2018 USL Eastern Conference Playoff Predictions: First Round

O&BP’s prognosticator crunches the numbers again to predict the first round of the USL Eastern Conference playoffs.

Image: Ryan Meyer

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.

Deeper Cuts: Limiting Quality Chances and Projected Playoff Matchups

A deeper look at the FC Cincinnati stalemate in Pittsburgh, and a look at how the weekend’s USL action impacted the playoff picture.

Image: Ryan Meyer

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.

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Shots – FCC on the left, Pittsburgh on the right. Blocked shots are in light blue. Off-target shots are in red. On-target shots are in green.

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.

Both graphics: Connor Paquette

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.

Pittsburgh Riverhounds 0 – 0 FC Cincinnati: The Unbeaten Streak Continues

FC Cincinnati played the Pittsburgh Riverhounds to a 0-0 draw at Highmark Stadium in the second to last match of the 2018 USL season.

Graphic: Connor Paquette

FC Cincinnati worked hard to get a point, but they drew the Pittsburgh Riverhounds 0-0 at Highmark Stadium on Saturday. The result brings FCC to a remarkable 22 matches unbeaten which ties the USL record, an honor shared with Richmond Kickers. The point takes the USL regular season champions to 76 total with one match left to play.

As expected, defensive strengths dominated the pitch for both sides. In the first half, Pittsburgh pushed the attack and outshot FCC 11-3. Even though possession numbers showed FC Cincinnati with the slight advantage, they created few meaningful scoring chances. Emmanuel Ledesma gave the Orange & Blue its first real opportunity in the 13th minute, curling a left footed strike to the far post but not out of reach for Pittsburgh keeper Dan Lynd. Fatai Alashe missed a golden chance in the 35th minute, receiving Corben Bone’s through ball in to the box, only to push his shot wide of the net. The Orange & Blue defensive fortress held off the Pittsburgh Riverhounds’ attack, keeping the game level into the break.

The second half was consistent with the first, and both squads held their ground defensively. FC Cincinnati had its best chance of the half when forward Emery Welshman made contact with Dan Lynd in the penalty area in the 62nd minute. No foul was given as the referee waved off the apparent infraction. The 0-0 score would stand and FC Cincinnati once again showed they can manage games and earn points. They simply refuse to lose.

Having already secured first place, the Orange & Blue will play out these remaining games, utilizing their depth and preparing for the playoffs. Playing teams like Pittsburgh, that need results, is the best way to get themselves ready for a quest for the 2018 USL Cup.

Final Score: Pittsburgh Riverhounds 0 – 0 FC Cincinnati

Highlight of the Match

In perhaps FC Cincinnati’s best chance of the match, Corben Bone threads the needle to Fatai Alashe, who shoots first time, . . . only to go wide, into the side-netting.

Quotes of the Match

Alan Koch had the following to say about the result and the historic achievement:

“I’m satisfied tonight. I’m not happy or ecstatic with the result, but I’m satisfied with the performance, how we all managed the game, and how the players managed to get through it….we tied a historic record, so that’s a nice accomplishment for the entire group.”

Spencer Richey’s gave his take on not breaking as a team and getting the clean sheet:

“They did some things that caused us some problems, especially out in wide areas. They were trying to overload us on sides, and we struggled a bit to manage that.  (Pittsburgh) got in behind and they got some cutback opportunities.  But, you know, at this time of the season it’s about bending and not breaking and we did that tonight, so we’ll take the shutout.”

Standings Update

FC Cincinnati had first place locked-up prior to this match and are 16 points clear of the pack in the East with one match remaining in the regular season. Nashville SC and New York Red Bulls II picked up important victories on Saturday, while Indy Eleven and Bethlehem Steel FC played to a 1-1 draw.

Who Started?

Welshman (82′ Cicerone)
Ledesma – Bone (64′ Albadawi) – McLaughlin
Lahoud (72′ Gibson) – Alashe
Smith – Lasso – Barrett (C) – Hoyte
Richey

What’s Next?

FC Cincinnati returns to the road next Saturday and plays their last regular season match of 2018 at Nashville SC. NSC is one of only two teams in the Eastern Conference that the Orange & Blue have not defeated during the regular season (the other is Bethlehem Steel). With Nashville SC lingering around the eighth spot in the East, FC Cincinnati will want to finish the regular season with a positive result against a potential playoff opponent.

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s last match of the 2018 USL season, and their run in the USL playoffs.

Graphic: Connor Paquette

Match Program: FC Cincinnati at Pittsburgh Riverhounds

FC Cincinnati heads to Pittsburgh in attempt to elongate their 10-match USL record winning streak and 21-game unbeaten stretch.

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Design: CSDIV / Image: Ryan Meyer

With the USL regular-season silverware celebration captured in Cincinnati sports history now, many are ready for the playoffs to begin. However, FC Cincinnati has two more regular season matches left to play. This Saturday at Highmark Stadium, FC Cincinnati squares off against rivals Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC. The Orange & Blue are 5-0-3 all-time versus the Riverhounds in all competitions.

This will be the fourth time these sides square off this season, the third in the regular season. Both of the previous USL matches were played at Nippert Stadium. In April, FCC was able to find an equalizer not just once, but twice to scratch out a come-from-behind 2-2 draw. On Labor Day weekend, the Orange & Blue erased an early second-half deficit, and Fanendo Adi’s display of strength and skill delivered the game-winning, playoff-clinching goal in the 88th minute. Let’s revisit that spectacular first goal in Orange & Blue for Adi one more time.

Pittsburgh is battling Louisville City for 2nd place overall in the Eastern Conference and will be gunning for the full 3 points on Saturday. They are tied at 57 points each with three matches left, but Louisville currently owns the first tiebreaker scenario. Since their loss to FCC on September 1st, the Riverhounds are unbeaten in their last five matches (3-0-2). In this stretch, they have uncharacteristically played higher scoring matches, scoring 13 and allowing 7 goals. Pittsburgh is 9-2-6 at home this season.

The Orange & Blue are riding a league record 10-match winning streak and 21-game unbeaten stretch. With a win or draw on Saturday, FCC will tie the USL modern record of 22 matches set by the Richmond Kickers during the 2013 season. FC Cincinnati comes in with an astounding 11-1-3 road record this campaign. Saturday’s line-up can go in many directions, considering Alan Koch deployed 22 total players over the last two games. Forward Danni König will be unavailable as he’s suspended one match for yellow-card accumulation. Regardless of who gets the starting nod, there is pride, playoff preparation, and an MLS roster spot to fight for.

Fast Facts

Here are five fast facts to get you ready for Saturday’s 7 pm away match vs Pittsburgh.

  • Best Offense vs Best Defense – FCC boasts the USL’s top offense with 69 goals and a sublime 22% conversion scoring rate. The Riverhounds come into the match with the staunchest defense, allowing just 23 goals total and keeping 16 clean sheets. That converts to a paltry 0.74 goals against average (GAA) per match and a clean sheet 52% of the time.
  • Of those 23 goals and 0.74 GAA given up by Pittsburgh, FC Cincinnati has scored 4 times in two league matches against the Riverhounds, a 2.00 GAA. Combine that with the 3 tallies FCC knocked in during the U.S. Open Cup third-round game in May and FCC has been the exception this year in scoring against Pittsburgh.
  • The Jamaican trio of Neco Brett, Kenardo Forbes, and Romeo Parkes have held the lion’s share of Pittsburgh’s offensive production this season. They have accumulated 24 of the team’s 45 goals (Brett has 15 of these). In addition, Forbes and Brett have accounted for 15 of the squad’s 32 total assists.
  • Interestingly, FCC’s distribution figures for the season are quite a bit higher than Pittsburgh’s. The Orange & Blue pass at a rate of 342 successful passes per game as compared to the Riverhounds’ 308 per game. Cincinnati leads the PA-side in passing accuracy, 77.4% to 72.1%.
  • FC Cincinnati currently has three players with double-digit goals this season (Emmanuel Ledesma – 16, Danni König – 11 and Nazmi Albadawi – 10). Should “Magic-Man” Corben Bone score one more goal this season, it will be the first time a USL squad has four different players on a team reach this pivotal mark in a single season.

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage on Saturday night’s penultimate regular season game in Pittsburgh.

Images: FC Cincinnati 2 – 1 Pittsburgh Riverhounds

Images of FC Cincinnati’s victory over the Pittsburgh Riverhounds on Saturday, September 1st at Nippert Stadium.

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Here are images of FC Cincinnati’s 2-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Riverhounds on Saturday, September 1st. 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 Joe Schmuck.

For more particulars of Saturday’s contest, turn your attention to the following article.
Pittsburgh 9.1_Match Recap_Match Recap
FC Cincinnati 2 – 1 Pittsburgh Riverhounds: Late Adi Winner Clinches Playoff Berth

Images

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.

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FC Cincinnati 2 – 1 Pittsburgh Riverhounds: Late Adi Winner Clinches Playoff Berth

FC Cincinnati punched its ticket to the USL playoffs with an 88th minute game-winning goal from recent signing Fanendo Adi.

The Orange & Blue punched their ticket to the USL playoffs on Saturday when they beat the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in a dramatic comeback victory at Nippert Stadium. Over 25 thousand fans celebrated Fanendo Adi’s 88th minute near-post strike that gave the Orange & Blue the victory. It was his first goal for the club after signing from the Portland Timbers on July 30th.

Alan Koch’s side is the first team in 2018 to clinch a USL playoff berth. As highlighted earlier in the week, with a concurrent loss by North Carolina FC to the Tampa Bay Rowdies, FC Cincinnati’s point total now exceeds the maximum point total possible for 8 other USL teams.

Pittsburgh put up a fierce resistance and were the better team for portions of this contest. They conceded a large amount of possession to FCC, but featured an organized defense and a lightning quick counter-attack that troubled Alan Koch’s side. Both teams could have easily scored in the first half but did not. Emmanuel Ledesma had a 27th-minute-strike cleared off the line by Pittsburgh defender Joseph Greenspan. Eight minutes later, Pittsburgh striker Kay Banjo was denied by a save-of-the-week worthy right-footed kick from Spencer Richey. A cagey first half between Eastern Conference elite ended goalless.

Pittsburgh was quick off-the-line in the second half and it paid dividends. Kay Banjo was fouled by the stray leg of Forrest Lasso, earning a penalty kick shortly after play resumed. The Washington, D.C. native skied the subsequent spot kick over the crossbar. Then, after peppering Spencer Richey’s goal with a succession of shots and corner kicks, the visitors finally broke through. Romeo Parkes thumped home a close range strike, redirecting a 57th minute cross from Kenardo Forbes. 1-0 Riverhounds.

The visitors were in control until a series of substitutions in the final 25 minutes changed the match. Mike Lahoud entered the game for an injured Pa Konate in the 66th minute, and the team shifted into a more aggressive 3-5-2. Shortly thereafter, Jimmy McLaughlin and Fanendo Adi also joined the action. The change took full effect and captain Dekel Keinan evened the score in the 80th minute. He nodded home a free kick that Emmanuel Ledesma earned, then delivered from outside the box on the left.

That set up the moment of the match as Saturday’s game drew to a conclusion. Fanendo Adi, the big money man, the MLS DP, collected a well placed through-ball from Kenney Walker on the right side of the box. He used all six-foot-four inches of his frame to shake off two Pittsburgh defenders, and fire a near-post strike that won the match, and send FCC to the playoffs.

Final Score: FC Cincinnati 2 – 1 Pittsburgh Riverhounds

Standings Update

FC Cincinnati continues to set the pace in the Eastern Conference and the USL with 60 points. They are now out of reach of eight teams, because North Carolina FC lost 3-0 to Tampa Bay on Saturday, clinching their playoff berth. They extend their unbeaten streak to 16, and have won 7 of their last 8 matches.

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Highlight of the Match

We present the 88th minute game-winning, playoff-clinching, first goal for Fanendo Adi in Orange & Blue.

Quote of the Match

Fanendo Adi said the following about his goal-celebration, when he ran immediately to Alan Koch to share a moment. The Nigerian striker gave him a huge bear-hug just before the entire team piled on to revel in the moment

“I think he wants me here so much, he has supported me, and that’s just to show him I’m very tight to him for everything he has done for me. It’s been a tough time for me, adjusting to the league, to the players and to the city as well, but he’s been there every day for me.”

Stat of the Match

2 goals in the last 10 minutes of regulation. We put out a lot of stats at Orange & Blue Press, but the stats sometimes don’t tell the story of the match. With over 65% possession and almost the same number of shots-on-target as Pittsburgh, one might think FCC was in the driver’s-seat for most of this game. That wasn’t the case. Pittsburgh controlled proceedings and missed good opportunities to capitalize on the chances they created. FCC made some late tactical and personnel changes and took their chances in the last 10 minutes to snatch a dramatic victory.

Who Started?

Alan Koch made six changes to the side that started in the 2-1 win versus the Tampa Bay Rowdies. Danni König led the line in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Corben Bone recovered from an ankle injury to start. Kenney Walker, Dekel Keinan, Pa Konate, and Spencer Richey all returned to the starting 11.

König (75′ Adi)
Bone – Albadawi – Ledesma
Alashe (72′ McLaughlin) – Walker
Konate (66′ Lahoud) – Lasso – Keinan – Hoyte
Richey

What’s Next?

There are just seven matches left in the 2018 regular season. Up next is another big top of the Eastern Conference clash between FC Cincinnati and bitter rival Louisville City FC. After two defeats at Nippert to LCFC, the Orange & Blue will look for a measure of revenge at Slugger Field.

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

Match Program: FC Cincinnati vs Pittsburgh Riverhounds

Orange & Blue Press’ Match Program supplies the information and fast facts you need for FC Cincinnati’s league meeting with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds

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Design: CSDIV

Following a fantastic run of three games that produced maximum points, FC Cincinnati returns home to Nippert Stadium to take on the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in a clash of the Eastern Conference elite. Alan Koch’s team is firmly seated in first place with 57 points and is protecting an 11-point lead atop the conference. They have won 6 of their last 7 played and look to extend a 15-game league unbeaten streak that stretches back to May. Additionally, they have a chance to clinch a playoff berth with a win and some help from elsewhere on Saturday.

This is the second meeting between these two teams at Nippert Stadium this season. FCC snatched a comeback 2-2 draw in April on home turf. Kenney Walker provided a dramatic 78th-minute equalizer in a match that Pittsburgh led twice. The Orange & Blue, with a fully rotated squad, also ended the Hounds’ U.S. Open Cup run with a 3-1 victory at Highmark in May. FCC has never lost to Pittsburgh in their three-year history, going 4-0-3 all-time against the Riverhounds in all competitions.

Bob Lilley’s Pittsburgh squad currently sits in third place in the Eastern Conference, virtually level on points with Louisville City FC. They had a chance to overtake LCFC and move into second place on Wednesday, but could only muster a 2-2 draw in the Hoosier State against Indy Eleven. The Riverhounds are undefeated in five, but have drawn their last three and are losing pace with FC Cincinnati.

Alan Koch’s squad will have fewer defensive options than usual for this match. Both Blake Smith and Paddy Barrett are suspended for Saturday’s contest. FCC’s deep roster should still provide plenty of options to compensate for the absentees. Thomas Vancaeyezeele, who scored for Pittsburgh in the April match, is also suspended for yellow-card accumulation. Raymond Lee will also be missing for the Hounds after being shown a straight red in Wednesday’s match against Indy Eleven.

Fast Facts

Here are five fast facts to get you ready for Saturday’s 7:30pm kickoff.

  • The Riverhounds bring their brand of ultra-defensive “Lilleyball” back to Nippert Stadium. They boast 15 cleans sheets and only 14 total goals allowed this season, both best in the USL. Interestingly, FCC put 5 total goals past the Hounds in the two matches played against them this year.
  • It’s offense versus defense, as FC Cincinnati has scored 22 more goals this season than the Riverhounds. FCC’s trio of Ledesma (13), Konig (10), and Albadawi (9) lead the way in scoring. Additionally, FC Cincinnati has 8 players that have scored more than 1 goal. In comparison, only 4 players for Pittsburgh have scored more than once.
  • Neco Brett is the Hounds’ primary offensive threat with 13 goals on the season. Brett has 9 more than any other player and has scored 5 of the team’s last 9 goals. He is also tied for second on the team in assists (4).
  • Fatai Alashe has seen the most action of any of FC Cincinnati’s new MLS signees. He’s started the last 3 matches and logged 188 total minutes. He’s produced an 82% passing accuracy, scored his first goal, and won 14 of 24 duels in FCC’s defensive midfield.
  • Despite their defensive approach, the Riverhounds keep things clean. They’ve only accumulated 32 total yellow cards this season, second lowest in the USL. On the other hand, FCC has accumulated 51 yellow cards. FC Cincinnati saw red for the first time this season when Blake Smith was issued an unusual second yellow last Saturday versus Tampa for time wasting.

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati versus the Pittsburgh Riverhounds.

Pittsburgh Riverhounds 1 – 3 FC Cincinnati: Changed Eleven Puts Three Past Pitt

FC Cincinnati advanced to the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup with a 3-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Riverhounds with a heavily changed starting lineup.

Design: Connor Paquette / Image: Joe Craven

FC Cincinnati opened the scoring floodgates and drowned the Pittsburgh Riverhounds 3-1 at Highmark Stadium on Wednesday in the U.S. Open Cup. Jimmy McLaughlin hit the mark first for Orange & Blue in the 39th minute of play. After a some good build up play on the left, Lance Laing found Emery Welshman at the top of the box. The Toronto native played a first-time diagonal pass to put McLaughlin through on goal. “Penn Messi” drove it past the keeper low and to the right to put FCC up 1-0 at the break. Jimmy loves playing in Pennsylvania.

The Riverhounds came out in the second half hungry for an equalizer. They applied relentless pressure to Spencer Richey’s goal for the first 15 minutes of the half. The Hounds generated corner kicks, free kicks, and several quality chances, but FCC’s defense held. Then, in the 61st minute, Lance Laing hit them with a sucker punch. FC Cincinnati had earned a free kick in a central position, about 30 yards from goal. Laing struck a gorgeous driven dipper over Pittsburgh’s wall and into the bottom right corner. The goal came against the run of play and FCC was two goals to the good. A stunned Riverhounds side then conceded a third goal to a counter-attack just one minute later. That scoring move was finished by Daniel Haber.

In a matter of moments, a match that looked fairly even and likely to be tied, turned into a rout for FC Cincinnati. The Riverhounds still pushed and found a late consolation goal via Dennis Chin in the 88th minute, but it was too little, too late.

Final Score: Pittsburgh Riverhounds 1 – 3 FC Cincinnati

With the victory, Alan Koch’s side advances to the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup. They will face MLS opposition in the next round but the exact opponent and location will be determined by a draw held on Thursday, May 24th, at 11am. Tune into the stream on ussoccer.com or via Facebook Live (@OfficialOpenCup).

Alan Koch had the following to say about a potential fourth round matchup.

“I don’t care who we play. I was going to say I don’t care where we play; I’d rather play at home, of course. When we play at home, we get to play in front of all of our fans, which is awesome. . .It’s exciting to play in these games. Tonight was exciting and whoever we get to play at home or away, we’ll embrace the challenge.”

Key Events

39′ – GOAL – CIN – Jimmy McLaughlin (assist Emery Welshman)
61’ – GOAL – CIN- Lance Laing
62’ – GOAL – CIN- Daniel Haber
68′ – YELLOW CARD – CIN – Lance Laing
78′ – YELLOW CARD – PIT – Andrew Lubahn
88′ – GOAL – PIT – Dennis Chin

Match Notes

FC Cincinnati completely rotated their starting lineup, changing all eleven players relative to the squad that started in last Saturday’s 4-1 victory over North Carolina FC.

Starting XI
Welshman (Ameobi 86’)
Haber (Walker 75’) – McLaughlin – Cicerone
Lahoud – Seymore
Laing (Blake Smith 92+) – De Wit – Lasso – Bahner
Richey

FC Cincinnati is still undefeated all-time against the Riverhounds and improved to 4-0-3 in all competitions with this win.

FCC has scored 3 or more goals in six of their last seven games in all competitions.

Pittsburgh maintained a 54% to 46% possession advantage over the 90 minutes, and took 18 shots to FC Cincinnati’s 10. The Orange & Blue had an impressive 7 of 10 shots on target on Wednesday.

What’s Next?

FC Cincinnati turns their focus back to league play as the second edition of the Dirty River Derby comes to Nippert this Saturday. Louisville City is in second place and hot on FC Cincinnati’s heels. They sit just one point behind the Orange & Blue in the Eastern Conference standings. The last time the two sides faced each other, Louisville City managed to steal the spotlight and spoil FC Cincinnati’s home opener, defeating them 1-0. If FC Cincinnati wishes to remain atop the standings, they will have to avoid a second home defeat to their biggest rivals.

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

Know Your Enemy (Again): Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC

After dispatching Detroit City, FC Cincinnati faces a familiar USL foe in the third round of the U.S. Open Cup.

Image: Joe Craven

Matchup: Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (USL) vs. FC Cincinnati (USL)
2018 U.S. Open Cup, 3rd Round
When: May 23rd (Wednesday), 7 PM
Where: Highmark Stadium, Pittsburgh, PA

Last year, the Orange & Blue used the luck of the draw and the comforts of Nippert Stadium to roll to the U.S. Open Cup semifinals. This year, they will have to make their own luck.

One week removed from eliminating Detroit City FC, FC Cincinnati travels to Highmark Stadium to face Pittsburgh in the third round of the U.S. Open Cup. FCC needed extra time to fend off Le Rouge, beating Detroit 4-1 at Gettler Stadium. After giving up the first goal, FCC rode an Emery Welshman hat-trick and a Corben Bone goal to advance after 120 minutes.

The Riverhounds had to face their own opponent on the road, defeating the NPSL’s Erie Commodores, 2-1. Pittsburgh got all their goals in the first half—an early goal by Thomas Vancaeyezeele in the 5th minute and a penalty kick by Kevin Kerr in the 31st. Erie snatched back a goal right before halftime, but Pittsburgh controlled the pace for the rest of the game to move on.

While the first USL matchup between Cincinnati and Pittsburgh ended in a 2-2 draw earlier this year, that was at Nippert. Pittsburgh’s been practically untouchable at home. Although they haven’t passed FCC in the standings, the Riverhounds have yet to lose in the regular season. Pittsburgh is also one of two USL teams—Nashville being the other—who is yet to give up a goal at home. (Then again, only one of those opponents is currently in a playoff position.)

But how has Bob Lilley and his band performed in the U.S. Open Cup?

Fast Facts

  • While Pittsburgh has played in many more Open Cups (16) than Cincinnati (3), the furthest they have advanced was in 2001, when they defeated the Colorado Rapids before falling to the Chicago Fire in the quarterfinals. However, the team has never won more than two games in the U.S. Open Cup.
  • On the other hand, Coach Lilley has historically managed well in this tournament. In his six years as a head coach for Rochester, his team won two or more games during each trip in the Open Cup. He guided the Rhinos to the fifth round in 2014, defeating D.C. United before losing to the New England Revolution.
  • Since 2011, there have been only 15 matches that put two USL teams against each other. However, the growth of the league means that more USL teams will face off. Pittsburgh vs. Cincinnati is one of five USL vs. USL matchups in the third round.
  • Of those previous 15 matchups, the team with the higher point total has won 11 times and lost twice. The teams were tied in points in the other two. However, historically, there has not been a noticeable home-pitch advantage. Of these 15 matchups, the home team has won only 8 times.
  • If the game goes to penalty kicks, FCC should feel confident if Evan Newton is in net. Newton has been the goalkeeper in three penalty-kick rounds in the USL playoffs and has won two of them (2015 vs. Colorado Springs, 2017 vs. Real Monarchs).

Can FC Cincinnati do what five other teams haven’t done this year and win at Highmark? Which team will get the shot at an MLS squad in the fourth round? Be sure to tune in to ussoccer.com for the live stream on Wednesday and follow Orange & Blue Press for coverage of the match.

FC Cincinnati 2 – 2 Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC: Deeper Cuts

FC Cincinnati fought back twice in front of 24,505 Orange and Blue chanting faithful to earn a 2-2 draw with Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC. FCC arguably closes out their most competitive opening five USL regular season game stretch ever with a 2-1-2 mark and 8 points. Danni König and Jimmy McLaughlin were awarded their first starts of the year; both were subbed off in the second half but not before making their impact known. Let’s dive a level deeper into last night’s electrifying match.

Déjà vu

If you feel like you have seen this movie before, you have. The Orange and Blue, for the third game in a row gave away a goal in the first 15 minutes of play. Last night, this early hole driver came in the sixth minute after a failed clearance and sloppy defending by the left side of the backline.

For the second home game in a row, FCC was down 0-1 at the half to a formidable Ohio River city rival. As the team entered the break, Koch remarked, “It’s got to be better obviously…we’re going to have to come out with a lot more energy than we showed through the entire 45 minutes. We’re definitely going to make some tactical adjustments right now; we’ll come out with a different shape to start the second 45 minutes.”

During the post-game press conference, König shared, “We were all angry when we came in at halftime, the first half wasn’t good enough.”

Tale of Two Halves

Fortunately, the halftime speech and tactical adjustments proved effective. Although FCC controlled the possession in the first half 62% to 38%, and matched the Riverhounds with one shot on target, they never looked capable of finding an equalizer. As Koch prescribed, the first 15 minutes of the second stanza proved critical to defining and deciding the match. FCC came out with a different shape, intensity, and pressure to set the tone. The boisterous Nippert crowd fully engaged in appreciation.

The turnaround in play wasn’t seen in total possession percentage, pass attempts or pass accuracy numbers. The evidence was visible in where these critical statistics took place on the pitch. The following charts depict the successful FCC passes and heatmap in the 1st half.

FCC Pass Chart & Heatmap (First Half)

Now compare this to the successful FCC passes and heatmap in the 2nd half.

FCC Pass Chart & Heatmap (Second Half)

The result was a considerable switch in play to inside the Riverhounds half and defensive third. Furthermore, take a look at these differentiating figures between the second and first half in FC Cincinnati’s statistics:

  • 11 shots to two
  • 4 shots on target to one
  • 10 key passes to two
  • 6 successful dribbles to two
  • Most importantly, 2 goals to none

Breaking Down the Pittsburgh Fortress

How did FCC break down a Riverhounds defense that started the season with a club record 414 minutes without allowing a goal? The shape Koch deployed in the second half caught Bob Lilley and his squad scrambling to counter-defend.

Contrary to the second half in the season home opener vs LouCity, where FCC literally pushed numbers down the edges for one unsuccessful cross after another, last night’s tactical change pierced the middle of the defense. Koch sent out more of a 4-3-3 approach that unlocked the creativity, ball handling, and pass combinations we have been desiring to witness. He established Ryan as the lone central defending midfielder and anchored the attack by placing Nazmi and Bone aside him in the midfield. This allowed Penn Messi (McLaughlin) and Ledesma to take more attacking positions alongside König upfront. Hoyte and Laing were then better able to utilize the lanes up and down the flanks. Walker and Welshman were confident reinforcements helping influence the final stage of the match.

The following chart illustrates how effective these changes were to FCC’s attacking promise in the second half. They found freedom in the central spaces, created quality chance after chance, and were able to penetrate the Pittsburgh fortress through the channels and seams.

FCC Key Passes, Assists, Shots on Target and Goals (Second Half)

Is this attacking shape a glimpse of the future or only a single match second half adjustment? The Orange & Blue head north to Canada’s capital city Saturday for a matinee versus Ottawa Fury FC. The Fury picked up their first point this weekend in a 1-1 home draw against North Carolina FC. FCC enters the contest in sixth place; the Fury sits in last place.

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