Deeper Cuts: Rotation Riches, Finishing Class, and Who’s Up First?

A deeper look at FC Cincinnati’s late-season victory over Indy Eleven including Rotation Riches, Finishing Class, and Who’s Up First?

Danni König / Image: Ryan Meyer

The Orange & Blue emphatically finished their regular-season home schedule on Saturday with a 3-0 victory over I-74 rivals, Indy Eleven. The post-match celebrations of the USL Regular-Season Championship are now the stuff of local legend. Here are three deeper cuts on how the match played-out in front of 31,478 fans.

Rotation Riches

Alan Koch rotated his roster, changing 10 of 11 players from the team that defeated Richmond on Wednesday. With the Regular Season Championship won, Saturday presented a great opportunity to give some deserved playing time to members of FCC’s squad. Players like Sem de Wit, Russell Cicerone, Matt Bahner, Tyler Gibson, and Tomi Ameobi have been with the team since the start of the season. All are in the bottom ten in minutes played, but contributed to the 3-0 win. Expect to see more of this capable cast in the final two matches of the season.

Make no mistake though, the FC Cincinnati squad was not substantially weakened. The lineup morphed from its customary 4-2-3-1 into a conventional 4-4-2 with a flat midfield. Adi, König, Cicerone, and McLaughlin gave the starting 11 an attacking look. Imagine being the Indy Eleven defenders staring down Fanendo Adi and Danni König starting in a “rotated” FCC lineup.

FCC could have been excused for turning in a less than perfect performance on Saturday. The league was won and they couldn’t improve their playoff position. It was their third match in eight days, including two on the road. Add to that an hour-and-twenty-minute lightning delay on Wednesday, post-match celebrations in Richmond after claiming the regular-season crown, and flight delays returning home. Alan Koch’s team delivered again despite these obstacles. The team showed up for the fans, providing a convincing performance that pumped-up the crowd for the trophy ceremony that followed. It was a fitting end for their last home USL regular season match ever.

Russell Cicerone started Saturday’s match and made the cross that led to the third goal. Image: Ryan Meyer

Finishing Class

While the final score wasn’t flattering for the visitors on Saturday, Indy Eleven was very much in this match for almost two-thirds of the contest. Indy Eleven managed a 60% possession advantage, and had more than twice as many shots as FC Cincinnati over the entire contest.

FCC’s next-level quality in the final third was the difference. Fanendo Adi struck first with a ferocious long-range strike. Indy pressed hard for the equalizer but were then undone by Danni König’s well-taken counter-attack goal in the 65th minute. An own goal for FCC’s third added insult to injury and the Orange & Blue walked away easy winners. Two goals from 8 shots (excluding blocked shots), produced a 25% FCC conversion rate in this match. Note that the third own goal doesn’t count toward conversion rate.

With two matches remaining, FCC leads the league in goals scored with 69 (2.2 per game). The Orange & Blue can claim 15 different goalscorers in 2018 and if Corben Bone scores one more goal, they will finish the regular season with four players with double-digit goal totals.

It’s fun to talk about offense, but one also can’t overlook the performance of Evan Newton (5 saves) and a bend-but-don’t-break defense that kept their 13th clean sheet of the season.

Photo Sep 29, 8 15 57 PM.png
Fanendo Adi opened the scoring in the 35th minute on Saturday. Image: Ryan Meyer

Who’s Up First?

The race for a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference is very tight indeed, especially in spots 6 through 10. That’s important, of course, because FC Cincinnati will face the team that finishes eighth in the Eastern Conference in the first round of the USL playoffs. It’s difficult to predict right now just who that opponent will be. Currently, based on Orange & Blue Press projections, our first round opponent will be Nashville SC. But things can change quickly based on one or two results.

North Carolina FC continued their good late season form and picked up a 3-2 win against Richmond on Saturday. All of the rest of the teams in the 6-10 spots — Bethlehem, Nashville, NY Red Bulls II and Ottawa — tied and earned one point this weekend.

9.30_Playoff Race
Eastern Conference ranked by projected point total
9.30_Eastern Conference
Both graphics via Connor Paquette

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press through the end of the regular season and we’ll keep you up to date on how thing are shaping-up as the October 20th date for the first playoff game approaches.


Scouting the Field: Ranking FCC’s Possible First-Round Opponents

Now that FC Cincinnati is guaranteed a first-round home match, what potential matchup could spell the most trouble?

Image: Ryan Meyer

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

Image: Connor Paquette, teams are ordered by projected points.

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

1200px-Ottawa_Fury_svgRecord:               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

Indy_Eleven_Logo_svgRecord: 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

1200px-North_Carolina_FC_logo_svgRecord: 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

Bethlehem_Steel_FC_(USL)_CrestRecord: 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

220px-Red_Bull_New_York_II.pngRecord: 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

Nashville_SCRecord: 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!


North Carolina FC 0 – 2 FC Cincinnati: Bonus Track

We take a look at how momentum swung between the teams during FC Cincinnati’s 2-0 victory at North Carolina FC.

Image: Ryan Meyer

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 them down in more detail.

We may be 13 games into FC Cincinnati’s season, but the halfway point of the away schedule is just about here. Save for the hiccup against Charlotte, the team has been rock-solid on the road. The 2-0 clean sheet at North Carolina FC was their sixth road win in eight USL games. Throw in the US Open Cup win on the road against Pittsburgh last month, and FCC has enjoyed their best nine-game road stretch ever (7-1-1).

The more surprising number from the team’s road dominance might be how well the defense is playing. In eight road games, FCC has a +6 goal differential and four clean sheets. However, in five home games, FCC has only a +2 goal differential and zero clean sheets. The numbers might be askew due to facing Louisville there twice already. It also helps that Evan Newton is back to form, as he’s had three of those four away shutouts.

Tale of Four Quarters

The unique 90-minute time limit makes typical soccer games easy to follow. A team will usually show up for one half and disappear in the next, or vice versa. This one felt more like a basketball game, as advantage seemed to swing between teams in the middle of each half.

The game probably wouldn’t have gone the way of the Orange & Blue had it not been for the hot conditions. NCFC fired the first six shots of the game before FCC could muster any offense. Had it not been for solid play by Paddy Barrett and Forrest Lasso, NCFC would have been on the board early.

The hydration break at the 26th minute gave the team a chance to cool down and get their bearings. FC Cincinnati was visibly rattled by their slow start. Manu Ledesma was flashed a yellow card just prior to the break due to a delay in play. After the H2O, FCC controlled possession, shots on net, and goals for the rest of the half. Despite the disparity in shots in the first half (5-8), most from NCFC came from a distance and in the first 25 minutes. FCC used control in the midfield to eventually lead to shots—and Danni König’s goal—inside the box later in the half.

The halftime break reset momentum, as NCFC obtained more control to swing the overall possession numbers in their favor (52% vs. FCC’s 48%). NCFC fired seven shots in the first 30 minutes of the second half to FCC’s one lone shot. However, the defense was instrumental during this stretch, helping FCC lead the half in interceptions (11-5) and clearances (14-7).

Interceptions (left) and clearances (right) by NCFC (black) and FCC (green) in the 2nd half.

The key substitution—Jimmy McLaughlin coming on for Russell Cicerone in the 73rd minute—basically iced the game. Both teams had six shots after this sub, but FCC’s shots were accurate and at a shorter distance. Four of the six were on target, while only two of NCFC’s shots were on target.

Quality, Not Quantity

That’s the basic summary of this game. FCC used a combination of well-timed clearances and Newton’s hot hand in their half to keep many of NCFC’s 20 shots off-target or from way outside the box. On the other hand, FCC managed to penetrate the box for higher accuracy and success.

Shot chart for FCC (green) and NCFC (black).

Considering that FCC was without a few key players due to Wednesday’s 120-minute affair, the result couldn’t have been better. Let’s see if Alan Koch’s men can ride out their most congested portion of the schedule with wins at home.

Follow Orange & Blue Press for this week’s coverage of the upcoming games against Bethlehem Steel FC and the Richmond Kickers.

North Carolina FC 0 – 2 FC Cincinnati: The Orange & Blue Blank the Dead Whales

FC Cincinnati returned to USL league play by blanking North Carolina FC 2-0. FCC is now 6-1-1 on the road and has secured four clean sheets away from Nippert this season.

North Carolina 6.9_Match Recap.png
Graphic: Connor Paquette / Image: JES Photography

FC Cincinnati continued their torrid road pace by blanking North Carolina FC 2-0 in Cary, NC on Saturday. This is FCC’s fourth clean sheet on the road this season; the third by Evan Newton in nine starts. FCC moves to 26 points (8-3-2 record) with the win and solidifies their Eastern Conference leadership position. They are now 8-1-2 against anyone not named Louisville City.

The “Dead Whales” from North Carolina FC played a livelier match than three weeks ago and out-shot FCC 20 to 12. However, the Orange & Blue were able to strike fifty percent of their shots on target, while NCFC could only place twenty-five percent of their shots on frame. NCFC pushed the festivities over the first 26 minutes. Fortunately, a hydration break was called, allowing FCC to regroup and climb back into the match.

In the 37th minute Russell Cicerone, making his first USL start of the season, created the opening highlight for FC Cincinnati. He beat one defender on the dribble, then cut the ball inside firing a bullet on goal. North Carolina FC’s Greek keeper, Alex Tambakis, made a fine save but his punch went straight into the air. Danish forward Danni König was in perfect position salivating to get his head on his sixth tally of the season and 17th overall. Danni is now FC Cincinnati’s all-time leading goal-scorer, moving one ahead of Sean Okoli and Djiby. Here is the history making moment.

The second half started in a similar fashion with North Carolina FC pressing and searching for the equalizer. The Orange & Blue absorbed pressure most of the second half before they found a second. Except . . . the offside flag was raised and Emery Welshman, who entered the match two minutes earlier, had a goal disallowed. FCC found their two goal cushion three minutes later when fellow second-half substitute Jimmy McLaughlin put his name on the score sheet. He cleaned up some fine work by Nazmi Albadawi and Welshman, finding the back of the net.

Although the glamour always goes to the goal scorers, special mention must go to the defense for securing the win. Evan Newton made save-after-save and the entire back line helped to deliver the clean sheet. Lasso and Barrett were especially good in the middle of defense deflecting, clearing, and heading out any enemy foray. This center-back duo now has four wins in four attempts. FCC’s depth at this position has proved vital to the team’s success this season.

Final Score: North Carolina FC 0 – 2 FC Cincinnati

Key Events

26′ – YELLOW CARD – CIN – Emmanuel Ledesma
37′ – GOAL – CIN – Danni König
52′ – YELLOW CARD – CIN – Danni König
72′ – YELLOW CARD – CIN – Justin Hoyte
87′ – GOAL – CIN – Jimmy McLaughlin

Match Notes

Alan Koch continued to use the club’s deep roster to his advantage. Although Corben Bone was initially listed as a starter, Michael Lahoud instead joined Richie Ryan in the defensive midfield. The biggest roster move though came in the form of Russell Cicerone getting a start. His eagerness to take on defenders and ability to get wide on the right impacted the match mightily.

FCC will be without playmaker Emmanuel Ledesma for the next match as he picked up his fifth yellow of the season in the first half. What appeared to be a normal FCC corner kick led to fan behavior that Manu took offense to. When the corner kick was not taken in a timely fashion, the match official brandished a yellow card for delay. Justin Hoyte also picked up a yellow card for time wasting in the second half when he hesitated on a throw-in.

Starting XI

König (82′ Welshman)
Ledesma – Albadawi – Cicerone (McLaughlin 73′)
Lahoud (61′ Bone) – Ryan
Smith – Lasso – Barrett – Hoyte

What’s Next?

FC Cincinnati returns home for two matches next week at Nippert Stadium. First, they face an in-form Bethlehem Steel FC squad on Wednesday. That match is followed by the season’s first contest against the Richmond Kickers on Saturday, June 16th.

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more analysis of Saturday’s result and continued coverage of another busy week for FC Cincinnati.

North Carolina 6.9_Match Recap

Match Program: FC Cincinnati at North Carolina FC

Orange & Blue Press’ Match Program supplies the information and fast facts you need to prepare for FC Cincinnati at North Carolina FC on Saturday, June 9th.

Graphic: CSDIV / Image: Joe Craven
Graphic CSDIV / Image: Joe Craven

FC Cincinnati travels to Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Complex Saturday to face North Carolina FC for their second meeting of the season. After a come from behind win against at NYRBII last Saturday, the Orange & Blue regained first place in the Eastern Conference. They will look to add another three points to an already impressive 2018 away campaign this weekend.

North Carolina FC currently sits in 12th place in the East with 11 points after 10 matches played. Their most recent league match resulted in a 2-1 loss at home to an improving Bethlehem Steel squad. However, their two previous home matches were strong shutout wins; an impressive 4-0 rout against Atlanta United II and a convincing 3-0 blanking of Penn FC. NCFC’s attack is led by leading scorer Daniel Rios who has 5 goals on the season.

The last meeting between the two teams three weeks ago proved quite fruitful for FCC with a decisive 4-1 trouncing at Nippert. The Orange & Blue attack inflicted a heavy toll on the visitors. FC Cincinnati midfielder, and North Carolina native, Nazmi Albadawi made a statement of his own against his former club tallying two goals in spectacular fashion. That match also showcased the talents of Argentinian Emmanuel Ledesma and Danish striker Danni König, who combined for three assists and two goals. Expect to see this lethal combination attack early and often this weekend.

Both teams are coming off heartbreaking midweek penalty kick losses in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup competition. While fatigue could play a roll this weekend, FCC should have an advantage with their recent player rotation and depth. As always, the starting XI and formation will be interesting to watch as they seek to continue their 5-1-1 road dominance. The manager and team’s focus now shifts to staying top of the table and winning the league championship.

Fast Facts

Here are four fast facts to get you ready for Saturday’s 7pm kickoff in Cary, North Carolina.

  • FC Cincinnati leads the Eastern Conference in goals scored with 22 but are fourth from the top in goals conceded at 16.
  • Despite where NCFC currently sits in the standings, they’ve still found a way to score at home netting nine goals in fives matches. In comparison, FCC has scored ten goals at home in the same amount of matches.
  • Canadian midfielder Kyle Bekker leads North Carolina FC in assists (4) and chances created (15).
  • FCC standout and Argentinian midfielder Emmanuel Ledesma leads the USL with 12 points (5 goals and 7 assists).

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati at North Carolina FC on Saturday.

FC Cincinnati 4 – 1 North Carolina FC: Deeper Cuts

Detailed stats and deeper analysis of FC Cincinnati’s 4-1 victory over North Carolina FC on Saturday, May 19th, at Nippert Stadium.

Image: Joe Craven

FC Cincinnati was on target at Nippert Stadium and thrilled over 22 thousand supporters with four goals in a statement victory against North Carolina FC. The win keeps them on top of the Eastern Conference heading into another busy week of U.S. Open Cup and league action. In our Deeper Cuts segment we dig further into the result and put it into context of FC Cincinnati’s season to date.

Offense Keeps Ticking

FC Cincinnati’s offense is in full stride ten games into the season. Nazmi Albadawi and Emmanuel Ledesma were the headline makers on Saturday, but FCC’s score-from-anywhere “Hydra” offense pulls goals and chance creation from all over the roster.

The Orange & Blue can boast five different goal-scorers with at least 3 goals, five different players with assists, and 13 different players that have created at least 3 chances. Emmanuel Ledesma scores goals, but his impact as a playmaker has been even more significant. He leads the team in both assists (7) and chances created (19) by some margin.

FC Cincinnati is now third in the USL and first in the Eastern Conference in goals scored with 20 total. They’ve scored 15 goals in their last five games and scored at least 3 goals in 4 of the their last 5 matches. Their conversion rate (goals / non-blocked shots) is tied for first in USL at 20%. In ten matches, they’ve only been held goalless one time (versus Louisville City FC). Only Phoenix Rising FC and Portland Timbers 2 have scored more goals in USL play and both teams have played one more match than FCC. This is a fun team to watch right now.

Ryan’s Foundation

Screenshot 2018-05-20 10.31.00.png
Ryan’s Distribution against NCFC, via Opta on USL

The man almost never misses a pass. Orange & Blue Press highlighted Richie Ryan’s metronome-like presence in the midfield earlier this season. He played that role again on Saturday in one of FC Cincinnati’s best possession-based performances of the 2018 campaign.

Against North Carolina FC, he led the midfield with 64 passes at a staggering 95% completion rate. He also had a perfect 100% pass completion percentage in the opponent’s half. His distribution, consistency, and decision-making at the base of FC Cincinnati’s midfield is the platform on which their successful attack is built. His steady presence, especially with Walker and Bone just in front of him in the diamond, provides FCC’s more attacking players with service and freedom to create.

In truth though, it was a really good passing night for the team overall. Seven FCC players had an 80% passing accuracy or higher, all of them in the back line or the diamond midfield.

Paddy in the Back

Image: Joe Craven

Paddy Barrett made his second start of the season in USL play and third start overall on Saturday. A big talking point going into the match against NCFC was the absence of Forrest Lasso, who was suspended for yellow card accumulation. Let’s take a deeper look at how Paddy fared on a good defensive night for the Orange & Blue.

Barrett had 64 passes, the most of any defender, at a 87.7% pass completion rate. He won 7 of 11 duels and won 5 of 7 aerial duels. Add to that 2 tackles, 3 clearances, and an interception. That adds up to a reliable defensive performance.

Outside of the numbers, the defense was organized and didn’t look that vulnerable in the air without the towering presence of Lasso. They were minutes away from securing a coveted clean sheet, but it wasn’t meant to be. FCC had a 17-4 advantage in tackles and 82.4% tackle success rate. Compare that to their average success rate for the season of about 65%.

So a good night on both sides of the ball unsurprisingly equates to a convincing victory. Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for coverage of another action-packed week for the Orange & Blue.


Images: FC Cincinnati 4 – 1 North Carolina FC

Images of FC Cincinnati’s 4-1 victory over North Carolina FC, on Saturday May 19th, courtesy of Joe Craven.


Here are images of FC Cincinnati’s 4-1 victory over North Carolina FC on Saturday, May 19th, courtesy of Joe Craven. When browsing the gallery below, for any given image, a high-resolution version can be found by scrolling down and clicking “View Full Size.”

All images are copyright protected to safeguard the creative rights of our photographers. We’re very open to sharing our work with those who want to show support for FC Cincinnati. We simply request that you ask (via DM on Twitter or email) and give credit where it’s due. Thanks!

For more particulars of Saturday’s contest, turn your attention to the following article.
FC Cincinnati 4 – 1 North Carolina FC: Naz Nets Two in Statement Victory

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



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.


Match Program: FC Cincinnati vs North Carolina FC

Orange and Blue Press’ Match Program supplies the information and fast facts you need to prepare for FC Cincinnati versus North Carolina FC on Saturday.



Design CSDIV / Images: JES Photography (Bailey) / Joe Craven (Nippert wide)

FC Cincinnati will try to rebound in USL league play on Saturday when they face North Carolina FC at Nippert Stadium for a 7:30pm kickoff. Despite a shocking 4-1 loss in Charlotte last weekend, the Orange & Blue’s good early-season form keeps them tied for first place in the Eastern Conference standings.

North Carolina FC is a 2016 rebrand of the Carolina Railhawks, a team that has competed in multiple lower-division U.S. soccer leagues from 2006 until current. After six years in the NASL, NCFC moved to the USL for the 2018 season.

North Carolina FC comes into the match in 14th place overall, but their results are on the uptick. In their last USL match on April 31st, they unleashed three first-half goals on Penn FC at Wakefield Medical Park in a comprehensive victory. The USL newcomers are unbeaten in their last four league matches, despite their humble point total. It’s worth noting that NCFC has played two fewer matches than FC Cincinnati and has had an extremely light league schedule recently. FCC has played five USL games since April 21st compared to North Carolina FC’s two in the same timeframe.

When looking at this match, one also has to factor in the second round of the US Open Cup, which took place on Wednesday. Both teams were in action in that competition. The Orange & Blue battled to claim a 4-1 extra-time victory over Detroit City FC. Corben Bone scored the game winner, and Emery Welshman accumulated a hat-trick and an assist to round out a bumper evening for the Canadian. North Carolina FC also was in action midweek. They had an easier path to victory and dispatched Yonkers-based amateur side Lansdowne Bhoys FC by a 3-0 scoreline.

Nazmi Albadawi will, of course, be a familiar face to this weekend’s visitors. The Raleigh, North Carolina native played 110 matches and scored 17 goals for NCFC over four seasons, collecting two NASL Best XI selections in the process. Lance Laing also spent the 2017 season with NCFC.

Fast Facts

Here are some fast facts to make you look like a stats geek come Saturday’s match.

  • NCFC’s danger man is 23-year-old Mexican striker Daniel Rios who is a youth product and loanee from C.D. Guadalajara of Liga MX. He leads the team in goals (4), shots (13), shots on target (6), and is second on NCFC in key passes (8).
  • North Carolina FC’s team passing accuracy of 81% is tied for third overall in the USL. Compare that to 77% for FC Cincinnati (10th overall).
  • FC Cincinnati’s hydra attack is real. They have eight different goalscorers this season and a four-way tie for most goals on the team. König, Ledesma, Bone, and Walker are level with three goals each. Also, five different players have at least one assist.
  • FC Cincinnati has collected 12 more yellow cards this season than Saturday’s opponent. They average 2.4 per game compared to NCFC’s 1.4 per game. Forrest Lasso has been the latest victim of the yellow card—his fifth of the season came last week, forcing him to sit out Saturday’s game.

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati versus North Carolina FC.

MLS Expansion News – Five Markets

Expansion news from five markets competing with FC Cincinnati for a place in MLS including Charlotte, Detroit, Nashville, Raleigh/Durham, and Sacramento.


This series of articles from Orange & Blue Press falls under the what have you done for me lately theme, and explores the most recent events in each city’s campaign to gain entry into MLS.

If you’re looking for the basics of the current MLS expansion situation, see our MLS Expansion 101 article.

The expansion landscape across ten cities is complex, dynamic, and several markets have a reasonable chance for a successful bid. Five of the ten expansion markets are covered in this article. A separate article will follow in close proximity and cover the remaining five. Cincinnati will be covered last in order to review how news from other markets affects the Cincinnati bid.

For each market, the TV market size, existing team, venue, and investment group are listed along with a summary of recent developments. This information is followed by links to relevant news articles and resources. It’s important to note that the existing team in a market does not necessarily become the MLS team if a bid is granted, particularly if the team’s ownership is not part of the MLS bid.


Charlotte, North Carolina

TV Market: Nielsen DMA #22*
Existing Team: Charlotte Independence – USL
Venue: Memorial Stadium, an existing historical stadium in the Elizabeth neighborhood of Charlotte that would be renovated and expanded
Money: Investment group led by Marcus and Bruton Smith (Speedway Motorsports)
Summary: Recent news discusses the impact that a successful MLS bid would have on the Independence. There is also news on attempts to secure partial public funding for the stadium renovation. A key funding vote at the county level is scheduled for 1/26. A city vote will follow shortly thereafter if approved.
Recent News & Resources: 

  • 12/15 – Bruton Smith, the billionaire race track owner of Speedway Motorsports, and his son Marcus confirm they are in talks with MLS about an expansion team. [Charlotte Observer]
  • 1/5  – County commission considers proposal to level Memorial Stadium and renovate with up to $100M with in tax revenue. [WSOC Charlotte]
  • 1/6 – Mecklenberg County will have an open hearing on 1/24 to get input from the public on proposed use of tax money for stadium financing. [Charlotte Post]
  • 1/10 – Charlotte Independence and owner could be out of the picture if MLS franchise is awarded to the Smiths. [Medium]
  • 1/20 – Financial details of Charlotte’s stadium proposal are released. A key stadium funding vote is scheduled for 1/26. [Charlotte Business Journal]


Detroit, Michigan

TV Market: Nielsen DMA #13*
Existing Team: Detroit City FC  – NPSL – Detroit City FC is unlikely to be the MLS expansion team given the ownership group and supporter opposition to MLS expansion.
Venue: Proposed $1 billion mixed-use stadium complex on the site of the stalled Wayne County jail project in Greektown
Money: Investment group led by Dan Gilbert (Cleveland Cavaliers / Quicken Loans) and Tom Gores (Detroit Pistons)
Summary: Detroit’s large TV market and pro sports ownership give this bid clout, but the stadium plan has been a sticking point (common theme). There’s not a lot of recent news from this bid except that their application will be ready in time.
Recent News & Resources: 

  • 12/12 – Article explaining the anti-MLS sentiment of Detroit City FC supporters [SB Nation]
  • 12/24 – Report that there is no deal yet for Gilbert and Gores as they attempt to secure the Wayne County Jail Project site [Crain’s – registration required]
  • 1/18 – The Detroit MLS investment group reports that they are on track to submit their MLS application on time at the end of January. [Detroit Sports Nation]


Nashville, TN

TV Market: Nielsen DMA #29*
Future Team: Nashville SC – USL, to begin play in 2018
Venue: Stadium plans are in the early stages of development. The most promising idea includes a partnership with Vanderbilt University to build a stadium at the Fairgrounds in Nashville.
Money: Investment group led by John Ingram (Ingram Industries), no official ties to Nashville SC
Summary: This upstart bid has recently announced Ingram as their leader and is working on both public funding and a partnership with Vanderbilt University to build a stadium.
Recent News & Resources: 

  • 12/19 – A bill was introduced to the state of Tennessee legislature that will help pay off future debt on a new soccer stadium. [Tennessean]
  • 12/20 – Local businessman with ties to Vanderbilt University, John Ingram, is announced as leader of Nashville’s MLS bid. [Tennessean]
  • 1/17 – Nashville’s ownership group is exploring a partnership with Vanderbilt University on a stadium, but the site of proposed stadium is still uncertain. [Nashville Business Journal]
  • 1/18 – Nashville MLS Expansion Profile – Brian Straus [SI]


Raleigh, North Carolina

TV Market: Nielsen DMA #24*
Existing Team: North Carolina FC previously Carolina Railhawks – NASL
Venue: A proposed 24,000 seat stadium privately financed by the investors
Money: Investment group led by Steve Malik (North Carolina FC and founder of Medfusion)
Summary: Charlotte isn’t the only show in North Carolina, and Steve Malik’s aggressive bid boasts 100% private funding, which few others can claim. His recent purchase of a NWSL franchise shows commitment to the growth of pro soccer in the triangle.
Recent News & Resources: 

  • 12/6 – The Carolina Railhawks re-brand as North Carolina FC in conjunction with their MLS bid, including the sale of various levels of membership that can be bought by fans and companies to show support. [WNCN]
  • 12/16 – Article about Raleigh/Durham bid after December 15 MLS Board of Governors announcement. This article includes comments from Garber about the bid and North Carolina’s controversial HB2 legislation. [News & Observer]
  • 1/9 – Announcement is made that North Carolina FC owner Steve Malik has purchased NWSL team Western New York Flash, which will be rebranded as the North Carolina Courage and begin play in Cary in 2017. [News & Observer]


Sacramento, California

TV Market: Nielsen DMA #20*
Existing Team: Sacramento Republic FC – USL
Venue: An approved $226M privately funded stadium complex will be built at the Railyards if an expansion slot is granted.
Money: Investment group led by Warren Smith (Sacramento Republic FC) and Kevin Nagle (EnvisionRX Options)
Summary: Sacramento’s bid is likely the most advanced of the ten. They were once considered a lock for the next expansion slot, and likely still are. The emergence of strong bids from across the nation means Sacramento has to play the application game with everyone else.
Recent News & Resources: 

  • 11/10 – Sacramento stadium plan is approved by Sacramento City Council [Sacramento Bee]
  • 12/21 – Sacramento MLS Expansion Profile – Brian Straus [SI]
  • Sacramento’s bid is perhaps the most mature of the ten and there are few recent developments outside of the critical stadium approval.

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for the second set of five markets which will include Cincinnati.
UPDATE: Part two of this series has been released, follow the link for expansion updates on Cincinnati, Saint Louis, San Antonio, San Diego and Tampa / St. Petersburg.

Do you know of recent news or key facts about these MLS expansion contenders not mentioned above?  Let us know in the comments section.

*NOTE: Nielsen DMAs are referenced in this article for TV market size information. DMAs seem most relevant to television advertising, but which market size ranking to use is debatable. Some argue that these markets could be combined with other nearby markets to create a larger market (i.e.: Cincinnati/Dayton). Because DMA’s combine surrounding areas already and there is no clear evidence that MLS is evaluating any markets as combined, this series of articles will not do so.