Lahoud, Konate Internationals – Africa Cup of Nations Qualification on Tragic Matchday 2

Both Mike Lahoud and Pa Konate participated in matchday 2 of African Cup of Nations qualifying on Sunday, September 9th.

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Image: Ryan Meyer

Pa Konate and Mike Lahoud were absent from FC Cincinnati’s postponed match against Louisville City FC on Saturday. The pair represented two different countries, but didn’t see any playing time in the Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers held on Sunday.

Mike Lahoud – Sierra Leone 🇸🇱

Mike Lahoud’s Sierra Leone fell 1-0 to Ethiopia at Hawassa International Stadium on Sunday. A 35th minute penalty kick by Getaneh Kebede gave Ethiopia the victory. Mike Lahoud was in the 18-man squad, but did not appear in the contest. In a shock result in the same group, African powerhouse Ghana fell to a shorthanded Kenya on Saturday. All four teams in Group F have 3 points after two matches, with Ghana leading the way on goal difference. Sierra Leone faces Ghana next on October 10th in Ghana.

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Pa Konate – Guinea 🇬🇳

Pa Konate traveled but did not make the 18-man squad for Guinea. However, his new international side earned a 1-0 victory over the Central African Republic. Partizan Belgrade striker Seydouba Soumah scored the winner in the 65th minute. It was Konate’s first match for his father’s nation after playing his youth career and three friendlies for Sweden, where he was born. Guinea now leads Group H with 6 points. Their next match is at home against Rwanda on October 10th. That match falls between FC Cincinnati’s last two games of the season against Pittsburgh and Nashville SC. Konate shared the following scenes of his experience after the match.

Tragedy in Madagascar

A tragic situation in Madagascar overshadowed qualifying on matchday 2. One person was confirmed dead with at least 37 others injured in a stampede before the qualifier between Madagascar & Senegal in Antananarivo.

The finals of the 32nd Africa Cup of Nations will be held in June 2019 in Cameroon. Qualification for the tournament extends over 6 match days held between June of 2017 to March of 2019. The current set of fixtures represents matchday 2 of the qualification process. If these two players continue to be selected at the international level, they will play again in October and November of 2018, and March of 2019.

While it’s certainly a great honor for these players to represent their teams in an international competition, it must to be disappointing to travel that distance and not see any playing time. Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s 2018 season.

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International Experience Lines FC Cincinnati’s Roster

As we wish Mike Lahoud and Pa Konate safe travels and good luck at AFCON, we highlight
ALL of the international experience on FCC’s roster.

Last Thursday, FCC announced that two players will take part in the African Cup of Nations qualifying matches scheduled for early September. Midfielder Mike Lahoud and defender Pa Konate will each travel abroad, and represent Sierra Leone and Guinea respectively. The international matches will be played on September 9th, and the pair will miss FCC’s next match against Louisville City at Slugger Field.

The 32nd edition of the African Cup of Nations will be held in June 2019 in Cameroon. Qualification for the tournament is now underway and extends over 5 match days held between June of 2017 to March of 2019. The upcoming September fixtures represent Matchday 2 of the qualification process. Lahoud’s Sierra Leone won its first match over Kenya. Guinea also won its opening match against the Ivory Coast, an African powerhouse. If these two players continue to be selected at the international level, they will play again in October and November of 2018, and March of 2019.

FC Cincinnati actually has three other players besides Lahoud and Konate with appearances at the full international level. Let’s take a look at the players who have grabbed the opportunity to play for their native land.

Dekel Keinan

Need an experienced international defender to captain your squad, and contribute goals in big games, like Saturday’s equalizer against Pittsburgh? Look no further than Dekel Keinan.

Keinan is the most decorated international player on FC Cincinnati’s roster. After extensive time with the Israeli national team at the U-21 and U-23 level, he received 27 total senior caps. The native of Rosh HaNikra was a regular in defense for Israel over a six year period from 2008 to 2013. He made notable contributions during the 2010 and 2014 World Cup qualifying campaigns. Israel, unfortunately, did not qualify for the World Cup finals in either cycle.

Justin Hoyte

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Justin Hoyte played extensively for the England at the U-16 through the U-21 levels, making 58 appearances. The native of Leytonstone in the East London suburbs, he had ambitions to play for the senior national team. It wasn’t to be though, and in 2013, he made himself available to play for Trinidad and Tobago, where his father Les was born. He earned 18 caps for the Soca Warriors over a four year period and appeared in friendlies, the Gold Cup, and the early stages of the 2018 World Cup qualifying.

Emery Welshman

Emery Welshman was born in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, a suburb of Toronto. His parent are Guyanese though, and he is therefore eligible to play for their national team. He earned his first cap in 2015 and has made 5 appearances thereafter for the Golden Jaguars. He scored for Guyana in a friendly against Barbados, and also netted in a World Cup qualifier against St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Experience Just Below the Senior Level

While the five referenced above advanced to appear for the senior national team, several others have represented their country at levels just below. Fatai Alashe made several appearances for the United States U-23 squad during qualification for the 2016 Rio Olympics. He even got a call-up to the senior national team for the 2016 January camp under Jürgen Klinsmann. Unfortunately, an injury cut Alashe’s experience short, and he withdrew from the subsequent friendlies.

Fanendo Adi made two appearances with the U-23 Nigerian team in 2011. He was also called-up to the senior team for an African Cup of Nations qualifier in 2017, but didn’t get into the match. Sem De Wit made a single appearance with the Netherlands U-18 team in a match against Austria in 2012. Goalkeepers Spencer Richey and Even Newton also represented the United States at the U-17 level. Spencer Richey went with the U.S. to the 2009 U-17 World Cup in Nigeria.

With the build-out of next year’s MLS roster, FC Cincinnati will add even more experienced international talent to the squad. They might even sign players in the mix for the U.S. Mens National Team. The prospects are exciting, but there’s a trade-off of course. The MLS and international calendars don’t always complement each other well. Alan Koch and Luke Sassano will will have to manage these players time away from the club, just like they have to now for Konate and Lahoud. Senior level internationals come with prestige, but they also come with commitments that must be considered when building a roster deep enough to compete successfully in America’s top flight.

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

Deeper Cuts: FCC Survives Tampa Bay’s Tidal Wave

FC Cincinnati managed to batten down the hatches in Tampa Bay for three points. Here’s some insight on how they weathered the storm.

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Image: Joe Craven

FC Cincinnati is starting to make a habit of busting the ghosts of their short history. After collecting their first win against Tampa Bay earlier this year, the team finally earned their first goal, point, and win in St. Pete’s. The 2-1 victory over Tampa Bay puts FCC in first by 11 points and almost guarantees post-season play. However, it also reverses a disturbing trend when it comes to the summer.

In the 2016 and 2017 seasons, FC Cincinnati wilted in the summer heat, particularly in August. Under both John Harkes and Alan Koch, the team averaged only 1.0 point per game, but the trend has changed in 2018.

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Considering that this year’s August journey took FCC through the heart of the South, escaping the month unscathed with a vital win against Tampa Bay was no easy task. The boys in Orange & Blue had to overcome Mother Nature and a motivated Rowdies squad for these three points.

Absorbing the Impact

As if the weather wasn’t making the game hard enough, FCC had to withstand an onslaught from the Rowdies’ offense. Tampa Bay controlled possession (56%-44%) and passing accuracy (79%-76%) in a game where the pouring rain suggested that control would be a necessity. The heat map alone shows that the Rowdies occupied tons of real estate in the FCC 18-yard-box, whereas FCC barely made a mark in the Rowdies box.

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Tampa Bay’s heat map (left) vs. Cincinnati’s heat map (right).

With so much possession in the Cincinnati box, Tampa Bay managed 31 total shots, tied for the most in one game this year. Forward Junior Flemmings alone outshot the entire FCC offense (11 to 7). Tampa Bay even blanked Cincinnati on corner kicks, getting 13 of their own. However, FCC’s ability to clog the box and Evan Newton’s solid goalkeeping kept the damage to a minimum. Tampa Bay only managed 6 shots on target, putting their shot accuracy (19%) well below their season average (40%).

Much of the pressure in the first half came from Flemmings’ ability to penetrate, getting off 8 shots inside the 18-yard-box. However, FCC managed to neutralize Flemmings with Forrest Lasso’s physical frame. The big center back was responsible for 10 of Cincinnati’s 18 clearances in the first half. Considering Flemmings and Lasso tussled a bit in the home game against Tampa Bay, this matchup was highly anticipated.

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Tampa Bay’s shots in the 1st half (left) and the 2nd half (right).

In the second half, Tampa Bay altered their approach to encourage more attacks on Newton’s right. Cincinnati did a much better job at blocking shots (blue in the image) from that angle, as Paddy Barrett had three of Cincinnati’s 8 second-half blocks. Part of the defense was good fortune and solid blocking. However, the fact that Tampa Bay’s only two shots on goal (green) came from outside the box in the second half suggests that Cincinnati’s ability to pack the box, even after Blake Smith’s red card, succeeded.

Countering the Barrage

It’s clear that Tampa Bay had heavy advantages in offensive numbers. Even without the strong defensive performance, FC Cincinnati quite possibly could and should have lost this game. However, in these cases, it matters how well you can take advantage of the opponent’s momentary lapses and frustration.

For the most part, Tampa Bay had Cincinnati well-covered. Few of the areas in the heat map do not overlap between the two squads. However, all of that coverage led to the first goal. Tampa Bay was well-aware of the danger Emmanuel Ledesma presented, but his first touch drew the entire Tampa Bay back-line up to the top of their own box. With Nazmi Albadawi skirting to Ledesma’s right, the line left Jimmy McLaughlin wide open. Contact in the box, penalty, shot on goal, 1-0.

That first foul on Tampa Bay was the likeliest indication that referee Kevin Broadley wasn’t going to allow play to get too physical. While the Rowdies held a firm advantage in possession, they committed almost twice as many fouls as FCC (23-12). This allowed FCC to squeeze yellow cards out of their opponent to slow the game down in their favor when necessary.

Even when the eventual hammer came down on Blake Smith for time-wasting, Alan Koch managed to settle his club and make a strategic substitution. Pulling Fenando Adi out for Pa Konate, Koch opted for a 4-4-1 formation that stacked the defense. While this did allow the tying goal by Poku at the time, the frustration to score was still producing more yellow cards in Tampa Bay’s disadvantage (8-4).

And that’s where the eventual game-winning play came about. Tampa Bay pulled back in the 80th minute to reset after their goal, only for the defense to lapse at the right side of Daniel Vega again. With both Konate and Jimmy McLaughlin fresher and without cards, their give-and-go allowed Konate to approach the box with less to lose. The eventual foul reduced Tampa Bay’s squad to ten and allowed the winning penalty kick.

The Perfect Storm

Overall, it’s easy to say that this was a mess of a game. The rain did not help anyone. Tampa Bay proved that a stronger team with nothing more to lose could challenge Cincinnati. Had the weather been more cooperative, this could have easily been a statement Rowdies victory.

However, FCC proved to be a team that could read the environment, play with a calmer demeanor, and use the whistle to their advantage. Part of the good fortune, in the end, may have also been the short week—Stefano Bonomo, who had played well since his purchase from New York, was left off the 18-man roster. Still, sometimes you need a little luck to weather a storm.

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for coverage of FC Cincinnati’s upcoming clash with Pittsburgh and the rest of the 2018 season.

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Tampa Bay Rowdies 1 – 2 FC Cincinnati: First Points in Rain-Soaked Tampa

FC Cincinnati produced their eighth road win of the season on Saturday, in a messy water-logged match at Al Lang Stadium.

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Design: Connor Paquette / Image: Ryan Meyer

FC Cincinnati produced their eighth road win of the season on Saturday in a messy water-logged match at Al Lang Stadium. There they dispatched the Tampa Bay Rowdies 2-1,  courtesy of two Emmanuel Ledesma penalty kick conversions. Before this match, FC Cincinnati had never scored a goal or earned a point against the Rowdies in Florida.

The Orange & Blue were on the scoresheet just two minutes into the contest. Emmanuel Ledesma controlled a long ball from Evan Newton just outside of the box. He feathered a diagonal pass through to Jimmy McLaughlin who was streaking down the left. Afrim Taku clipped McLaughlin’s legs in the box. He went down, and referee Kevin Broadley pointed to the penalty spot. Ledesma converted to the keeper’s left using his customary stutter-step penalty kick technique.

Tampa took control of the match shortly thereafter and created most of the chances in the first half. Evan Newton was up to the task though, and his four first-half saves helped to keep Tampa goalless at the break.

The match dynamics changed in the 62nd minute when FCC fullback Blake Smith was controversially shown a second yellow for time-wasting. Tampa Bay pressed for the equalizer and capitalized on their man advantage 13 minutes later. Kwadwo Poku dribbled across the top of the penalty area and fired a low pulled-back shot through traffic that beat Evan Newton. The score was then 1-1.

The rain-soaked drama didn’t end there. Substitute Pa Konate, a defender who replaced Fanendo Adi after FCC was reduced to 10 men, impacted the match in the 85th minute. He played a give-and-go with Jimmy McLaughlin on the left side and broke free into the box. Rowdies defender Pape Diakite intervened just as Pa reached a ball-stopping puddle in the penalty area. Diakite made contact with the ball, but Konate tumbled over him and looked to the referee. Kevin Broadley awarded a penalty kick, and Ledesma converted his second of the night to give the visitors a late lead.

FC Cincinnati survived nearly nine minutes of stoppage time to escape Tampa with all three points. Rowdies forward Georgi Hristov had a golden chance to equalize before time expired, but chipped the ball over the crossbar.

Final Score: Tampa Bay Rowdies 1 – 2 FC Cincinnati

Standings Update

FC Cincinnati continues to set the pace in the Eastern Conference and the USL with 57 points. They’ve won 7 of their last 8 and extend their unbeaten streak to 15 games. Louisville City FC is now in second place after a 6-0 victory over the Richmond Kickers. The Orange & Blue are now 11 points clear at the top of the East. Both Louisville and the Pittsburgh Riverhounds have two games in hand.

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Highlight of the Match

Emmanuel Ledesma displayed great composure by converting two penalty kicks, but Evan Newton made several key stops to limit Tampa to just one goal. Those saves included this fine play to thwart Junior Flemmings in first half stoppage time.

Quote of the Match

Alan Koch had the following to say about his team’s gritty victory.

“Tampa were fired up to play, we could tell that they were fighting for their lives, but we’re fighting for our lives too. We’re in a slightly more favorable position right now, but every game is important. . .Tonight’s performance in terms of how we played was not good, in terms of the character, (but) it was very good to get that result.”

Stat of the Match

This match was littered with sloppy tackles, yellow cards, and player ejections. Twelve total cautions were issued on the night including a questionable second yellow to Blake Smith for time-wasting. A second yellow was also issued to Tampa defender Pape Diakite for the tackle that led to Emmanuel Ledesma’s second penalty kick. In fact, all of the USL seemed card-happy on Saturday, as six total red cards were handed out in all competitions.

Who Started?

Fanendo Adi made his first start for FC Cincinnati on Saturday. He was sacrificed in the 67th minute after Blake Smith received his second yellow card. The midfield was anchored by Mike Lahoud and Fatai Alashe. Newton, Smith, Ledesma, and Barrett all returned in to the the starting eleven.

Adi (67′ Konate)
McLaughlin – Albadawi (78′ König) – Ledesma
Alashe (55′ Walker) – Lahoud
Smith – Lasso – Barrett – Hoyte
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What’s Next?

After three games in eight days, the Orange & Blue get a week’s respite before returning to league play. They will lick some wounds and recover from a physically demanding match in Florida. Eight games remain in the USL regular season, and the next one is a high stakes affair. The Orange & Blue play the third-place Pittsburgh Riverhounds at Nippert Stadium on Labor Day weekend. Due to their yellow cards, Paddy Barrett and Blake Smith will both miss that game.

Trivia: Orange & Blue Press’ first article covered the 2016 U.S. Open Cup match against the Tampa Bay Rowdies at Al Lang. Here’s how things looked on our site then.

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

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What Pa Konate Brings to FC Cincinnati

A closer look at Pa Konate’s pedigree, player attributes, and how he’ll bolster FC Cincinnati defense in 2018 and beyond.

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Photo Credit: Anders Henrikson

FC Cincinnati announced more player news on Wednesday with their third signing of the summer MLS transfer window. Defender Pa Konate will join the Orange & Blue on loan from Italian Serie A club S.P.A.L. 2013. Konate signed an MLS contract with FCC for a year-long loan. Further, they will add him to the current team’s roster on a USL loan for the remainder of 2018, pending receipt of his transfer papers. Konate is already in Cincinnati training with the squad.

For our feature articles on Monday’s Fanendo Adi and Fatai Alashe transfer announcements, look here.
What Fanendo Adi Brings to FC Cincinnati
What Fatai Alashe Brings to FC Cincinnati

What Pa Konate Brings to FC Cincinnati

Young Top-Flight Tested Talent

Similar to Fatai Alashe, Konate is on the early side of his professional career but has already amassed significant top-flight experience. His pro career began at Malmö, the Allvenskan powerhouse, at age 19. After being part of their youth system, he spent four seasons competing for first team playing time, and amassing 56 total league appearances. Konate saw the most action in 2016, when he made 22 Allvenskan appearances for the club. Malmö claimed the Swedish championship four of the five years Pa Konate spent there.

Konate also made six Champions League group stage appearances with Malmö. He faced big-name opposition in the form of Juventus, Atletico Madrid, and PSG on Europe’s biggest stage in 2014 and 2015.

He’s also been in Sweden’s international setup. Konate made 15 appearances with the Sweden U-21 squad and three appearances with the full national team in friendlies with Estonia, Finland, and the Ivory Coast. Despite this experience, Konate is considering a switch to his father’s native Guinea as they compete for qualification for the African Cup of Nations.

Pa earned a move to Serie A’s S.P.A.L 2013 in the summer of 2017, but did not make any league appearances during the 17-18 season. He did appear twice in the early rounds of the Coppa Italia. Now Konate is in Cincinnati in search of playing time and a full transfer to FCC if his loan goes well.

All-in-all, the player brings some high quality experience for his age and is looking to make a breakthrough in the United States.

Left Back Depth

Blake Smith has been a determined and consistent presence on FC Cincinnati’s back line this season. He’s also played a marked role in FCC’s recent success and ten game unbeaten streak. Whether Konate can claim the starting left back position in place of Smith remains to be seen. FCC’s staff clearly sees promise in the Swede if they are willing to use an MLS international spot on the player. Koch says that he expects Pa to “compete for playing time immediately.”

Regardless of who starts though, this is clearly a position where FC Cincinnati needed more depth. Lance Laing, who is the next best option at left back has been injured for a good portion of the season. It was fantastic to see Lance back on the field against Espanyol, but it’s also good to see FCC proactively addressing the need. Laing, when healthy, is arguably a more natural left-sided winger than a left back. Sassano and company are ensuring FCC has the depth to rotate and recover from a potential injury during the second half of the season. Konate also clearly has the credentials to advance to MLS when the time comes.

Player Attributes

The one quality that seems to stand out in defining Pa’s game is attacking. This is what Konate had to say when asked about his own qualities in an interview with Sweden fan website svenskafans.com.

“I’m an offensive extremist. I want to be on my way up and go up to the assault as much as possible. I think I’m good at the defensive and in the main game too, but I’m offensive.”

Pa shows off this attacking prowess in this match clip from Malmö’s Champions League encounter with PSG.

“Pa is an excellent technical left back who is willing to join in the attack and is also an excellent defender. We are excited to get him back up to match speed, so that he can recover his form that he showed at Malmö and earned him his move to Serie A.” –Alan Koch

Pa is a Swedish citizen, born in Malmö, but has a Gambian mother and a Guinean father. Interestingly, each of FC Cincinnati’s three signings in this transfer window have West African roots.

With three players in the door, FC Cincinnati’s summer transfer business might be complete. However, with a week left in MLS’s secondary transfer window, there’s still a chance for opportunity to present itself.

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

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Photo Credit: Anders Henrikson