FC Cincinnati 2 – 2 Bethlehem Steel FC: Wild Second Half Ends in a Deadlock

Graphic: Connor Paquette / Image: Ryan Meyer

On a momentous day when the United 2026 North American bid won the the right to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup, FC Cincinnati returned home to Nippert Stadium. Prior to the match, Jeff Berding spoke to the media about the significance of potentially being a host city for the world’s largest event. Berding said, “Hundreds of thousands of people will be coming here…it’s going to be the whole world putting their eyeballs on Cincinnati.”

On the pitch two hours later, FCC found themselves in an all too familiar scenario falling behind 0-1 in the 29th minute. Derrick Jones found space in between the FCC defense and successfully converted his own blocked shot with a strike into the right corner of the net. The holding midfielder from Ghana proved a handful for the Orange & Blue the entire match. FC Cincinnati had their chances to equalize prior to the half time whistle, but none of their five first half shots on target found the net. Steel FC keeper John McCarthy was up to the challenge and made several fine saves to keep the visitors in front at half.

Tempers flared when Steel defender Olivier Mbaizo was called for a foul and lost his cool six minutes into the second half. After the initial foul, and with the match referee holding a yellow card in his hand, Mbaizo placed his hand on Jimmy McLaughlin’s face, then also appeared to make contact with Nazmi Albadawi’s head. The referee had no option than to brandish a straight red for Mbaizo’s out of control behavior.

With Steel FC down to ten men, FCC was able to dictate and prod play further. Finally, in the 66th minute Nazmi found the equalizer when he followed his own blocked shot and slotted the ball pass the previously impenetrable McCarthy. The goal was Nazmi’s second equalizer this season versus the squad from Bethlehem. Then the goals started to rain down on Nippert. Less than 90 seconds later and the smoke still clearing from the first FCC goal, bourgeoning fan favorite Russell Cicerone was able to score his first Orange & Blue goal when he headed home an in-swinging cross from Blake Smith.

Unfortunately, the Steel FC players did not lay down on the road.They took the ensuing kick off, rushed down the pitch and immediately equalized to knot the game at 2-2. The 22,407 in attendance, and the entire squad, looked stunned. Although FCC continued to press until the end, they were unable to find the winner and were forced to settle for a draw. While at half time the draw would have been a welcomed result, it felt like a loss in many ways.

Final Score: FC Cincinnati 2 – 2 Bethlehem Steel FC

Key Events

29′ – GOAL – BST – Derrick Jones
51′ – YELLOW CARD – BST – Olivier Mbaizo
52′ – RED CARD – BST – Olivier Mbaizo (violent conduct)
66′ – GOAL – CIN – Nazmi Albadawi
68′- GOAL – CIN – Russell Cicerone (assist by Blake Smith)
69′ – GOAL – BST – Fabian Herbers (assist Michee Ngalina)
86′ – YELLOW CARD – BST – Herbers

Match Notes

Alan Koch switched out seven players from the side that beat North Carolina FC last Saturday. An injury to Dekel Keinan during the initial Steel FC goal forced Koch to make a first half substitute with Forrest Lasso replacing the captain. Koch also switched out Emery Welshman with Danni König in the 64th minute.

FC Cincinnati’s home form has not matched their success on the road. The draw brings the Orange & Blue’s home record to 2-2-2, as compared to 6-1-1 away from Nippert. The squad remains in first place in the Eastern Conference with 27 points after 14 games. Louisville City sits 4 points behind, but with three games in hand.

Corben Bone regained the team lead in minutes played with 1,145 minutes. He also leads the team in regular season starts (12) and matches played (13) this season.

FCC was without creative spark Emmanuel Ledesma this match due to the club’s third suspension due to yellow card accumulation this season. The attack was still able to pepper the Steel FC defense with 26 total shots, ten of these in target.

Starting XI

Welshman (64′ König)
McLaughlin – Albadawi – Cicerone
Bone – Walker
Smith – Keinan (36′ Lasso) – de Wit – Bahner

What’s Next?

The final match of a 5-in-15 day stretch comes to a conclusion Saturday as the Orange & Blue meet the Richmond Kickers at home. The Kickers lost 1-2 to Penn FC last night and currently sit in 14th place with a 4-7-1 record and 13 points.

FCC will enjoy a ten-day respite after the Richmond match, until they visit Toronto FC II on Wednesday, June 27th. Following their visit north, FCC will play seven of their next eight USL matches at home.

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for continuing coverage of another busy week of action for FC Cincinnati.

FC Cincinnati 4 – 1 North Carolina FC: Naz Nets Two in Statement Victory

Albadawi and Ledesma star in FC Cincinnati’s 4-1 victory over North Carolina FC on Saturday, May 19th, in front of 22,884 at Nippert Stadium.

Image: Joe Craven

FC Cincinnati downed North Carolina FC by a 4-1 scoreline on Saturday in front of 22,884 at Nippert Stadium. Former NCFC player Nazmi Albadawi scored two first half goals to put an exclamation point a complete performance by the Orange & Blue.

Albadawi’s first goal came in the 11th minute of play when Manu Ledesma played him into space in a left central position. He dribbled twice then unleashed a strike from 23 yards that nestled into the top right corner. FCC dominated possession and chance creation in the first half but struggled to extend their lead. That changed in the 45th minute when Ledesma’s press caused a North Carolina FC turnover. He collected the loose ball and slipped it to Albadawi. Naz dribbled across the top of the box and fired again, this time with his left foot, into the top left corner. That goal gave FCC the two goal separation they deserved at the halftime break.

Alan Koch’s side picked up where they left off in the second half, adding another pair of goals to the scoreline. Emmanuel Ledesma created and converted a penalty kick in the 62nd minute. He beat Tambakis to a loose ball and was tripped up by the NCFC goalkeeper to earn the PK. Seven minutes later, Ledesma became provider yet again, delivering a diagonal through-ball to König who scored FCC’s fourth. North Carolina FC’s Marios Lomis snatched a consolation goal with four minutes left, but the contest had ended long before that. It was a statement victory for Alan Koch’s side and rectified a puzzling road loss in Charlotte just one week ago.

Final Score: FC Cincinnati 4 – 1 North Carolina FC

Alan Koch had the following to say about Nazmi Albadawi’s performance in the post match press conference.

“As a player when you get to play against your old team, a team that’s given Naz so much and he gave them so much, when you get to do what he did tonight, it’s incredibly special. He should be incredibly proud of himself and the team, and his family should be incredibly proud of him too. He’s moved away from home and that’s not always easy. It takes time to adjust to a new environment, and he continues to get better and better all the time.”

The win takes FC Cincinnati to 20 points and keeps them in first place in the Eastern Conference standings after 10 matches played. Louisville City FC is right behind them in second place after rescuing a victory in stoppage time against Atlanta United 2. FCC’s rivals also have a game-in-hand. North Carolina FC sinks to 15th place in the East, with just two wins on the season.

Key Events

11′ – GOAL – CIN – Nazmi Albadawi (assist Emmanuel Ledesma)
30′ – YELLOW CARD – CIN – Blake Smith
45′ – GOAL – CIN – Nazmi Albadawi (assist Emmanuel Ledesma)
62′ – GOAL – CIN – Emmanuel Ledesma (PK)
65′ – YELLOW CARD – NCFC – Kyle Bekker
69′ – GOAL – CIN – Danni König (assist Emmanuel Ledesma)
75′ – YELLOW CARD – CIN – Danni König
86′ – GOAL – NCFC – Mario Lomis (assist Kyle Bekker)

Match Notes

FC Cincinnati’s first eleven featured just three players that started midweek in an extra time victory against Detroit City FC. Albadawi, Barrett, and Newton each played the full 90 on Saturday after providing meaningful minutes in the U.S. Open Cup.

Starting XI

Ledesma (71′ Welshman) – König (84′ McLaughlin)
Bone – Walker
Ryan (82′ Lahoud)
Smith – Keinan – Barrett – Hoyte

Emmanuel Ledesma was involved in all four goals, assisting on three and scoring from a penalty kick in the 62nd minute.

Albadawi’s brace means FCC now has five players with three or more goals this season. Konig and Ledesma are now tied for the lead with four goals each.

FC Cincinnati now has the best goal difference in the Eastern Conference at +7.

What’s Next?

The Orange and Blue switch their focus back to the U.S. Open Cup and will prepare for a Wednesday encounter with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds at Highmark Stadium. The winner of that contest will face MLS competition in the fourth round. Saturday’s result also sets up a massive Dirty River Derby clash between FCC and Louisville City FC next Saturday at Nippert Stadium. A winner in that contest not only gets bragging rights but sole possession of first place in the East.

Check in tomorrow for match photos from Joe Craven more analysis of Saturday’s victory.