FC Cincinnati’s First-Month Rollercoaster

As FC Cincinnati concludes their first month of play, let’s take a moment to recognize their accomplishments and “firsts”.

Five games down, twenty-nine to go. As the inaugural month of MLS play concludes for the Orange & Blue, let’s recap what FC Cincinnati has accomplished in the Eastern Conference. A lot has happened in a short amount of time, leaving room for statements like, “If you had told me [insert interesting fact] a few weeks ago, I’d say you’re crazy!” and “Is it too soon to start thinking playoffs?” So, let’s try to make sense of the most exciting month in Cincinnati soccer history to date.

Notable “Firsts”

Look at these notable ‘firsts’:

  • First MLS goal, courtesy of a Leonardo Bertone wonder-strike
  • First MLS point, at Atlanta, the reigning MLS Cup champs no less
  • First-ever MLS win against the Portland Timbers in the home opener

Let’s take a look at that first goal one more time.

Bipolar Narrative

Simply put, this doesn’t tell the whole story. The FC Cincinnati narrative, in the media and public perception, has been bipolar. 

Here’s a team that got soundly defeated by a (we know now) still-undefeated Seattle side, and even the most optimistic fans were worried. Were the pundits correct? Is the roster not constructed well? Are we Minnesota 2.0?

Surprise, surprise, then came 7 points in the next 3 games, momentarily lifting FCC to second place in the table. They did it by grinding out results and effectively using counter-attacks when opportunities allowed. They did it by controlling the tempo at Nippert. And they did it due to Koch’s tactical flexibility against different types of opposition. He utilized multiple 4-back formation variations and entrusted 19 different with playing time in these three matches.

The narrative flipped. A few weeks prior, the Orange and Blue looked defensively unorganized and offensively inept. Now? The defense is stable, the team selection stronger, and the offense balanced with seven different goalscorers. There even appears to be some depth, allowing FCC to survive international breaks.

March of All Marches

The march to the stadium before the Portland game forced even the most skeptical voices to take note of, and appreciate, the incredible soccer culture in the Queen City. Perhaps even more impressive were the supporters who stuck out miserable conditions to watch Philadelphia bring Cincinnati back down to Earth.

Has Koch’s side cemented its place in the Eastern Conference as a threat, or only capitalized off the poor form of recent dominant sides like Atlanta and Portland? Only time will reveal FC Cincinnati’s true level. For now, they rest in 5th place in the Eastern Conference.

Alan Koch summarized it best in his comments in training about the start of the season

“We knew we were going to have some tough moments, and we’ve had them already, and we’re going to continue to have tough moments. Saturday night was one of those moments. But we’ve also had some very positive moments too . . . It’s been a rollercoaster of a start and it’s going to continue to be a rollercoaster as we go through the next few months.”

Awards

Here are the unofficial first month awards as voted on by yours truly.

MVP – Spencer Richey

Richey is the only USL holdover to get significant playing time in the first month of action, primarily due to Tyton’s hamstring tendonitis which has kept the Polish keeper out since the Seattle match. Determined not to be a placeholder, Richey has made the most of his opportunity. He has kept two clean sheets in four starts, and earned MLS Team of the Week honors for his performance against the Timbers in Week 3. Although far from flawless, Richey has been a strong shot-stopper in the net. In my opinion, he picks up this month’s MVP award as he has played more consistently than any of FCC’s field players.

Most Improved – Alvas Powell

After getting slated following a poor inaugural match outing, Koch showed faith in the pacey, attack-minded fullback by giving him two more starts. He may not always prove to be first choice in a system without natural wing backs, but Powell rebounded and has improved considerably.

Most Disappointing – Fanendo Adi

An expansion side is normally reliant on its Designated Players. Adi has a very specific playing-style that some may construe as lazy, slow, and one-dimensional if he’s not producing goals. Once he went down injured during the home opener, Adi has not been part of the 18-man game day squad. Now his future with FCC is in peril due to his own reckless behavior, and it’s anyone’s guess as to what happens from here.

Most Promising – Greg Garza

The quality is evident any time Garza starts or is subbed on, and when healthy, he instantly makes FC Cincinnati a more threatening team. If he can stay fit, expect some big performances from the MLS veteran.

Do you agree with these awards? What do you make of the season so far?

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for all of your 2019 FC Cincinnati coverage.

Deeper Cuts: FCC Doused by a Union Monsoon

FC Cincinnati’s attempt to extend its three match unbeaten streak yesterday evening at Nippert Stadium was doused by the Union Monsoon.

Image by Joe Craven

Saturday evening’s match doused the fans and FC Cincinnati’s three-match unbeaten streak. Before we take a peek under the hood and see what sputtered in last night’s 2-0 loss, let’s give due where it’s deserved. Shout out to the announced crowd of 25,867 for braving the cold, windy and monsoon-like elements. Having played and attended hundreds of games since 1972, last night had some of the worst conditions I’ve ever experienced. Well done, Orange & Blue fans!

On Their Heels

The stats and final score certainly matched what we witnessed on the soggy Nippert pitch, a complete performance by the Union. From the beginning whistle, Philadelphia dominated possession (56 to 44%), total passes (532 to 408), shots (16 to 5) and, of course, the score line (2 to 0).

The Union’s high pressing, creative 4-4-2 diamond midfield placed FCC back on their heels all night. The “bend-but-not-break” FCC defense finally capitulated early in the second half after going 312 minutes without conceding a goal. Considering they were under a deluge of shots (and rain), it’s not surprising the damn broke in the 47th minute. Here is Philadelphia’s shot chart last night.

Union shot chart

They peppered Spencer Richey and the back line with 16 total shots from all directions. Although only three were on target, two found the back of the onion sack.

Now in comparison, let’s view FC Cincinnati’s heat map illustrating where their possession occurred on the field.

FC Cincinnati heat map vs. Philadelphia Union, via WhoScored.com

Note the lack of yellow and green color to the right side of the field. The Orange and Blue didn’t come anywhere near the Union’s 18-yard box. The team spent the majority of the evening to the left of the screen scrambling to cover the attacking runs by Phily’s front six forwards and midfielders.

Fabian the Game-Changer

A major contributor to the Union’s success last night was Mexican central attacking midfielder Marco Fabian. Philadelphia completed a transfer in February for the two-time “El Tri” World Cup veteran with German Bundesliga side Eintracht Frankfurt.

Although just 5′ 7″ in height, his stature was quite large and influence great throughout the match. Not including defenders, Fabian had the most touches on the ball of any player – 75. In comparison, Allan Cruz and Roland Lamah only combined for 68 touches total. Below is a map of his night’s work.

Marco Fabian’s touches vs. FC Cincinnati

In addition to his game-winning tally, he consistently drew the attention of two to three FCC players at a time. This resulted in the ability for the outside midfielders, Brenden Aaronsen and Ale Bedoya, to successfully combine with the Union forwards, Fabrice-Jean Picault and David Accam, and effectively and frequently penetrate FCC’s defensive seams and back line.

One-off or Trend?

What can we take from last night? Was the weather a factor? The line-up? Do we simply throw out the performance and reset for Sporting KC next Sunday? Before we do that, let’s look at last night’s game in perspective to the first four games this season. The following table summarizes multiple statistical areas from Saturday’s match in comparison to FCC’s average from the first four matches.

FCC statistical comparison between Union match and 2019 season average

Consider that FC Cincinnati has now played 15% of their inaugural 2019 MLS season. This should be enough games to consider trends of play. What stands out?

  • FCC is willing to concede the majority of possession, which leads to less touches and passes overall.
  • The Orange & Blue play a counter-attacking style looking to maximize their opportunities and shot selection in transition.
  • A by-product of this playing style results in additional pressure on the back line that forces them to make a formidable amount of clearances each match.
  • On average before last night, FCC out-performed its expected goals for and goals against numbers (+2.4 and +1.7 respectively). Last night, the law of averages caught up to them.

Yesterday evening’s performance did not vary from the team’s style of play, or in reality most of their season’s average statistical figures. However, it might be a warning light of sorts of what to expect when they face in-form high pressing opponents with talented and creative attacking front lines [see Seattle and Philadelphia results]. Don’t panic, but Sporting Kansas City placed a 7-spot on the Montreal Impact yesterday and are coming to town next Sunday. In summary, the margin of error in the MLS is razor thin between earning a result and suffering a loss.

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for all your 2019 FC Cincinnati coverage.

Deeper Cuts: Deplagne, xG, Adi & International Absentees

Image: Ryan Meyer

This week’s edition of Deeper Cuts focuses on topics that were meaningful from Sunday’s match but didn’t quite make the headlines. The story starts with Cincinnati’s favorite French fullback.

Mathieu Deplagne

Deplagne influenced Sunday’s match even though he didn’t earn Team of the Week or Man of the Match honors. The Montpellier native posted an 87% passing accuracy, 3 shots on goal, 1 key pass, scored the final goal and helped secure a first MLS clean sheet for FCC.

His Audi Index score was higher than any player in the match and he was the man of the match based on statistics tracked by Whoscored.com.

Deplagne’s influence has been important in each of the first three matches. The 27-year-old had a good performance in Atlanta and secured the side of the field where Julian Gressel roamed. Additionally, his interplay with Lamah in Seattle was one of only a few bright spots in that match. What is more impressive is that Deplagne is not a natural left back, although Koch highlighted his versatility when he signed. Deplagne spoke after Tuesday’s practice about his first experience at Nippert Stadium.

Expected Goals (xG) — #CINvPOR

The xG from Sunday’s match shows that FC Cincinnati slightly outperformed their expected goal metric of 2.49, while the Timbers underperformed on their xG of 1.15. Thus, the final tally was a little flattering for FC Cincinnati, but the xG metric reinforces that a win was well deserved based on the chances FCC created.

Portland’s expected goal graphic below also highlights Spencer Richey’s work to keep a clean sheet, especially considering the big chance that Dairon Asprilla had in the 32nd minute (the big blue circle on the left).

If you’re not familiar with Opta’s expected goals metric, it measures how many goals each team should have scored based on the quality of the chances they created. While the calculation of the metric is complex, the concept is straightforward and you can read more about it here if interested.

Adi Injury, International Absentees and New England

The prognosis doesn’t look good for Fanendo Adi after suffering a leg injury during the first half of Sunday’s match. Alan Koch did not provide specifics but said today that “it’s almost certain he won’t be good to go” for New England this weekend. Another medical evaluation on Tuesday afternoon should reveal more about the severity of the forward’s injury.

This upcoming Sunday will be a big test of FC Cincinnati’s depth. Aside from Adi, five players will miss the New England match due to international duty including Kendall Waston, Allan Cruz, Darren Mattocks, Alvas Powell, and Frankie Amaya.

Alan Koch was positive about the situation at Tuesday’s practice. He said the competition is intense for a spot in starting 11 amongst the players still with the squad.

“It’s a great opportunity for the other guys in the group to show what they can do. In some respects, it makes my job a little bit easier as a manager, because the guys have played well the last 2 games. We probably would not have made any more changes, but now the players get an opportunity. I have to make some changes, and now they are fighting for opportunities to see who can step up to the plate this weekend.”

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s 2019 season.

Spencer Richey, Cinderella, Injuries and #HELLISREAL the Prequel

Match notes from Wednesday’s draw between FC Cincinnat and the Chicago fire including Spencer Richey, Injuries, and #HELLISREAL the Prequel.

FC Cincinnati earned an unlikely draw against the Chicago Fire on Wednesday in their second match of the Carolina Challenge Cup in Charleston. Despite a lackluster performance for the first 70 minutes, a late Roland Lamah thunderbolt and some epic Spencer Richey goalkeeping earned the Orange and Blue a point from the contest.

Spencer Richey

If there’s one name you should take away from this preseason tie, it’s Spencer Richey. He played a blinder of a match on Wednesday, and while we don’t have official match stats, that had to be close to a 10-save-match for the Washington native. The score line could and would have looked a lot worse without his notable efforts between the posts.

Przemysław Tytoń, with his extensive European pedigree, seems a shoo-in as the regular starter. But if Richey can continue to perform at the level he did on Wednesday, Alan Koch and Jack Stern won’t be able to keep him out of the net for long. That’s a good problem to have for the coaching staff.

Cinderella Transformation

The first unit that took the field for the majority of the match struggled mightily against a Fire side that began the match without many of its regular starters. Alan Koch said the following at the game’s conclusion, when speaking about the troubles they encountered.

“We looked completely disconnected. There was no support. When we tried to get the ball forward, Darren was completely by himself. When guys at the back had the ball, there was no movement . . . It’s not that they aren’t capable of doing it, but it’s the tightness in the way they went out and played. Also give Chicago credit. They pressed, and they did a very good job of it.”

In the 70th minute, FC Cincinnati ditched their proverbial rags and transformed into something quite different. Alan Koch rotated his squad, changing 9 players. The difference couldn’t have been more stark. They were immediately able to possess the ball and penetrate Chicago’s midfield, leading to quality chances in the final third. Lamah’s slice of finishing brilliance gave the Orange & Blue the unlikely equalizer.

Injuries

Injuries are beginning to loom quite large for the Orange & Blue, particularly in defense. At this late stage of preseason, those injuries seem likely to impact the start of the regular season. Greg Garza and Kendall Waston, arguably the two most valuable and expensive pieces of FC Cincinnati’s defense, still aren’t dressing for games. What is already an EXTREMELY difficult to start to the regular season will become even more difficult without the quality and experience those players provide. It is difficult to see them being match fit by March 2nd, even if they have recovered from their respective injuries.

FC Cincinnati’s depth will, therefore, be tested early. Players will need to step up to the challenge, and the goalkeeping will have to resemble last night’s display if the Orange & Blue are to claim points out of the early-season schedule.

#HELLISREAL, the Prequel

FC Cincinnati will suit up against Columbus Crew SC on Saturday for the first time as an MLS team. In truth, I would prefer that they didn’t play in preseason, to build up anticipation for the August matches. Because this is an exhibition match, there will be lots of caveats regarding fitness, player selection, substitutions, and the like.

However, on the positive side, it will be a first look at what everyone hopes will become one of the best rivalries in MLS. As one of only two playoff teams that FC Cincinnati will face in the preseason, Columbus should provide a stiff test and give an indication of where the team stands one week before the matchup with Seattle. Given the squad rotation against Chicago, we are likely to see a starting eleven that looks similar to what will run out at CenturyLink Field for the MLS opener.

Oh, and of course, FC Cincinnati also has a chance to take the Carolina Challenge Cup with a win. Not that it matters really at all, but another small cup in the trophy cupboard would be nice, and could give them a morsel of extra confidence as they head into the regular season. This team has had a short runway to get ready for the top flight. Whether they are ready or not, March 2nd is almost here.

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for move coverage of FC Cincinnati’s preseason.

Match Program: FC Cincinnati vs New York Red Bulls II

Orange & Blue Press’ Match Program supplies the information and fast facts you need for FC Cincinnati’s playoff meeting with New York Red Bulls II.

Design: CSDIV / Image: Ryan Meyer

One down, three to go. FC Cincinnati continues their quest for the USL Cup this Saturday against perennial Eastern Conference contender New York Red Bulls II. It’s another high-stakes, winner-takes-all matinee at Nippert Stadium. The Orange & Blue advanced to the Eastern Conference semifinals after a grueling 1-1 draw with Nashville SC that was settled by penalty kicks. Kenny Walker delivered the decisive spot kick to win the shootout 6-5 after Nashville SC’s Justin Davis put his attempt over the crossbar. It’s the first time FCC has advanced to the conference semifinal in their three-year history.

New York Red Bulls II punched their ticket to the Eastern Conference semis by beating the Charleston Battery 1-0 on the road. A 21st-minute Tom Barlow strike and some tidy defending were enough to seal the victory. For more details on these teams’ recent head-to-head-history and predictions for both semifinals in the East, check out Orange & Blue Press’ article by Geoff Tebbetts.


2018 USL Eastern Conference Playoff Predictions: Conference Semi-Finals

Alan Koch’s squad finished 25 points ahead of a talented but inconsistent Red Bulls II squad during the regular season. The Orange & Blue, of course, are still carrying a USL-record unbeaten streak heading into this playoff match. That streak currently stands at 24 games (17-0-7). The Baby Bulls are the #5 seed and are in sizzling form. They come into the contest on a 7-game unbeaten run that includes four straight wins.

There are no major injuries for FC Cincinnati ahead of Saturday’s contest. However, the squad may still be without striker Danni König. The Danish forward and double-digit goalscorer returned home last week citing personal reasons. The FCC jerseys worn last Saturday against Nashville donned a small 11 on the sleeve to recognize his absence.

Fast Facts

Here’s a heavy dose of fast facts to get you ready for this Eastern Conference semifinal showdown.

  • This contest features two of the best offenses in the USL. FC Cincinnati has 73 goals so far in 2018 and New York Red Bulls II is right behind with 72. Those are the third and fourth highest totals in the league. FC Cincinnati finished the regular season with the highest goal total, but Orange County FC (74) and Louisville City FC (75) leapfrogged them last week with high-scoring playoff matches.
  • Red Bulls II has one of the worst defenses in the league and conceded 24 more goals than FCC during the regular season (59). Only 7 teams allowed more goals than New York, and none of them made the playoffs. John Wolyniec’s squad only kept 5 clean sheets compared to FCC’s 15. However, they’ve been stingy recently, conceding only 2 goals in their last 3 matches.
  • New York likes to do their damage from close range. Of their 72 goals, only 6 have been scored from outside the 18-yard box (8%). In comparison, FCC has scored 22% of their goals from outside the box in 2018.
  • Red Bulls II have created three times as many penalties kick opportunities as FCC (12 to 4). They have only converted 66% of those spot-kicks though, and FCC has converted all 4 of their attempts.
  • NYRBII’s Jared Stroud and Tom Barlow are players to watch as they account for 5 of the team’s last 7 goals. Barlow has 3 and Stroud has 2 over their last 4 matches.
  • Corben Bone is red-hot in Orange & Blue with three goals in the last 2 games. If you include last weekend’s playoff strike, he now has the second most goals of any FCC player in 2018. Bone also joined Eric Stevenson as only one of two FCC players to score a playoff goal.
  • Spencer Richey is coming off of his third five-save match of 2018 against Nashville SC, and FCC is 11-1-3 this season when he’s between the sticks. Jack Stern’s goalkeeping squad needs to be at their best again on Saturday to stop a potent Red Bulls II attack.

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s playoff match versus New York Red Bulls 2.

Deeper Cuts: One Down, Three to Go for FC Cincinnati

Photo by Ryan Meyer

The City of Cincinnati was able to witness a long overdue home playoff celebration at Nippert Saturday. Nervy moments over a tense evening were overcome by an exciting and jubilant 6-5 penalty kick victory by FC Cincinnati. The Orange & Blue now move onto the Eastern Conference semifinals next Saturday with a 24-game unbeaten streak in tow.

Even with the best record in the league this season, we knew the path to the 2018 USL Cup would be difficult. The single-match elimination format of the USL playoffs allows any team on a given day to be victorious. FCC’s fate could just have as easily been reversed Saturday evening. Let’s review the stellar work, the challenges, and what’s next in the playoffs for the Orange & Blue.

Stellar Goalkeeping

The Man of the Match was certainly Spencer Richey. His five saves were critical to the outcome of the match, and all were worthy of a highlight reel. Possibly a surprise to some, Richey got the starting nod over USL 2018 Golden Glove winner Evan Newton. Richey’s recent fine form proved Alan Koch’s selection was well made.

One of the strengths of this side’s strong season has certainly been its goalkeeping depth. Goalkeeper coach Jack Stern has brought an innovative and healthy competitive approach to the team’s three keepers (Newton, Richey, and Mark Village). The result has seen a remarkable improvement in the team’s goals against average (GAA) from 1.55 in 2017 down to 1.00 in 2018. In addition to Newton’s Golden Glove award, FCC’s keepers are ranked 6th in the league with 14 clean sheets and 4th best with just 35 goals conceded. We can have confidence with whichever keeper starts for the Orange & Blue.

Let’s relive one of Spencer Richey’s point blank saves from the 48th minute that kept the Orange & Blue in line to advance deeper into the playoffs.

Shooting Challenges

Uncharacteristically, especially of late, was the shooting woes the Orange & Blue incurred in the match. FC Cincinnati led the league in conversion rate this season. In Saturday’s match they scored 1 goal over 17 shots not blocked, a 5.9% conversion rate that was significantly below their season average of 21%.

In addition, one of the only statistical categories that Nashville SC were better on during the match was shooting accuracy. The visitors in yellow placed 6 shots on target, out of 16 total, for a 37.5% accuracy. Thankfully, as noted above, Richey was up to the task to save five of their six shots on target. However, FCC was only able to place 5 of 22 shots on target for an anemic 22.7% accuracy.

The following shot chart illustrates the difficulty FCC had in finding clear lanes and delivering accurate shots on the Nashville goal. The red circles and rays represent the twelve shots off target (and not blocked). The blue circle around the number 19 outside the box was Corben Bone’s clever side-step laser that beat Matt Pickens in the first stanza of extra time.

FC Cincinnati Shot Chart

Fortunately, when it really mattered during the penalty kicks, all six FC Cincinnati players converted their spot kicks with style and accuracy.

Updated USL Playoff Brackets

In the East, two of the four games went to sudden-death penalty kicks. In addition to FC Cincinnati’s 6-5 penalty kick edge over Nashville, Bethlehem Steel beat host Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC 8-7 in PKs. The Steel will go on to meet Louisville City, who dispatched USL newcomers Indy Eleven without difficulty, 4-1.

For the second year in a row, the New York Red Bulls II went to Charleston and upset the higher-seeded Battery in the first round. An early goal by Tom Barlow was enough to see the Baby Bulls through to the conference semifinals. New York will visit Nippert for the second time this season to take on the Orange & Blue.

Below is an updated Eastern Conference playoff bracket.

Graphic by Connor Paquette

Across the nation in the Western Conference, a real shocker occurred late into the night when the 7th seed Swope Park Rangers knocked out a surging Sacramento Republic FC 2-1. Many had predicted Sacramento to make a deep run in the playoffs. SPR will now visit Phoenix Rising in the conference semifinals, who handled Portland Timbers 2 easily 3-0 Friday night.

The other conference semifinal will send Reno 1868 FC to Orange County SC. Reno was able to find a 92-minute stoppage time winner to beat the slumping Real Monarchs in Salt Lake City. Orange County’s high powered offense benefited from a hat trick by Michael Seaton as they clobbered a 10-man (21st minute red card) Saint Louis FC 4-0.

Here is the updated Western Conference playoff bracket.

Graphic by Connor Paquette

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s 2018 USL Cup playoff run and Saturday’s match versus New York Red Bulls II.

FC Cincinnati 1-1 (6-5 PKs) Nashville SC: Karma Finally Blows Cincinnati’s Way

FC Cincinnati was eliminated from the U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday, falling to Minnesota United FC on penalty kicks.

Nashville 10.20_Match Recap
Graphic: Connor Paquette / Image: Ryan Meyer

After the preseason, the teams were tied. After three regular-season games, the teams were tied. After 120 minutes of stalemate soccer, the teams were tied 1-1. Finally, FC Cincinnati overcame karma and past playoff misery to beat Nashville SC in penalty kicks, 6-5. The boys in Orange & Blue solved Nashville’s pesky come-back offense and move onto the next round.

A sun-swept weather pattern led to a blustery game, as the wind appeared to control the tempo. FC Cincinnati had much of the possession (68% to 32%) in the first half. However, no real results came from their six shots, thanks to a compressing Nashville back line. Fanendo Adi got the brunt of looks at the goal, particularly when Matt Pickens managed to swat away a deflection in the 17th minute. Emmanuel Ledesma also got a decent look in the 42nd minute, but his fall-away shot in the box laced wide of the frame.

Nashville’s best look came in the 24th minute when Spencer Richey padded away a light header by Ropapa Mensah in the box. Richey started for FCC instead of USL Golden Glove recipient Evan Newton, but the goalkeeper had flashes of brilliance with point-blank saves.

While both teams had better shots the second half, neither could capitalize. Nashville took more possession and exuded more confidence, moving possession past the defense. Nashville’s best chance came from a Mensah shot in the 74th minute that beat Richey, but nailed the framework. A chip-shot by Alan Winn in the 48th minute and a header by Mensah in the 81st were both snuffed by Richey. Kenney Walker gave a last-second gasp in stoppage time, only for Pickens to palm it away with a dive.

Extra time finally gave FC Cincinnati the lead. Jimmy McLaughlin and Walker fed Corben Bone who drilled a right-footed bullet past Pickens from the top of the box in the 95th minute. FCC managed to milk the clock for the rest of the first half of extra time, avoiding a header on target by Brandon Allen in the 105th minute.

However, Nashville changed the pace in the second half of extra time. Bradley Bourgeois found space atop the box in the 115th minute to fire a high deflection that dropped over Richey. After 120 minutes, both sides were still knotted, this time at 1-1.

The wind made the upcoming penalty kicks an adventure. Many of the shots were paused after the ball was blown off the spot. Both sides traded five successful scores, but the sixth take from Justin Davis popped high into the stands. A false alarm victory dance by FCC followed, but Walker then stepped up, fired past Pickens, and sent FCC to the second round.

Final Score: FC Cincinnati 1-1 (6-5 PKs) Nashville SC

Highlight of the Match

While the penalty kicks decided fate, the goal by Corben Bone in the 95th minute was a combination play by Bone, Walker, and McLaughlin. It was great to see the three combine for one of the biggest goals in FC Cincinnati folklore.

Quote of the Match

Kenney Walker discussed with the press how he lined up his penalty kick, particularly after the team had jumped the gun and rushed over to Richey when Nashville missed their penalty kick.

“I knew we didn’t win the game, but I was hoping that I was maybe thinking wrong. . . . There was a little added pressure, but at the same time, you just got to go out there and score. You either pick your spot, put it there, and he saves it, or you beat him to your spot. That’s as simple as you can put it, but there’s still pressure on it.”

Key Events

95′ – GOAL – CIN – Corben Bone (assisted by Kenney Walker)
104′ – YELLOW CARD – CIN – Blake Smith (foul)
110′ – YELLOW CARD – NSH – Justin Davis (foul)
111′ – YELLOW CARD – CIN – Emmanuel Ledesma (foul)
115′ – GOAL – NSH – Bradley Bourgeois (assisted by Kris Tyrpak)
116′ – YELLOW CARD – NSH – Bradley Bourgeois (celebration)

PENALTY KICKS

Liam Doyle – NSH – good
Fanendo Adi – CIN – good
Brandon Allen – NSH – good
Jimmy McLaughlin – CIN – good
Alan Winn – NSH – good
Blake Smith – CIN – good
Matt LaGrassa – NSH – good
Justin Hoyte – CIN – good
Kris Tyrpak – NSH – good
Forrest Lasso – CIN – good
Justin Davis – NSH – miss
Kenney Walker – CIN – good

Match Notes

FC Cincinnati outshot Nashville 22-16, but Nashville had more on frame (6-5). While FCC owned the possession numbers in the first half (67% – 33%), Nashville played better in the second half and extra time to make the overall possession slightly tighter (60% – 40%). Although this match is a draw in the books, FC Cincinnati has now gone 24 games unbeaten.

Starting XI

Adi
Bone – Albadawi (85′ McLaughlin) – Ledesma (120+1′ Welshman)
Gibson (100′ Ryan) – Alashe (68′ Walker)
Smith – Lasso – Barrett – Hoyte
Richey

The Starting XI from last week’s match against Nashville was relatively unchanged, except for Alashe taking Michael Lahoud’s position. Danni König was not available for personal reasons, and Emery Welshman returned from international duty with Guyana.

What’s Next?

The run for the USL Cup continues with another Saturday afternoon matinee. The New York Red Bulls II dispatched the Charleston Battery 1-0 and will come to Nippert for the 4pm match on Saturday, October 27th.

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

Nashville 10.20_Match Recap

Match Program: FC Cincinnati vs Nashville SC

FC Cincinnati are the favorites but Nashville SC has been a thorn in their side this season, can the Orange & Blue progress to round two?


Design: CSDIV

The USL Playoffs are here and FC Cincinnati begins their campaign for the 2018 USL Cup against Nashville SC in a 4pm matinee this Saturday at Nippert Stadium. The Orange & Blue, of course, are the USL regular season champions. That means they hold the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference and also have the benefit of home-field advantage throughout the single-elimination postseason tournament.

Their first-round opponent is a familiar foe indeed. FCC and Nashville played to a 3-3 draw last Saturday in Tennessee. Nashville conceded a lot of possession but created more chances in the first half, and took a 1-0 lead into the break. FC Cincinnati stormed back in the second half scoring three goals, but conceding two, including a last minute equalizer to Bolu Akinyode. The match ended at 3-3, and the result ultimately translated into a first round postseason rematch in the Queen City.

FC Cincinnati has played Nashville SC three times this season, and each match has ended in a draw. Even the preseason encounter at Gettler Stadium in March ended in a 2-2 stalemate. There’s been nothing to separate them so far in 2018, but something has to give this weekend.

Alan Koch’s side finished 28 points ahead of a talented but inconsistent Nashville SC squad during the regular season. The Orange & Blue carry a USL-record 23 game unbeaten streak into this first playoff match. They’re in impressive but slightly less-sizzling form of late. After a USL-record ten game win streak, they finished the season with two draws against Pittsburgh and Nashville.

Nashville, the #8 seed, clinched their playoff berth last Saturday, when Ottawa Fury lost and mathematically guaranteed Nashville a playoff spot. They are unbeaten in their last six but only have two wins during that stretch and both were against non-playoff teams.

The FC Cincinnati squad is in good health, and even saw long-time absentee Richie Ryan return to action last weekend. Emery Welshman should also be available after missing last weekend’s match while on international duty. He started in an impressive international call-up for Guyana, where he bagged a hat trick in the CONCACAF Nations League.

Nashville SC can’t report the same good bill of health. The Tennessee outfit is likely to be without South African midfield-star Lebo Meloto, who left a match against the Charleston Battery injured on September 22nd, and hasn’t played a minute since. Moloto leads the team in shots, shots on target, and is tied for the team lead in assists (5). He’s also tied for second on Nashville’s squad in goals (7) and chances created (51).

Interested in Eastern Conference playoff predictions for all of this weekend’s matches? Be sure to check out Geoff Tebbetts article that looks at ALL the matchups, and gives his take on the most likely outcomes.


2018 USL Eastern Conference Playoff Predictions: First Round

Fast Facts

Here are four fast facts to get you ready for FC Cincinnati’s second-ever playoff match at Nippert Stadium.

  • FC Cincinnati has a clear offensive advantage in this contest. They scored 30 more goals than Nashville SC during the 2018 regular season, 72 to 42. They earned that advantage by taking only 13 more shots, 431 to 418.
  • Nashville is instead known for their defensive prowess, led by standout goalkeeper Matt Pickens. Their 31 goals against is tied for second fewest, and their 15 clean sheets is tied for third most. FCC, however, plays close to their high standard. By comparison, the Orange & Blue only allowed 34 goals against and had 14 clean sheets in 2018. 
  • Nashville SC only has 4 wins on the road this season. FC Cincinnati has 12 wins at home this season. On paper, that appears to be a hefty home field advantage for the Orange & Blue. Anything can happen in a single-elimination playoff match though.
  • The Bengals haven’t won a playoff game since 1990. The Reds haven’t won a playoff series since 1995. It goes without saying that a win in this playoff match would mean a great deal to Cincinnati sports fans.

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s playoff match versus Nashville SC.

Match Program: FC Cincinnati at Nashville SC

The USL Regular Season comes to a successful close with a momentous match between FC Cincinnati and Nashville SC.

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Design: CSDIV / Image: Ryan Meyer

At the end of its third and final USL regular season, FC Cincinnati has captured an elusive mark. With the regular-season title and the highest seed in the Eastern Conference locked up, the Orange & Blue have an opportunity to head into the playoffs with rested players and a historic record. The only obstacle standing in their way is Nashville SC, who are desperate for a point for a playoff appearance. The two teams clash in the regular-season finale at First Tennessee Park on Saturday.

FC Cincinnati’s 22nd straight game undefeated was no easy task in Pittsburgh. The team needed every bit of their 90 minutes to end the game with the Riverhounds in a 0-0 draw. While Pittsburgh put heavy pressure on the squad, outshooting their opponent 18-4, FCC rode a solid defending line and Spencer Richey’s fifth clean sheet to take home a point. While this broke FCC’s 10-game winning streak, the draw helped FC Cincinnati match the undefeated run set by Richmond in 2013.

FC Cincinnati may have a record in sight, but Nashville SC still has to work to do. Despite early goals by Matt LaGrassa and Brandon Allen, Nashville gave up two goals to Toronto FC II in the final 15 minutes for a 2-2 draw on Tuesday. This leaves the Music City club in 7th place with one game left and at risk of missing the playoffs. If Ottawa or Bethlehem lose this weekend, Nashville is in. However, if Ottawa wins and Bethlehem gets at least a point, Nashville must avoid a loss.

Despite being two bricks in FC Cincinnati’s wall, Nashville has not lost to the Orange & Blue this season. Both teams played to a scoreless draw back in July at Nissan Stadium, while they drew 1-1 at Nippert in August. In that game, Danni König scored in the first minute, but Nashville equalized on an 85th-minute strike from Tucker Hume. Since that draw, FC Cincinnati has gone 10-0-1, while Nashville has been a flat 4-3-5.

While Alan Koch hasn’t shown all his cards, the team will be without one player, but will welcome back two. Forward Emery Welshman will be off on international duty to play for Guyana in a CONCACAF Nations League qualifier. However, König should return from a yellow-card suspension, while midfielder Richie Ryan is likely to play for the first time since suffering a stress fracture in June. In fact, the entire team should be healthy before Saturday’s match.

Fast Facts

Here are five facts for FC Cincinnati’s final regular-season match in the USL.

  • If Corben Bone plays on Saturday, it will be his 100th game for the Orange & Blue over all competitions. In 2018 alone, he has scored more goals in the USL (9) than his previous four seasons (3). If Bone can score his 10th on Saturday, FC Cincinnati writes another record. It will be the first time in the USL’s short eight-year history that one team has produced four 10+ goal scorers.
  • Goalkeeper Matt Pickens has arguably been Nashville’s best signing. Despite facing 109 shots over 30 games (3rd in the East), he has allowed only 25 goals. That’s an astounding 77.1% success rate. The only goalkeeper in the East to play in at least 20 games and have a higher success rate? That would be Cincinnati’s Evan Newton (56 saves, 16 goals, 77.8% success rate).
  • Because of Pickens and his magic hands, Nashville barely allows any goals at home. Manager Gary Smith’s squad has conceded only 11 home goals (2nd in the East) and has 9 clean sheets at home. However, their 24 home goals are 5th-worst in the East. That +13 goal differential at home is decent, but Cincinnati has a +16 goal differential on the road from 31 goals scored.
  • Ever since his late equalizer against FC Cincinnati, forward Tucker Hume has experienced a second life with Nashville. Hume started only one match the first 20 games, but since then he has started 11 of the last 13 matches and scored 6 goals. Perhaps the “Big Bird” nickname has wings?
  • How does Cincinnati’s 22-game unbeaten streak stack up against Richmond’s? FC Cincinnati has more wins in the same period (17-13) and has scored more goals (49-42). Then again, Richmond’s schedule in 2013 was more strenuous—they had an 8-game road trip during their streak that took them from Orlando to Vancouver over the span of a month. Richmond also had three pairs of games that were played on back-to-back days.

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of the regular-season finale in Nashville.

Louisville City FC 0 – 1 FC Cincinnati: Gritty Derby Win Clinches Top-Four Finish

FFC Cincinnati extended their winning streak to six in a row and are now 17 games unbeaten after a 1-0 victory over Louisville City FC on Tuesday.C Cincinnati

Graphic: Connor Paquette / Image: Ryan Meyer

FC Cincinnati extended their winning streak to six in a row and are now 17 games unbeaten after a 1-0 victory over Louisville City FC on Tuesday. More importantly, the win secures a top-four spot in the Eastern Conference and guarantees at least one home playoff match.

Tuesday’s contest was the continuation of this weekend’s postponed match, which was halted due to lightning and heavy rain. The contest resumed in the 38th minute with the Orange & Blue leading 1-0. With just seven minutes left to be played in the first half, FC Cincinnati absorbed pressure, especially during stoppage time, and went into halftime with the same 1-0 lead.

Louisville City came out determined to equalize in the second half. They poured numbers forward and introduced three new players, including former FCC man Luke Spencer, in an attempt to get back into the game. John Hackworth’s team attacked, targeting the left side of FC Cincinnati’s defense, and created a number of threatening chances.

Louisville’s best opportunity of the second half came in the 59th minute when midfielder George Davis IV created room on the right to put in a dangerous cross. Spencer Richey clawed it away from goal, but directly out to the center where Speedy Williams was waiting. The net gaped, but Williams’ shot sailed well over the crossbar. To give credit where it’s due, Williams was quickly put under pressure by Barrett and Walker which forced a rushed shot.

Spencer Richey came up big on several occasions, dealing with well-placed crosses and adding an additional save to the four he made in the first half of the match. FC Cincinnati made substitutions of their own, introducing Tyler Gibson, Fanendo Adi, and Jimmy McLaughlin in the last 21 minutes of regulation. The fresh legs aided the effort to keep possession, attempt an occasional counter-attack, and waste time.

A goalless continuation on Tuesday gave FC Cincinnati a final Derby River Derby win on the road, and their sweet reward is a home playoff match at Nippert.

Final Score: Louisville City FC 0 – 1 FC Cincinnati

Standings Update

FC Cincinnati continues to lead the Eastern Conference and the USL with 63 points. They are now out of reach of twelve teams and can finish no worse than fourth, clinching a top-four finish in the East. They are fourteen points clear in the East and have 9 more points than Western Conference leaders Orange County SC, having played one less game.

Highlight of the Match

Here’s an alternate field-level view of Corben Bone’s game winning goal from Saturday’s portion of the contest.

Quote of the Match

Spencer Richey’s performance over the two matches was noteworthy, especially his four saves during the miserable conditions on Saturday. He has a the hot hand lately in the net, and had the following to say after this match.

“Obviously this game has got a bit more to it, being Louisville and especially down at their place. A bit of a strange one playing the first 40 on Saturday and then coming down tonight and having to finish it off. Any result you can get, whether you play well or not — we didn’t play great tonight or on Saturday — we’ll take, and especially away from home.”

Stats of the Match

17 – In the final regular-season Dirty River Derby ever, FC Cincinnati found a way to win and extend their unbeaten streak to match Louisville City’s record unbeaten streak of 17, set during the 2016 season.

8% – Louisville City’s shooting accuracy* in Tuesday’s continued portion of the contest. The home team had 12 total shots on Tuesday but just 1 was on target. Spencer Richey rose to the occasion against Lancaster for that 1 shot, and his five saves overall preserved the clean sheet. FC Cincinnati’s defense did block three of those 12 second-half shots.

Louisville City’s 12 shots during the continuation of play on Tuesday. The green arrow represents the only shot on-target.

Who Started?

Both teams started the same XI that left the field in the 38th minute on Saturday, despite being allowed to make three changes from Saturday’s eleven. FC Cincinnati’s entire 18 was the same as Saturday.

Welshman (74′ Adi)
Bone (69′ Gibson) – Albadawi – Ledesma (83′ McLaughlin)
Alashe – Walker
Smith – Lasso – Barrett – Hoyte
Richey

What’s Next?

Up next on the official schedule, FC Cincinnati will take on USL D3-bound Toronto FC II at Nippert on Sunday. FCC will look to avenge a late collapse in Toronto in June that led to a surprise draw against the bottom-feeders in the East.

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

*Shooting accuracy is a calculation of ahots on target divided by all shots (including blocked attempts).