Match Program: FC Cincinnati vs Ottawa Fury FC

A six-pack of facts to get you ready for the matchup between the Queen City and “La Capitale du Canada”.

Design: CSDIV / Images: Ryan Meyer

With the annual trips to Canada already in the books, FC Cincinnati returns home to finish the week in front of another Canadian team, Ottawa Fury FC. The forecast is predicting a hot one at Nippert Stadium, and hopefully the temperature fuels the Orange & Blue’s offensive firepower.

FCC got out to a blistering start on Wednesday against Toronto FC II with goals (and assists) by Nazmi Albadawi, Emery Welshman, and Manu Ledesma in the first half. However, the team mustered only one shot in the second half and managed a 3-3 draw with the weakest team in the USL. Although they are still riding a five-game unbeaten streak, FCC needs to maintain the pace. Second-place Pittsburgh is only three points behind FCC after the Riverhounds’ 1-0 win at Louisville City.

Ottawa is returning to USL league play on a small three-match winning streak in all competitions. The Fury picked up a solid set of victories in the second round of the Canadian Championship, defeating AS Blainville on Wednesday 1-0 to advance to face Toronto FC in the next stage.

Forward Adonijah Reid also made team history last week by being the first Ottawa Fury FC player to score a hat trick in their five-year history. The current USL Player of the Week put three past New York Red Bulls II in a 3-0 victory on Saturday. Reid now shares the team lead in scoring with Steevan dos Santos and Kévin Oliveira.

The last meeting between these two teams saved the fireworks for the last 45 minutes. After a scoreless first half, FCC deposited three goals over a nine-minute span to run away with a 3-0 win. The win gave the team well-earned momentum to start a three-game winning streak, and gave us that memorable long-distance peach of a goal from Kenney Walker.

FC Cincinnati is getting closer and closer to seeing midfielder Tyler Gibson return to the pitch, as he works himself back into playing shape. The same might not be said for Richie Ryan—the midfielder could miss some time due to an apparent ankle injury suffered during the Toronto game.

Fast Facts

Here are some fast facts as FCC gets ready to welcome the Fury.

  • Saturday’s game will mark the midpoint of FC Cincinnati’s 34-game season. While the team is vastly improved from this point in 2017 (5-6-5, 21 points), the same cannot be said for the inaugural 2016 season. After 16 games, FCC’s 2018 record is identical to their record in 2016 (9-4-3, 31 points).
  • While Fury FC has shown to run chaud and froid in their games, the difference in Ottawa’s season has been goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau. Since taking over for Callum Irving after Week 2, Crépeau has given up only 11 goals in 12 USL games and delivered 7 clean sheets. The native of Quebec went the entire month of May (six games) without giving up a single goal, winning the award for USL Player of the Month.
  • After the three-goal output on Wednesday, FCC is now tied for the league lead in goals (33). The team is on pace to score 70 over a 34-game season. However, they are also on pace to give up 45 in the process, which is only a slight improvement over the 48 they gave up in 2017.
  • Nazmi Albadawi’s goal and assist on Wednesday puts three FCC players in the Top 20 for combined goals and assists. Manu Ledesma leads the league with 16 (8G, 8A), while Danni König (7G, 1A) and Albadawi (6G, 1A) have 8 and 7, respectively.
  • Ottawa is one of two USL teams that have given up three own goals this season. (However, the third won’t count until their suspended game against Atlanta United 2 resumes.)

Bonus Fact

If our calculations and expectations are correct, a big milestone is on the horizon. FC Cincinnati’s total attendance at Nippert Stadium should top the one-million mark on Saturday. Those numbers include 39 USL regular season and postseason matches, seven U.S. Open Cup matches, and two international friendlies.

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for complete coverage of FC Cincinnati vs. Ottawa Fury FC on Saturday night.

Match Program: FC Cincinnati vs Richmond Kickers

Orange & Blue Press’ Match Program gives you the information and five fast facts before Saturday’s home game versus the Richmond Kickers.

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Design: CSDIV / Image: Ryan Meyer

The rest of the world may be buzzing about that tournament in Russia, but FC Cincinnati still has one more game before a mini-break of their own. Hoping to correct a sluggish start to the home schedule, the Boys in Orange & Blue welcome the Richmond Kickers to Nippert Stadium on Saturday.

FCC returned home to a midweek crowd of 22,407, only to share the points with Bethlehem Steel FC in a 2-2 draw on Wednesday. The team was unable to completely capitalize on a Steel FC red card and goals by Nazmi Albadawi and Russell Cicerone. Despite the draw, FCC remains unbeaten in the past three games. The team still leads the Eastern Conference with 27 points, but failed to make significant distance from the field. Louisville City is only four points behind with three games in hand.

Meanwhile, Richmond remains near the bottom of the table in 14th place, despite enjoying a home-heavy schedule. The Kickers lost 2-1 on the road against Penn FC last Tuesday and remain without a point on the road (0-4-0). This trend is a continuation from last year. The Kickers won only twice on the road in 2017 and finished in 14th place with only 8 wins, the worst total in Leigh Cowlishaw’s 17 seasons as head coach. It was also the first time since 2003 that Richmond failed to qualify for any form of league playoffs.

Richmond’s arrival comes at good time for Cincinnati, who has yet to lose to the Kickers in their short rivalry. FCC rode an early Djiby goal and a late Aodhan Quinn penalty kick to blank Richmond 2-0 at home last year. In their three matches prior to that, FCC and Richmond drew with the same result each time (1-1).

FCC will regain the services of Emmanuel Ledesma, who is returning from a yellow-card suspension. The team may also return quite a few players who rested on Wednesday during the current span of five games in 15 days. However, Cincinnati could be without defender Dekel Keinan, who left Wednesday’s game with an apparent groin strain.

Fast Facts

Here are five fast facts to get you ready for Saturday’s packed game at Nippert.

  • If you attend a Richmond game, you will rarely see a 0-0 score line. Despite taking only 33 shots on target, Richmond has scored 14 goals over 12 games and has only been shut out once. Every other team in the USL has been shut out at least two times.
  • However, Richmond has also given up 20 goals over the same span and has only 2 clean sheets of their own. Only Las Vegas, Seattle, Tulsa, and Atlanta have less clean sheets than the Kickers. Goalkeeper Travis Worra, who is on loan from D.C. United, has both shutouts for Richmond.
  • Richmond and Cincinnati are polar opposites when it comes to aggression on the pitch. Cincinnati is second in the USL in yellow cards (32) and fifth in fouls conceded (191). Richmond is near the bottom in both categories (18 yellow cards, 128 fouls conceded).
  • Although Richmond received Dane Kelly, last year’s Golden Boot winner, on loan from D.C. United, he has only appeared in 4 games and has scored only once. The team’s main threat has been NASL-veteran forward Brian Shriver, who leads the team in minutes, assists, shots on target, and chances created. Shriver and teammate Heviel Cordovés lead the team in goals (3) and shots (13).
  • FCC’s “hydra offense” is starting to spread out. With his goal on Wednesday, Russell Cicerone is FCC’s ninth player to score this year in 14 USL games. It took 25 games last year before FCC had gotten goals from nine different players (Sem de Wit vs. Ottawa on August 23rd).

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for complete coverage of FC Cincinnati vs Richmond on Saturday night.

Know Your Enemy: Minnesota United FC

FC Cincinnati gets the good fortune to host another MLS team in the U.S. Open Cup, so let’s learn a little about Minnesota United FC.

Matchup: FC Cincinnati (USL) vs. Minnesota United FC (MLS)
2018 U.S. Open Cup, 4th Round
When:Wednesday, June 6th, 7:30 PM
Where: Nippert Stadium, Cincinnati, OH

There may not be many of these underdog stories left.

With FC Cincinnati’s spot in the MLS seemingly locked up for next year, each game in the U.S. Open Cup could be their last as a USL team. While fans salivated for a return match against either Chicago or Columbus, a home match against a different MLS squad will have to be the next step to the top.

Last month, FCC beat the system twice to get to the fourth round of the Open Cup. After a second-round nail-biter against Detroit City FC, the Orange & Blue finally beat a team helmed by Bob Lilley, riding three consecutive goals to edge the Riverhounds in Pittsburgh, 3-1. The next box to check is a fourth-round match against Minnesota United FC, a team that climbed a similar ladder to get to MLS.

Minnesota’s first year in MLS was expectedly subpar. The team depended on transfers of key names from their NASL team, six players making the move. While trades to get Ethan Finley and Kevin Molino from Columbus and Orlando stabilized the team, the defense was the worst in the league, giving up a season-record 70 goals. However, forward Christian Ramirez had a breakout MLS debut season, collecting 14 goals and helping the team avoid the cellar.

While the defense has done much better out of the gate in 2018, the team still lingers near the bottom of the Western Conference (9th out of 12). Minnesota’s inability to avoid the injury bug has plagued them. Goalkeeper injuries forced Minnesota to return to Bobby Shuttleworth, who played the entire season in goal last year. Both Molino and Finlay have also gone down with torn ACLs to miss the rest of the season, leaving the team threadbare in the middle. While the team can depend on veterans Miguel Ibarra and Ibson in the middle and Darwin Quintero up top with Ramirez, it will be interesting to see how the Minnesota lineup looks three days after a 4-1 road loss to Sporting Kansas City.

Here’s a few notes about the team from the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

History from the North

  • While Minnesota’s lifespan as an MLS squad has been short, the team itself has been functioning since 2010, back when it was NSC Minnesota (the “NSC” standing for “National Sports Center”, the team’s home facility). The team captured the NASL Championship in its second year (hence the double-meaning for the star on its logo) before they changed their name to the “Minnesota Stars” and then “Minnesota United FC”.
  • Minnesota United FC rebranded their nickname as the “Loons” in 2013 to match the state bird. The badge is comprised of a loon with 11 feathers on its wing—one for each player on the pitch—taking flight over a background composed of two colors, one for Minneapolis and one for St. Paul.
  • Before Minnesota United, there were two Division-I teams from Minnesota—the Minnesota Kicks (1976-1981) and Minnesota Strikers (1984). In the heyday of the NASL in the 1970s, the Kicks were quite the powerhouse, winning four straight divisional titles and drawing over 30,000 per game, second only to the New York Cosmos. Three years after the Kicks disbanded, Ft. Lauderdale moved their team to Minnesota, only to become an indoor soccer club the next year.
  • After the demise of the Strikers, the Minnesota Thunder stepped in to fill the void. The team debuted in the 1994 USISL season and went undefeated until they lost in the final. The Thunder would play 16 years in Division II soccer, winning the USL A-League Championship in 1999. They advanced as far as the U.S. Open Cup Semifinals in 2005, beating Real Salt Lake, the Colorado Rapids, and the Kansas City Wizards along the way.
Corben Bone winds up to shoot against Matt Lampson in last year’s USOC match against the Chicago Fire. Lampson now wears Minnesota United colors. Image: JES Photography

Open Cup Connections

  • While the Thunder performed well in the Open Cup, Minnesota United FC has not. The Loons had their best run in 2012, upsetting Real Salt Lake 3-1 on the road in the third round before losing to San Jose in the fourth round. Their kryptonite has been MLS itself—Minnesota has lost to Sporting Kansas City three of the last four seasons, including a 4-0 loss on the road last year.
  • Only one member of the Loons has faced FC Cincinnati in the U.S. Open Cup, but his name probably sounds familiar. Goalkeeper Matt Lampson started for the Chicago Fire in last year’s thriller at Nippert, making seven saves in net, only to be out-dueled by Mitch Hildebrandt. Lampson’s availability is up in the air, as he recovers from a knee injury.
  • Coach Adrian Heath is hoping to bank on past successes in the Open Cup. He led Orlando City SC to the quarterfinals in 2013 and 2015, only to lose to Chicago both years.

Crossing the Mississippi

  • Wednesday will be the first time Cincinnati has played an MLS team from the Western Conference. However, it will not be the first competitive match FCC has played against any Western Conference team, as St. Louis FC was a member of the USL West back in 2016.
  • DID YOU KNOW? Wednesday will be the first time that a Cincinnati soccer club has played a Minnesota soccer club since 2003. From 1998 to 2003, the Minnesota Thunder and Cincinnati Riverhawks both played in the USL A-League. However, the contests were considerably one-sided. In 19 matchups between the two teams, the Riverhawks won against the Thunder only once. That one victory came in August of 1998 and was followed by 16 consecutive defeats to the Thunder.

Can FC Cincinnati avenge the ghosts of the Riverhawks’ past and pull off another upset against an MLS squad? Follow ussoccer.com for the live stream on Wednesday and read Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of Wednesday’s match and future progress in the U.S. Open Cup.

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.

Match Program: FC Cincinnati at Bethlehem Steel FC

Orange and Blue Press’ Match Program supplies all the information and fast facts you need to prepare for FC Cincinnati’s visit to Steel FC on Sunday.

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Design: CSDIV / Image: Ryan Meyer

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On to Bethlehem!

FC Cincinnati will look to rebound away at this historic American steel town. After a disappointing home opener, Alan Koch stated, “Six points out of nine to start the season is certainly not a bad start”. Four weeks ago, I think most realistic Orange & Blue fans would have gladly taken six points at this early stage of the season.

For the third season in a row, FC Cincinnati will be visiting the small confines of Goodman Stadium in April. The Orange and Blue rode two first-half goals by Andrew Wiedeman and Sean Okoli to beat the Steel 2-1 in April 2016. However, a season later, FCC did not fare so well in two April 2017 matches, losing 0-2 and 0-1 within 20 days of each other. Overall, FCC leads the series 3 wins to 2 losses.

Night and day. The Orange and Blue will certainly miss the energy of the recent large Indy crowd and the record 25,667 faithful last weekend at Nippert. They will need to adjust to playing in near silence at Goodman Stadium versus a non-rival opponent. Don’t expect more than 1,500 to 2,000 in attendance Sunday.

As the official USL affiliate (MLS 2) of the Philadelphia Union, the Steel FC thirty-three player roster is full of Union reserves and fluctuates weekly. Steel FC started nine MLS reserves this past weekend in their 1-1 draw at home versus the Battery. In their first four matches, 19 different players have started with 23 seeing the pitch overall. The Steel run-out a similar starting formation as FCC and rely heavily on Brandon Allen, Cory Burke, and Marcus Epps in attack. Also, two key players they missed last week, James Chambers and Brandon Aubrey, will be available for selection.

Fast Facts

Here are your steel cold facts for Sunday’s match.

  • FC Cincinnati has scored 98 goals in all competitive matches since its August 2015 inception. Will the squad match their total production for the season and reach the 100 goal landmark in PA?
  • FCC’s season leaders for passing accuracy in the opponent’s half are Richie Ryan (81.5%), Daniel Haber (80%), and Justin Hoyte (80%). Ryan and Haber also clock in as the top two in passes per 90 minutes played, 63 and 51 passes respectively.
  • The Orange and Blue should have all their players available (minus the improving Tyler Gibson) for Sunday’s match. However, Lance Laing did suffer a knock in training Tuesday. Coming off the Dirty River Derby loss, stay tuned to see if Coach Koch will tinker with this weekend’s line-up.
  • Steel FC have found the back of the net only once in their last three games. They scored four of their five goals in their opening match at home to the Richmond Kickers.
  • Did you know? The original Bethlehem Steel F.C. existed from 1907-1930. They were sponsored by the Bethlehem Steel company and were one of the most successful early American soccer clubs. In 1914, the corporation’s CEO Charles Schwab took the team professional. Until its demise in 1930, the team won eight league championships, six American Cups, and five National Challenge Cups.

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more coverage leading up to Sunday’s contest.

Match Program: FC Cincinnati at Indy Eleven

Orange and Blue Press’ match program for FC Cincinnati at Indy Eleven, complete with bite-sized facts and something you may not have known…

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Graphic: charlesdollthe4th Note: Indy and FCC are tied on points and all tiebreakers, although USL currently lists them as 6th and 7th

One down, 33 to go for FC Cincinnati.

Thanks to a Blake Smith goal, FCC got the first of many monkeys off their back with a hard-fought 1-0 win in Charleston to start 2018. With the incredibly early bye week finally out of the way, the Orange & Blue travel to the Hoosier State. On Saturday they take on Indy Eleven, in what will be the team’s first home match as a USL squad.

Indy defeated the Richmond Kickers on the road 1-0, all thanks to a 41st-minute deflection by Jack McInerney from a Soony Saad cross. Indy took all ten of their shots by the 60th minute, then rode their prevent defense, a convenient red card on the Kickers, and goalkeeper Owain Fôn Williams for the clean sheet.

This match will be Indy’s first home game since their declaration for the USL and a major overhaul of the team’s roster and staff. New coach Martin Rennie started a lineup against Richmond that had zero holdovers from their 2017 NASL season. Veteran MLS forwards McInerney (LA Galaxy) and Saad (Sporting KC), led the 4-2-3-1 formation.

The Eleven have left the comforts of Michael Carroll Stadium for an upgrade to business class. Their home games this season will take place at the expansive Lucas Oil Stadium. The extra room and brand recognition of both teams are expected to draw a mighty crowd for the “I-74 Derby”—Soc Takes writer Nipun Chopra expects the attendance to approach 15,000 with easily over a thousand seated in the away section for FCC’s supporters groups.

Fast Facts

Here are some morsels to serve as an appetizer before the main course on Saturday.

  • Both teams scored historic wins in their opening matches. FC Cincinnati won their season opener for the first time in three tries against Charleston. Meanwhile, Indy Eleven won their opener for the first time in their five-year history. In fact, Indy’s win broke an even bigger hex—their first four seasons each started with two straight ties.
  • FC Cincinnati is looking to rebuild momentum after their downtime. But extended time off between USL games hasn’t been kind to them in the past. Over the past two seasons, the team has had four periods with a layover of 10 days or longer and are winless in all four games that followed (0W-1L-3T).
  • Because of the bye week and a postponed friendly, FC Cincinnati should be healthy coming into the match. Jimmy McLaughlin’s shoulder seems better, as he was able to play the last 15 minutes of a 4-2 scrimmage win over the Columbus Crew’s reserve squad last Sunday.
  • DID YOU KNOW? – Although this is FC Cincinnati’s first official match against Indy Eleven, they have squared off in two preseason friendlies before. However, this is not the first US Division 2 soccer game between teams from Cincinnati and Indianapolis. You’d have to go back 15 years when the Cincinnati Riverhawks beat the Indiana Blast 3-1 on July 2nd, 2003, back when both teams played in the USL A-League. (The Riverhawks were disbanded in 2004, and the Blast folded the next year after a season in the PDL.)
  • HEAD-TO-HEAD – Last week’s most active player for Indy was 5’9” Tyler Pasher. The 23-year-old defender solidified the left half of the pitch and led the team with 83 touches. While Saad and McInerney are the buzzworthy names, Pasher has the speed and the ability to stretch the field. He has credentials, serving as an ex-forward and midfielder for Swope Park Rangers the past two years. Look for him and Saad to challenge Justin Hoyte and Manu Ledesma on their half of the pitch.

Can the Orange & Blue find their momentum again?  Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more coverage leading up to Saturday’s contest.

2018 USL Season Preview: Five Teams to Challenge FCC

Which teams in the Eastern Conference pose the biggest threats to FC Cincinnati in their quest for a USL cup in their third season?

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That’s a wrap on the dress rehearsals. Time for the real performances.

Granted, talking about the teams who will challenge FC Cincinnati for the Eastern Conference crown is a delicate maneuver. It’s way too soon to assume that a retooled team that was wiped out in the first round last year has the conference locked down. However, considering all of the talent drawn to the Queen City in the off-season, it’s hard to not mention FCC when possible contenders are brought up in conversation.

Naturally, the Orange & Blue shouldn’t be the only ones in that conversation. It begs the question—who will be FC Cincinnati’s biggest challenges during the 2018 USL season?

Louisville City FC

It’s a safe bet that, as long as Coach James O’Connor is calling the shots, Louisville City will be in the running for the top of the conference. It’s been an impressive run for the Boys in Purple since 2015, continuously bettering their team while shedding very little of the roster each year—15 players remain after their 2017 championship run, while 3 (goalkeeper Greg Ranjitsingh, forward Ilija Ilić, and midfielder Niall McCabe) have been on the team since the beginning.

That low turnover rate and the return of forward Magnus Rasmussen after a stint back in Denmark will bring a ton of familiarity to the team. While Louisville has lost two of their four defenders from 2017, O’Connor has often used a sparse D-line. He’s also buffered the back with ex-FCC-defenseman Pat McMahon and Jamaican national Shaun Francis. Couple their overall stability with unselfish play (65 goals between 17 players in 2017), and our neighbors to the south could be pushing for a second star to their logo.

Does Louisville have a weakness? If anything, it could be depth, as the team fields only 20 players on their roster. Then again, Lou City had the same number of players last year, and we know how far they went with that.

Indy Eleven

After their declaration to join the USL in January, Indy didn’t even have five players ready for the 2018 season, let alone their “Eleven” namesake. While FC Cincinnati had done a purge of their own roster, Indy Eleven went into full upheaval, holding onto only three of their players from 2017, and letting go of their head coach. Since then, they’ve completely rebuilt their squad, hired ex-Carolina Railhawks and Vancouver Whitecaps head coach Martin Rennie, and gone for broke by scheduling games at Lucas Oil Stadium. That’s a high roll for an ownership group that was low in the MLS expansion rankings.

While this alone wouldn’t necessarily make them a challenge, Indy has done well to pick up their own talents from the NASL and MLS. To anchor the defense, they grabbed Reiner and Karl Ouimette from the disbanded NASL champion San Francisco Deltas, then managed to coax MLS strikers Jack McInerney and Soony Saad into joining their souped-up squad. Take into account Indy’s close proximity and solid audience (they’ve consistently flirted with attendances close to 10,000), and they could legitimately throw scares into FC Cincinnati’s own rebuilt team by bringing their own traveling chorus of fans with them.

Tampa Bay Rowdies

Tampa Bay’s second season as a USL participant (if 2010’s “USSF Division 2” league counts) was incredibly successful by all standards, losing only twice at home on their way to second place in the Eastern Conference, their highest overall finish since their NASL championship team in 2012. FCC still hasn’t figured out how to earn points at Al Lang Stadium, losing all three away games there.

While the team held on to its veterans, fielding a team that has seven players in their 30s, they’ve managed to steal some huge talents from others. Jochen Graf, the lead scorer for Rochester in 2017, fills in a need at the striker position, as he and Georgi Hristov could become a potent double-forward combination. Meanwhile, Junior Flemmings and Jack Blake give them youth in an already stacked midfield brimming with international talent (Joe Cole, Marcel Schäfer).

A key grab may be in the goalkeeper position, as the Rowdies obtained ex-Charlotte Independence keeper Cody Mizell in the offseason. Mizell was second in the Eastern Conference in saves behind Mitch Hildebrandt. However, getting younger in goal might come at a cost, as Mizell had only 5 clean sheets in 2017, half as many as the departing Matt Pickens. Still, if this team clicks like they did last year, there’s no doubting the Rowdies should make the playoffs.

Nashville SC

When Major League Soccer came calling Nashville before the likes of Cincinnati, Sacramento, and other candidates with a D2 presence, it legitimately ruffled feathers in the Queen City. But there were doubts that NSC could construct an intimidating roster for the first of their two short years in the USL. However, a look through the roster shows that there are believers who have come to the Music City.

Head coach Gary Smith, who won an MLS title managing the Colorado Rapids in 2010, has already stockpiled 25 players on the Nashville roster. The offense will likely revolve around forwards Ropapa Mensah and Michael Cox, with Lebo Moloto and Matt LaGrassa leading the midfield. But Nashville is most likely to be known for their defense. The aforementioned Matt Pickens, Nashville’s first signee, was with Smith during the 2010 MLS Cup win with Colorado and had arguably his best season in net in 2017. The back line is comprised of solid USL talent gathered in a short amount of time and should give Pickens the help he needs.

Nashville will be a team that wants to win to prove to everyone that they deserved that MLS bid.

FC Cincinnati Themselves

While Pittsburgh has improved immensely by absorbing the remains of the Rochester Rhinos, and Charleston always seems to have FCC’s number in head-to-head competitions, it’s not unwise to suggest that the one team who can beat FC Cincinnati this season is FC Cincinnati themselves. (Yes, this is the coward’s way out when it comes to predictions, and I am a coward.)

The third year of a team’s existence feels like the one where results have to start coming. Despite the fuel from attendance numbers and the long run in last year’s U.S. Open Cup, the team fell flat from inconsistency in 2017. Winning streaks were rare, and players had to be signed in mid-season due to injuries, suspension, and fatigue. The early post-season exit for the second year in a row felt all too familiar in Cincinnati.

However, considering that head coach Alan Koch is now in his first full year with all the controls at his fingertips, there is a general vibe that this team can get it together. Quality players have been obtained from last year’s NASL Best XI team. Additionally, retirements and Division-1 call-ups on the defensive end have been countered with positive signings. On paper, this is an extraordinarily talented team rich with a desire to perform.

And that’s what critics will bring up—soccer games are played on fields, not on paper.

Much like Indy and Nashville, this Cincinnati team will need time to gel. 2018 will feel a little like 2016, where fans came in enthusiastic, but a little hesitant about where production will come from. A solid preseason showed an ability to spread the ball, and the emergence of new leadership in the back line. But the regular season will be a different beast altogether, especially if a potential MLS promotion motivates other teams to humble FCC.

The talent and the expectations are at higher levels than ever before, so can this band of 26 led by Koch, Damet, and Stern deliver on their potential? The march begins anew this Saturday, March 17th.

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for our Charleston preview as the season officially kicks off in South Carolina this weekend.

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FC Cincinnati at Charlotte Independence – Matchup

After Sunday’s controversial loss against New York, FC Cincinnati looks to rebound on the road against Charlotte.

Charlotte-MatchUp_v2

FC Cincinnati looks to rebound from their controversial loss to New York Red Bulls II with a Wednesday trip to Charlotte to take on the Independence. Charlotte currently sits in 7th place in the Eastern Conference but are only 4 points behind FC Cincinnati in the standings. Last Saturday the Carolina outfit had a 6 game unbeaten streak snapped by the Charleston Battery in a 1-0 loss away from home. The Independence are known for being tough to beat at Ramblewood and are looking to secure a playoff berth of their own. FC Cincinnati goalkeeper Mitch Hildebrandt will be suspended from this game based on the dubious red card he received against New York.

UPDATE: As of Tuesday evening, the USL has rescinded the red card for Mitch Hildebrandt and he will be available to play on Wednesday against Charlotte. While this reversal is clearly justified, it underlines how the refereeing errors on Sunday changed the course of FC Cincinnati’s match against NY Red Bulls II.

Omar Cummings is likely to miss the match through injury. This contest represents the 2nd leg of the Queen City Cup, a two-leg competition to determine which city calling itself the Queen City has the best soccer team. FC Cincinnati won the first leg 2-1 at Nippert in their 3rd match of the season last April.

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for stats, analysis and color commentary on Wednesday’s result.