. After 120 minutes of stalemate soccer, the teams were tied 1-1. Finally, FC Cincinnati overcame karma and past playoff misery to beat Nashville SC in penalty kicks, 6-5. The boys in Orange & Blue solved Nashville’s pesky come-back offense and move onto the next round.
A sun-swept weather pattern led to a blustery game, as the wind appeared to control the tempo. FC Cincinnati had much of the possession (68% to 32%) in the first half. However, no real results came from their six shots, thanks to a compressing Nashville back line. Fanendo Adi got the brunt of looks at the goal, particularly when Matt Pickens managed to swat away a deflection in the 17th minute. Emmanuel Ledesma also got a decent look in the 42nd minute, but his fall-away shot in the box laced wide of the frame.
Nashville’s best look came in the 24th minute when Spencer Richey padded away a light header by Ropapa Mensah in the box. Richey started for FCC instead of USL Golden Glove recipient Evan Newton, but the goalkeeper had flashes of brilliance with point-blank saves.
While both teams had better shots the second half, neither could capitalize. Nashville took more possession and exuded more confidence, moving possession past the defense. Nashville’s best chance came from a Mensah shot in the 74th minute that beat Richey, but nailed the framework. A chip-shot by Alan Winn in the 48th minute and a header by Mensah in the 81st were both snuffed by Richey. Kenney Walker gave a last-second gasp in stoppage time, only for Pickens to palm it away with a dive.
Extra time finally gave FC Cincinnati the lead. Jimmy McLaughlin and Walker fed Corben Bone who drilled a right-footed bullet past Pickens from the top of the box in the 95th minute. FCC managed to milk the clock for the rest of the first half of extra time, avoiding a header on target by Brandon Allen in the 105th minute.
However, Nashville changed the pace in the second half of extra time. Bradley Bourgeois found space atop the box in the 115th minute to fire a high deflection that dropped over Richey. After 120 minutes, both sides were still knotted, this time at 1-1.
The wind made the upcoming penalty kicks an adventure. Many of the shots were paused after the ball was blown off the spot. Both sides traded five successful scores, but the sixth take from Justin Davis popped high into the stands. A false alarm victory dance by FCC followed, but Walker then stepped up, fired past Pickens, and sent FCC to the second round.
Final Score: FC Cincinnati 1-1 (6-5 PKs) Nashville SC
While the penalty kicks decided fate, the goal by Corben Bone in the 95th minute was a combination play by Bone, Walker, and McLaughlin. It was great to see the three combine for one of the biggest goals in FC Cincinnati folklore.
Quote of the Match
Kenney Walker discussed with the press how he lined up his penalty kick, particularly after the team had jumped the gun and rushed over to Richey when Nashville missed their penalty kick.
“I knew we didn’t win the game, but I was hoping that I was maybe thinking wrong. . . . There was a little added pressure, but at the same time, you just got to go out there and score. You either pick your spot, put it there, and he saves it, or you beat him to your spot. That’s as simple as you can put it, but there’s still pressure on it.”
Liam Doyle – NSH – good
Fanendo Adi – CIN – good
Brandon Allen – NSH – good
Jimmy McLaughlin – CIN – good
Alan Winn – NSH – good
Blake Smith – CIN – good
Matt LaGrassa – NSH – good
Justin Hoyte – CIN – good
Kris Tyrpak – NSH – good
Forrest Lasso – CIN – good
Justin Davis – NSH – miss
Kenney Walker – CIN – good
FC Cincinnati outshot Nashville 22-16, but Nashville had more on frame (6-5). While FCC owned the possession numbers in the first half (67% – 33%), Nashville played better in the second half and extra time to make the overall possession slightly tighter (60% – 40%). Although this match is a draw in the books, FC Cincinnati has now gone 24 games unbeaten.
Bone – Albadawi (85′ McLaughlin) – Ledesma (120+1′ Welshman)
Gibson (100′ Ryan) – Alashe (68′ Walker)
Smith – Lasso – Barrett – Hoyte
The Starting XI from last week’s match against Nashville was relatively unchanged, except for Alashe taking Michael Lahoud’s position. Danni König was not available for personal reasons, and Emery Welshman returned from international duty with Guyana.
The run for the USL Cup continues with another Saturday afternoon matinee. The New York Red Bulls II dispatched the Charleston Battery 1-0 and will come to Nippert for the 4pm match on Saturday, October 27th.
Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s 2018 postseason.
FC Cincinnati are the favorites but Nashville SC has been a thorn in their side this season, can the Orange & Blue progress to round two?
The USL Playoffs are here and FC Cincinnati begins their campaign for the 2018 USL Cup against Nashville SC in a 4pm matinee this Saturday at Nippert Stadium. The Orange & Blue, of course, are the USL regular season champions. That means they hold the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference and also have the benefit of home-field advantage throughout the single-elimination postseason tournament.
Their first-round opponent is a familiar foe indeed. FCC and Nashville played to a 3-3 draw last Saturday in Tennessee. Nashville conceded a lot of possession but created more chances in the first half, and took a 1-0 lead into the break. FC Cincinnati stormed back in the second half scoring three goals, but conceding two, including a last minute equalizer to Bolu Akinyode. The match ended at 3-3, and the result ultimately translated into a first round postseason rematch in the Queen City.
FC Cincinnati has played Nashville SC three times this season, and each match has ended in a draw. Even the preseason encounter at Gettler Stadium in March ended in a 2-2 stalemate. There’s been nothing to separate them so far in 2018, but something has to give this weekend.
Alan Koch’s side finished 28 points ahead of a talented but inconsistent Nashville SC squad during the regular season. The Orange & Blue carry a USL-record 23 game unbeaten streak into this first playoff match. They’re in impressive but slightly less-sizzling form of late. After a USL-record ten game win streak, they finished the season with two draws against Pittsburgh and Nashville.
Nashville, the #8 seed, clinched their playoff berth last Saturday, when Ottawa Fury lost and mathematically guaranteed Nashville a playoff spot. They are unbeaten in their last six but only have two wins during that stretch and both were against non-playoff teams.
The FC Cincinnati squad is in good health, and even saw long-time absentee Richie Ryan return to action last weekend. Emery Welshman should also be available after missing last weekend’s match while on international duty. He started in an impressive international call-up for Guyana, where he bagged a hat trick in the CONCACAF Nations League.
Nashville SC can’t report the same good bill of health. The Tennessee outfit is likely to be without South African midfield-star Lebo Meloto, who left a match against the Charleston Battery injured on September 22nd, and hasn’t played a minute since. Moloto leads the team in shots, shots on target, and is tied for the team lead in assists (5). He’s also tied for second on Nashville’s squad in goals (7) and chances created (51).
Interested in Eastern Conference playoff predictions for all of this weekend’s matches? Be sure to check out Geoff Tebbetts article that looks at ALL the matchups, and gives his take on the most likely outcomes.
Here are four fast facts to get you ready for FC Cincinnati’s second-ever playoff match at Nippert Stadium.
FC Cincinnati has a clear offensive advantage in this contest. They scored 30 more goals than Nashville SC during the 2018 regular season, 72 to 42. They earned that advantage by taking only 13 more shots, 431 to 418.
Nashville is instead known for their defensive prowess, led by standout goalkeeper Matt Pickens. Their 31 goals against is tied for second fewest, and their 15 clean sheets is tied for third most. FCC, however, plays close to their high standard. By comparison, the Orange & Blue only allowed 34 goals against and had 14 clean sheets in 2018.
Nashville SC only has 4 wins on the road this season. FC Cincinnati has 12 wins at home this season. On paper, that appears to be a hefty home field advantage for the Orange & Blue. Anything can happen in a single-elimination playoff match though.
The Bengals haven’t won a playoff game since 1990. The Reds haven’t won a playoff series since 1995. It goes without saying that a win in this playoff match would mean a great deal to Cincinnati sports fans.
Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s playoff match versus Nashville SC.
O&BP’s prognosticator crunches the numbers again to predict the first round of the USL Eastern Conference playoffs.
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.
FC Cincinnati set two new USL records and finished their regular season while playing Nashville SC to a 3-3 stalemate at First Tennessee Park.
FC Cincinnati finished a dominant 2018 regular season campaign by topping another USL record. Alan Koch’s squad secured a draw to extend their unbeaten streak to 23 matches in a row, breaking the 22-game record set by the Richmond Kickers in 2013, despite a late comeback by Nashville SC.
The Orange & Blue were sluggish out of the gates, and the home team capitalized on a crisp fall evening at First Tennessee Park. Tucker “Big Bird” Hume headed an Alan Winn cross into goal from close range in the fifth minute to give the home team the lead. FCC grew into the match as the first half progressed, but couldn’t create quality chances from their 70% possession advantage. The teams went into the halftime break with Nashville SC leading by a single goal.
Fireworks went off in a five-goal second half. Seven minutes in, Corben Bone equalized for the Orange & Blue on a beautiful feed from Manu Ledesma. FCC built on that goal, and eleven minutes later, Nazmi Albadawi scored with his head from a corner kick. Ledesma’s olimpico was swatted away from goal by Nashville net-minder Matt Pickens. His weak effort fell squarely to Albadawi who easily nodded the ball into goal from close range to make it 2-1, FC Cincinnati.
The two teams traded goals right around the 80th-minute mark. Nashville equalized through substitute and leading goalscorer Brandon Allen. One minute later, FCC regained the lead when Corben Bone claimed his second goal of the evening. A lovely piece of build-up play on the left saw just-back-from-injury Richie Ryan provide an assist for a curler that beat Matt Pickens for a third time.
FCC seemed to have earned all three points, but Nashville SC didn’t quit on the contest. Their efforts to equalize paid dividends in the 90th minute when Nigerian midfielder Bolu Akinyode fired a rocket into goal from the top of the 18, just after Forrest Lasso had blocked a shot from another Nashville attacker.
The game ended in a 3-3 stalemate. Despite a second consecutive draw, FCC finishes the regular season by cruising comfortably to a USL regular season championship, and setting records for both winning streaks (10 games) and unbeaten streaks (23 games).
Final Score: Nashville SC 3 – 3 FC Cincinnati
FC Cincinnati finishes the season 11 points clear of the next best team in either the Eastern or Western Conference. The top four spots in the Eastern Conference were locked in as of last Wednesday. However, two games are on the docket tomorrow that have implications for the final Eastern Conference playoff seeding in spots 5 through 8. Bethlehem faces the Tampa Bay Rowdies at home (3pm), and New York Red Bulls II will host the Pittsburgh Riverhounds (5pm). Those results will determine FCC’s first round playoff opponent. That team will be one of New York Red Bulls II, Nashville SC, Bethlehem Steel FC, or North Carolina FC.
Highlight of the Match
Corben Bone’s first goal of the match was his 10th of 2018. With that goal, FC Cincinnati set another USL record by being the first team to have four double-digit goalscorers in a single season. He joins Emmanuel Ledesma, Danni König, and Nazmi Albadawi with 10+ goals this year.
FC Cincinnati, with 576 passes, had almost twice as many passes as Nashville SC with 289 on the night. They also completed their passes at an accuracy of 84.4%, over 13% higher than Nashville SC’s passing accuracy. Possession only goes so far though. Nashville made the most of their chances and found a last-gasp equalizer to earn the draw. The home team can boast a 27% conversion rate on the night (3 goals on 11 unblocked shots) which topped FCC’s lower than usual (but still decent) 17% conversion rate on Saturday.
Alan Koch made three changes from the side that drew 0-0 with Pittsburgh last Saturday. Fanendo Adi, Tyler Gibson, and Nazmi Albadawi all returned to the starting eleven for the final regular season match of 2018. Richie Ryan also made his first FCC appearance (as a substitute) since June 30th, when he sustained a lower leg injury against Ottawa Fury FC.
Adi (74′ König)
Bone – Albadawi (76′ McLaughlin) – Ledesma
Lahoud (74′ Ryan) – Gibson
Smith – Lasso – Barrett (C) – Hoyte
The first round of the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs is up next at Nippert Stadium, October 20th. FC Cincinnati’s opponent is still yet to be determined and is dependent on Sunday’s Eastern Conference results. Follow us on Twitter and we’ll keep you informed on who the Orange & Blue will face next Saturday at 4pm at Nippert Stadium.
The USL Regular Season comes to a successful close with a momentous match between FC Cincinnati and Nashville SC.
At the end of its third and final USL regular season, FC Cincinnati has captured an elusive mark. With the regular-season title and the highest seed in the Eastern Conference locked up, the Orange & Blue have an opportunity to head into the playoffs with rested players and a historic record. The only obstacle standing in their way is Nashville SC, who are desperate for a point for a playoff appearance. The two teams clash in the regular-season finale at First Tennessee Park on Saturday.
FC Cincinnati’s 22nd straight game undefeated was no easy task in Pittsburgh. The team needed every bit of their 90 minutes to end the game with the Riverhounds in a 0-0 draw. While Pittsburgh put heavy pressure on the squad, outshooting their opponent 18-4, FCC rode a solid defending line and Spencer Richey’s fifth clean sheet to take home a point. While this broke FCC’s 10-game winning streak, the draw helped FC Cincinnati match the undefeated run set by Richmond in 2013.
FC Cincinnati may have a record in sight, but Nashville SC still has to work to do. Despite early goals by Matt LaGrassa and Brandon Allen, Nashville gave up two goals to Toronto FC II in the final 15 minutes for a 2-2 draw on Tuesday. This leaves the Music City club in 7th place with one game left and at risk of missing the playoffs. If Ottawa or Bethlehem lose this weekend, Nashville is in. However, if Ottawa wins and Bethlehem gets at least a point, Nashville must avoid a loss.
Despite being two bricks in FC Cincinnati’s wall, Nashville has not lost to the Orange & Blue this season. Both teams played to a scoreless draw back in July at Nissan Stadium, while they drew 1-1 at Nippert in August. In that game, Danni König scored in the first minute, but Nashville equalized on an 85th-minute strike from Tucker Hume. Since that draw, FC Cincinnati has gone 10-0-1, while Nashville has been a flat 4-3-5.
While Alan Koch hasn’t shown all his cards, the team will be without one player, but will welcome back two. Forward Emery Welshman will be off on international duty to play for Guyana in a CONCACAF Nations League qualifier. However, König should return from a yellow-card suspension, while midfielder Richie Ryan is likely to play for the first time since suffering a stress fracture in June. In fact, the entire team should be healthy before Saturday’s match.
Here are five facts for FC Cincinnati’s final regular-season match in the USL.
If Corben Bone plays on Saturday, it will be his 100th game for the Orange & Blue over all competitions. In 2018 alone, he has scored more goals in the USL (9) than his previous four seasons (3). If Bone can score his 10th on Saturday, FC Cincinnati writes another record. It will be the first time in the USL’s short eight-year history that one team has produced four 10+ goal scorers.
Goalkeeper Matt Pickens has arguably been Nashville’s best signing. Despite facing 109 shots over 30 games (3rd in the East), he has allowed only 25 goals. That’s an astounding 77.1% success rate. The only goalkeeper in the East to play in at least 20 games and have a higher success rate? That would be Cincinnati’s Evan Newton (56 saves, 16 goals, 77.8% success rate).
Because of Pickens and his magic hands, Nashville barely allows any goals at home. Manager Gary Smith’s squad has conceded only 11 home goals (2nd in the East) and has 9 clean sheets at home. However, their 24 home goals are 5th-worst in the East. That +13 goal differential at home is decent, but Cincinnati has a +16 goal differential on the road from 31 goals scored.
Ever since his late equalizer against FC Cincinnati, forward Tucker Hume has experienced a second life with Nashville. Hume started only one match the first 20 games, but since then he has started 11 of the last 13 matches and scored 6 goals. Perhaps the “Big Bird” nickname has wings?
How does Cincinnati’s 22-game unbeaten streak stack up against Richmond’s? FC Cincinnati has more wins in the same period (17-13) and has scored more goals (49-42). Then again, Richmond’s schedule in 2013 was more strenuous—they had an 8-game road trip during their streak that took them from Orlando to Vancouver over the span of a month. Richmond also had three pairs of games that were played on back-to-back days.
Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of the regular-season finale in Nashville.
A deeper look at the FC Cincinnati stalemate in Pittsburgh, and a look at how the weekend’s USL action impacted the playoff picture.
FC Cincinnati shared the points with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in a scoreless draw on Saturday in their second-to-last game of the 2018 USL season. Pittsburgh, who leads the league in clean sheets with 17, is notoriously difficult to break down, especially at Highmark Stadium. While this scoreless contest didn’t provide a lot of interesting stats, the match did offer a chance to look at at FC Cincinnati’s recent trend in shots against.
Limiting Quality Chances
FC Cincinnati has a high-performing defense of their own. They can now boast 14 clean sheets this season, which is tied for fifth best in the USL. One aspect of their recent success has been the team’s ability to limit quality chances, despite conceding a lot of shots. FCC been outshot by their opponents in 6 of their last 8 matches, especially in games against playoff-caliber opponents. While the Orange & Blue’s opponents are allowed to shoot, FCC blocks a fair number, and many of the opponent’s shots are from outside the box or unflattering angles.
In Saturday’s contest, Pittsburgh outshot FC Cincinnati 18 to 4. However, FCC blocked 8 of those shots, and 6 of Pittsburgh’s remaining shots were off-target. Only 4 were on target over the entire contest, which they could not convert. FCC put 3 of their 4 total shots on goal, and therefore ended up with only 1 less shot on target than Pittsburgh.
Just over a week ago, FCC faced off with another likely playoff-bound team, Indy Eleven. Indy outshot FC Cincinnati 20 to 9. However, FCC blocked 6 of those shots, and 9 of Indy Eleven’s shots were off target. FCC put 5 of their 9 shots on target and ended up with the same number of shots on target as their opponent. They also won the match 3-0. If this just happened once or twice, you’d think FCC was lucky that the other team didn’t make the most of their chances, but this is a pattern that has appeared several times over the last 8 games.
As we’ve featured in recent analysis articles, Alan Koch’s offense is the most efficient in the league, scoring a league-leading number of goals from a relatively low number of shots. This ability to limit the quality of the opponents chances and be very efficient in converting their own, has been one of the storylines of their recent success. The combination of the two has resulted in a record-setting win streak and an unbeaten run that is still in progress.
Would it be better if FCC were limiting opponent’s shots altogether, as Pittsburgh is so adept at doing? Possibly, but the defensive posture FCC would have to take to achieve that goal would likely hamstring their prolific attacking players. Right now they are finding the right balance, a trend Cincinnati fans hope will continue into the postseason.
Projected Playoff Matchups
Things are still extremely tight in the Eastern Conference near the playoff cutoff line. New York Red Bulls II picked up a vital 2-1 victory against North Carolina FC, who is now on the outside looking in. Nashville SC also improved their playoff posture by delivering a convincing 3-0 victory over the Richmond Kickers, who are whimpering out of the U.S. second division. Indy and Bethlehem Steel FC shared the points in a 1-1 draw in another match with implications on FC Cincinnati’s first round playoff opponent. With one week remaining, there’s still plenty to play for in the USL, and FCC’s opponent is still unclear.
Here are Orange & Blue Press’ projections for the first round playoff matchups based on where things stand today. Our updated projections line up the Orange & Blue with Bethlehem Steel FC in the first round on October 20th.
The USL schedule features seven midweek games this week, and many of them have playoff seeding implications. Louisville City, Pittsburgh, North Carolina FC, NY Red Bulls II, and Nashville SC are all in action and looking to improve their current position. The picture is likely to keep shifting all the way through next Sunday when league play concludes.
Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s final USL league game at Nashville SC and USL Cup playoff run.
Now that FC Cincinnati is guaranteed a first-round home match, what potential matchup could spell the most trouble?
The common cliché in sports is that you need to take things “one game at a time.” Looking too far ahead in the future will catch you napping against your next opponent. As good as this undefeated streak has been, coach Alan Koch has emphasized doing what you can against the next opponent, not the one you might play in the USL playoffs. The near-loss to Toronto FC II this weekend was a reminder of that.
While it helps to scout the opposition before the last minute, the planets could still align badly in the playoffs. Last year, #2 Charleston couldn’t beat #7 New York during the regular season, then got trucked at home by the Baby Bulls the first round. The same thing happened with FC Cincinnati in 2016—despite the strong end to the season, FCC couldn’t figure out the Battery during the regular season, then wilted in the second half to get knocked out early.
Basically, solid preparation is good, but the last thing you want is for fate to provide a difficult opponent. For this article, without looking too far ahead, we scout FC Cincinnati’s possible first-round opponents and rank the six in order of upset potential.
The Playoff Picture
Currently, FCC is the only team that has safely qualified for the playoffs. While the competition is getting closer to the top, Pittsburgh, Louisville, and Charleston still own paths to first-round home games.
Aside from Toronto, Richmond, and Atlanta, the rest of the pack is still realistically alive. Charlotte, Tampa Bay, and Penn FC all have a tough road to get to that coveted playoff line, and while all could upset FC Cincinnati if they make it in, for the sake of brevity, we’ll focus on the closer competition.
6. Ottawa Fury FC
Record: 12-13-5 (41 pts.), currently 7th Schedule: at Louisville, at Toronto, vs. Bethlehem, vs. Charleston
While they started out of the gate with three losses, Ottawa has been able to hang in the middle of the table. Goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau leads the East with 13 clean sheets, while the defense has kept the powerful New York Red Bulls II offense checked over three games. Forward Tony Taylor has managed to get hot lately with five goals in 11 games.
However, it’s hard to really view the Fury as a credible away threat. The team has been shut out seven times in 15 road games and has yet to score on Cincinnati’s defense. In fact, most of Ottawa’s points have come against the poorer competition—they have no wins against the Top 4 teams (0-1-5). While the road wins against Indy and New York are notable, until they can break out a credible secondary scorer, Ottawa’s chances at pulling a first-round upset appear slim.
5. Indy Eleven
Record: 12-8-9 (45 pts.), currently 5th Schedule: at Pittsburgh, vs. Tampa Bay, at Cincinnati, vs. Bethlehem, at Louisville
This position in the rankings could be debatable. For one thing, it’s hard to guess what position Indy may finish—four of the final five games are against projected playoff teams. On the other hand, Indy has yet to face FCC at Nippert Stadium, so it’s hard to gauge just how difficult a team they are on the road.
Goalkeeper Owain Fôn Williams has quietly claimed 10 clean sheets in 29 games started, and seven of them have been on the road. Forward Eugene Starikov (5 goals in his last 10 games) has become a solid second scorer next to Jack McInerney, while Ayoze (4 goals, 6 assists) is still a mammoth presence in the defending line.
Again, Indy could legitimately be higher after their game at Cincinnati—we’ll see how well they can perform at Nippert—but so far, they’ve yet to figure out FCC. They may also be searching for that extra threat on offense, as their other big offseason pickup, forward Soony Saad, hasn’t scored since Week 11. Their away offense also may need improvement, as they’ve only scored 14 on the road in 14 games.
Their proximity to Cincinnati could bring a huge away crowd to Nippert in the playoffs. Right now, the game on September 29th could be the indicator of how difficult Indy would be in the playoffs.
4. North Carolina FC
Record: 10-10-8 (38 pts.), currently 10th Schedule: at Atlanta, at Charleston, vs. Richmond, vs. New York, at Louisville, at Charlotte
While the former Railhawks dug themselves into an early-season hole, NCFC has bounced back. They started the first 14 games with 7 losses (including two to FCC), but have gone 6-5-3 in the next 14 games.
Forward Daniel Ríos has been a blessing on loan from Guadalajara and currently sits second in the Golden Boot standings (17 goals). Midfielders Kyle Bekker (2nd in assists) and Austin da Luz (2nd in passing) are also high on the stats charts. The potent offense is ranked fifth in the East and has gotten better with the addition of midfielder Zach Steinberger from Indy.
Considering that NCFC still has four road games to play against difficult teams, the final stretch could show how serious the team is against competition. That would require a statement away win at either Louisville or Charleston. Without either, they may miss out on the playoffs completely.
3. Bethlehem Steel FC
Record: 12-12-6 (42 pts), currently 6th Schedule: vs. Toronto, at Ottawa, at Indy, vs. Tampa Bay
Bethlehem’s form may not scare most, as their inconsistency will flare up at bad times. Of their 12 wins, 11 have come against teams currently below them in the table. Their only marquee win is a victory at Indy Eleven in Week 10. They’ve also suffered bad losses to Penn FC twice and Atlanta. It’s hard to say which Bethlehem squad will show up.
That’s what makes them difficult to predict. So far, FC Cincinnati is the only team in the top half of the table that hasn’t defeated Bethlehem. The Orange & Blue looked inconsistent and shaky on the road, needing a Nazmi Albadawi goal late to force a 1-1 draw. The home match was even more deluding, as the team couldn’t take advantage of a lead late against a 10-man Bethlehem squad.
In total, 21 players have scored for Bethlehem, and their 50 goals ranks them fourth in the East. Santi Moar is a solid midfielder (6 goals, 8 assists) who has given FCC trouble this year, while forward Chris Nanco has improved over the season. This is an offense that will rarely be shut out. However, it’s also a team that will also rarely shut down your side. The goalkeepers have only six clean sheets, and their 40 goals allowed are tied for sixth-worst in the East.
As frustrating as the draws were against Bethlehem, let’s keep in mind that these two teams were vastly different then. Emmanuel Ledesma was serving a yellow-card suspension during the 2-2 home draw. FCC also have added Fanendo Adi and Fatai Alashe to the team since that match, while much of the Bethlehem offense has been promoted to the MLS squad. On paper, a match between the squads would look a lot different.
2. New York Red Bulls II
Record: 10-8-11 (41 pts), currently 8th Schedule: at Charlotte, at Nashville, at North Carolina, at Penn FC, vs. Pittsburgh
I don’t blame people if they see the Baby Bulls as less of a threat than the past two years. New York has been counterproductive on the road, as they haven’t won in 13 away games (0-5-8). Much of their talent could be frozen in place on their MLS squad, and the defense is the fourth-worst in the East (54 goals allowed). However, their defense was dead-last in the East last year, and they made it to the Conference Finals!
Even though they have no players with double-digit goals, Red Bulls II still leads the USL with 62 goals scored. Six of their players have five or more goals, including forward Jared Stroud, who is tied for second in the East in assists (10). The team has almost 100 more shots than the nearest competition (544 to Phoenix’s 442). They also play a very aggressive game—their 438 tackles lead the East, as well.
However, the top teams in the East still have the Red Bulls’ number. Their lone win over the Top 4 has been a home victory over Charleston. FC Cincinnati has also appeared to figure them out over the last three matches played (3-0-0). However, this is still a young and hungry team that sees the USL as a feeding ground, not as a training ground.
1. Nashville SC
Record: 10-9-9 (39 pts), currently 9th Schedule: vs. Tampa Bay, vs. Charleston, at Atlanta, vs. New York, at Richmond, vs. Toronto, vs. Cincinnati
FC Cincinnati has exterminated a lot of ghosts this season. The Orange & Blue managed to claim their first victories over Charleston and Tampa Bay this year. They have also beaten Louisville and Charlotte after losses to both earlier.
However, there is one ghost they have not been able to bust—the enigma known as Matt Pickens.
Over the past two years, Pickens has had Cincinnati’s name. His Tampa Bay Rowdies squad eliminated FCC in the 2016 U.S. Open Cup and the 2017 USL Playoffs. While he may not have been the sole reason for the victories, Pickens only gave up one goal against FCC in four games as a Rowdie.
Pickens has only gotten better with the change of scenery. In 24 starts for Nashville SC, Pickens has conceded only 19 goals. His 12 clean sheets put him second in the USL and are already better than his numbers from last year. His 67 saves also puts him at fourth in the East. Over three seasons against Cincinnati (6 games), Pickens has never lost, giving up only two goals (3-3-0).
That solid wall in front of Pickens just adds to the frustration FCC fans have had with Nashville. While the offense has not been at Cincinnati’s level, forwards Brandon Allen, Ropapa Mensah, Alan Winn, and Tucker Hume have the potential to crack defenses. The team has shown that it is unafraid of the large Cincinnati crowds, which may be the kryptonite for an upset in the Queen City.
Most importantly, of the teams that are trying to make the playoffs, Nashville has the best record when it comes to playing the Top 4 (2-4-1). NSC is one of only two teams to have beaten the Riverhounds in Pittsburgh, and their only loss was a Week 1 loss at Louisville. Considering the team also has a U.S. Open Cup victory over an MLS side, the potential for a Music City upset is there.
Of course, they must make the playoffs first, and they’ll need to face FCC once more to do so.
Which team outside of the Top 4 terrifies you the most in a potential first-round matchup? Let us know what you think!
Orange & Blue Press caught up with Paddy Barrett and Alan Koch ahead of Saturday’s USL clash versus the Charleston Battery.
Orange & Blue Press caught up with Paddy Barrett and Alan Koch ahead of Saturday’s Eastern Conference showdown with the Charleston Battery.
Paddy Barrett gave us his thoughts on his USL Team of the Week selection and adjusting to Cincinnati’s summer climate.
Alan Koch then spoke to us about the Charleston Battery and how different these two teams are since they met in March. He also speaks to Charleston’s physicality, and how he’s approaching the upcoming stretch of five difficult games.
Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati versus Charleston Battery on Saturday.
The Bonus Track segment takes a deeper look at #CINvNSH, Nashville SC’s offensive dominance, and positives FC Cincinnati can take away from the performance.
The Bonus Track segment is an abridged version of Orange & Blue Press’ Deeper Cuts series. It takes one or two components of a recent match and breaks it down in more detail.
FC Cincinnati faced its fellow MLS expansion awardee Nashville SC for the second time this USL season. The contest was on home turf after a week filled with dramatic headline-grabbing player signings. However, the result would be the status quo as the Orange & Blue managed to draw once again with their future MLS rivals. Similar to the game played at Nissan Stadium, Nashville SC got the better of the FC Cincinnati in terms of possession and chances created. Earning one point was anything but easy, and possibly quite fortunate.
The Bad and the Ugly
This match certainly did not live up to FC Cincinnati’s recent form as the stats will show. However, throwing another point on the top of the total doesn’t have to be pretty.
Nashville SC had a slight edge in overall possession with 52.4%. However, that possession was achieved by a more telling stat of 17 intercepted FC Cincinnati passes as the squad struggled to find their rhythm. NSC also had the advantage of attacking threats with a remarkable 41 crosses compared to FCC’s 17. Those crosses for NSC had a phenomenal accuracy rate of 36.6%, and surprisingly, failed to produce goals. Here’s a chalkboard view of NSC vs FCC in crossing attempts.
Nashville SC out-shot FC Cincinnati 19 to 4 but only managed 5 on target, thankfully. Much of the match the visitors had space to push numbers forward. NSC’s starting midfield tallied 164 total passes vs 133 by FCC. More telling was the accuracy in dangerous areas where NSC had the advantage again with 82.8% passing accuracy in the attacking half vs 69.6% by FCC. With those passes came opportunities, 10 of Nashville SC’s shots were inside the box. Adding insult to injury, Tucker Hume scoring in the 85th minute pretty much summed up the night. To be fair, it wasn’t a matter of if Nashville SC was going to score, but when and how many.
With all of that attacking, the defense has to come up big and the center backs certainly did. Dekel Keinan and Forrest Lasso kept the aerial and ground onslaught at bay, combining for a total of 15 clearances with 16 aerial duels won.
FCC did have an attack, albeit fleeting. Danni König made no mistake in reminding FCC fans who can score, even though all the pre-match attention was on Fenendo Adi. He did this 28 seconds in, earning his 10th of the season and setting the club record for fastest goal scored from kickoff.
Certainly a moment to remember will be that 73rd minute announcement of Fanendo Adi entering the game. His physical presence and obvious abilities certainly were noticeable, but his vocal direction stood out. The team responded and developed a bit more possession, ultimately leading to a decent scoring chance for Adi.
All-in-all, a somewhat disappointing performance but still a point earned, still atop the Eastern Conference, and undefeated in 11 matches. Plus, we got a look into FC Cincinnati’s future and it is very bright indeed.
Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for coverage of our next match against Penn FC this Sunday.