Deeper Cuts: FCC Survives Tampa Bay’s Tidal Wave

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

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Image: Joe Craven

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

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

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

Absorbing the Impact

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

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

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

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

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

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

Countering the Barrage

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

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

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

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

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

The Perfect Storm

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

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

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

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Match Program: FC Cincinnati at Tampa Bay Rowdies

Design: CSDIV / Image: Ryan Meyer

FC Cincinnati continues their Southeast road trip as they take on the Tampa Bay Rowdies in St. Petersburg on Saturday. These sides faced each other six weeks ago when FCC secured a convincing 2-0 victory at Nippert. The result was the Orange & Blue’s first victory over the Rowdies, improving to 1-2-1 all time.

FCC will be looking to extend their unbeaten streak to 15 and turn the corner at Al Lang stadium. In their previous two contests they lost 0-2 and 0-3 (2017 playoffs). Fortunately, the road has been a safe place for the Orange & Blue in 2018. Entering Saturday’s match, they are 7-1-3 away from home. In these 11 games, they have earned five clean sheets and posted a plus 10 goal differential.

Tampa Bay were included in most pre-season polls to make a deep run in the Eastern Conference playoffs. With only ten games remaining in their regular season, they are on the outside looking in. The Rowdies currently sit in twelfth place and have only earned six points in the last six games. Following Saturday’s match, they conclude the regular season by playing six of nine on the road.

Since coming over from the Red Bulls in early July, forward Stefano Bonomo has added a spark. In five matches donning the Rowdies kit, the former U.S. Men’s U-18 player has scored three times. He is now tied for the team lead with six goals. However, Tampa Bay has struggled to replace two key creative forces in the midfield. In June, current team assist leader and thorn in FCC’s side, Marcel Schäfer, returned to Germany as the Sporting Director for the Bundesliga club Vfl Wolfsburg. In addition, 2017 NASL Young Player of the Year Jack Blake was loaned to Real Monarchs SLC for the remainder of the 2018 season.

On a short-week, both sides are traveling into Tampa on Thursday (the Rowdies had a come-from-behind draw in Pittsburgh Wednesday evening) and will likely make changes to their game rosters. FCC certainly didn’t need any extra lift while flying, after their emphatic 5-1 thrashing of Atlanta United 2 on Wednesday.

Alan Koch will continue to rotate his squad to keep legs fresh and fine-tune the lineup for the upcoming playoff run. USL MVP-candidate Emmanuel Ledesma is set to return following his one match yellow card accumulation suspension. Fanendo Adi was given the night off in Atlanta and is likely chomping at the bit in anticipation of playing on the manicured Florida grass. Will the Orange & Blue extend their unbeaten streak to 15 games?

Fast Facts

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

  • What’s a fast fact section without mentioning Emmanuel Ledesma? Not only is he leading the team with 11 goals and 10 assists, the timing of these achievements have been significant. Ledesma has 4 game-winning tallies and 4 game-winning assists. That’s a ton of potential one-point results that he’s helped secure the full three points.
  • Interchangeable backline – FC Cincinnati has kept eight clean sheets during their fourteen match unbeaten run (0.57 goals against overall). Of note, the club utilized four different center back and keeper combinations in these eight shutouts, with Justin Hoyte and Blake Smith anchoring the outside fullback spots.
  • Statistically, these two sides vary greatly. On offense, the Orange & Blue have scored 19 more goals (51 to 32) and created 12 more assists (33 to 21). Additionally, FCC have converted their strike opportunities at a significantly better rate, 20% to 13%. From a defensive angle, FCC has conceded 10 less goals (24 to 34) and has kept six more clean sheets (11 to 5).
  • Tampa Bay has started 31 different players this season, with only two players exceeding 1,500 total minutes. In contrast, FCC has started 24 different players with eight logging more than 1,500 minutes. Corben “Ironman” Bone leads the team in starts (23), games played (all 25) and minutes (2,018).
  • The Orange & Blue’s five goals in Atlanta set a new club record for goals in a match. With his brace, Nazmi Albadawi raises his season tally to nine. This places three FCC players (Ledesma, König and Albadawi) in the top 25 for goals scored this season (best in the USL).

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati versus the Tampa Bay Rowdies.

FC Cincinnati 2-0 Tampa Bay Rowdies: Bonus Track

Image: Joe Craven

The Bonus Track segment is an abridged version of Orange & Blue Press’ Deeper Cuts series. It takes one or two components of a recent match and breaks it down in more detail.

The FC Cincinnati faithful were rewarded Saturday evening with as solid a display of 90 minutes of fútbol as we’ve seen this season. FCC created the best chances in the first half and went on to dominate the second half, resulting in a 2-0 blanking of the Tampa Bay Rowdies. The first win in five attempts versus the iconic American soccer franchise keeps the Orange & Blue atop the table.

The Orange & Blue Laundromat

Since the MLS announcement was made in late May, FCC has rolled off an eight-match USL unbeaten streak. Possibly even more impressive in this time frame are the five clean sheets the club has collectively earned, including three straight. Evan Newton and his back line have apparently opened a laundromat, specializing in clean sheets. They have not allowed a goal in over 285 minutes, the second-longest stretch in club history.

Newton now has 7 clean sheets in 15 USL starts this season. He has improved his goals against average to 0.87 goals per match and a save percentage of 75%. These statistics only trail Matt Pickens (Nashville SC) and Daniel Lynd (Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC) this season.

A key component to last night’s clean sheet can be seen in tackles won and lost between the two teams. FCC won an astounding 94% of their tackles (16 of 17 tackles won) as compared to the Rowdies 70% (7 of 10). The Orange & Blue captain Dekel Keinan led the team with four successful tackles. Blake Smith and Kenney Walker closely followed with three each. The physical and resolute FCC defense limited the Rowdies attack to only three shots on target, all by Jamaican international Junior Flemmings.

The Beauty in the Build-up

Goals win matches and are typically what we savor in highlight packages. However, sometimes the teamwork that creates the opportunity surpasses the final touch and celebration. The beauty in the build-up to both FCC goals is deserving of further accolades and breakdown.

First, let’s deconstruct the creative build-up that led to the opening goal of the match. The scoring opportunity starts at midfield with Forrest Lasso playing a ball to a wide open Corben Bone along the left flank. The overlap, spatial awareness, and interplay between Bone and Blake Smith creates the necessary space for Bone to deliver a sublime in-swinging cross to Emmanuel Ledesma’s head. The June USL player of the month out-jumps two defenders and converts his ninth goal of the season.

The lightning-quick counterattack resulting in the second goal may have been even more stunning. In the 84th minute, Bone cleverly controls the ball off his chest and taps it forward to Danni König. König drops a pass to Nazmi Albadawi, who spots Emery Welshman. Welshman, who just entered the match, receives the pass in stride and quickly draws two defenders down the field. The Canadian forward lays a perfectly-weighted through-ball to the trailing Dane. König drills the wonderfully timed pass with his left foot inside the cross bar to equal Ledesma with his ninth of the season.

Arguably two of the best team goals we’ve seen in 2018.

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for a busy week of coverage as FCC hosts the Charlotte Independence on Wednesday and the New York Red Bulls II squad on Saturday.

Images: FC Cincinnati 2-0 Tampa Bay Rowdies

Images of FC Cincinnati’s victory over the Tampa Bay Rowdies on Saturday July 14th at Nippert Stadium.

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Here are images of FC Cincinnati’s 2-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Rowdies on Saturday, July 14th. When browsing the gallery below, for any given image, a high-resolution version can be found by scrolling down and clicking “View Full Size.” All images are courtesy of Joe Craven.

For more particulars of Saturday’s contest, turn your attention to the following article.
Tampa Bay 7.14_Match Recap
FC Cincinnati 2 – 0 Tampa Bay Rowdies: Eight Unbeaten and FCC is Rolling

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 – 0 Tampa Bay Rowdies: Eight Unbeaten and FCC is Rolling

FC Cincinnati continued its 8 game unbeaten run with a 2-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Rowdies on Saturday July 14th at Nippert Stadium.

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Graphic: Connor Paquette / Image: Joe Craven

FC Cincinnati extended its USL unbeaten streak to eight games on Saturday, with a 2-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Rowdies at Nippert Stadium. Over 25,000 packed into UC’s campus on a steamy July evening to take in the action. A physical first half ended goalless even though the home side created several clear chances to score.

Alan Koch remarked after the match, “The group that Tampa brought in and loaded up with for the second half of the season can be very dangerous and you could see that tonight.”

Newly appointed Tampa Bay coach Neill Collins stacked his lineup with recently acquired talent, including forward Stefano Bonomo and midfielder Kwadwo Poku. Despite the injection of new blood following the departure of Marcel Schäfer, FC Cincinnati dominated the beginning and end of the first period. Emmanuel Ledesma nearly converted a free kick from just outside the box in the 13th minute. Corben Bone and Danni König also fired inches wide late in the first half.

FC Cincinnati found the back of Tampa Bay’s net in the second 45. Emmanuel Ledesma nodded a header into goal nine minutes after the start of the second half. Danni König then added an insurance goal in the 85th minute, finishing off a devastating counter-attack spearheaded by Emery Welshman. The Orange & Blue defeated the Rowdies for the first time in five competitive meetings, and shook off the ghost of their 2017 playoff defeat with the victory.

Final Score: FC Cincinnati 2-0 Tampa Bay Rowdies

Standings Update

FC Cincinnati remains on top of the Eastern Conference on 38 points after 19 matches played. Second place Pittsburgh, who is lurking just behind with games in hand, was inactive on Saturday and doesn’t play until next weekend against Charleston. That same Charleston Battery defeated a now James O’Connor-less Louisville City FC 2-1 on Saturday to claim third place in the Eastern Conference. Here’s a look at the top eight.

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Highlight of the Match

The game-deciding goal was delivered by a precision cross from the neon Orange boots of Corben Bone. Ledesma usually does it with his feet, but he can beat you with his head too.

Quote of the Match

Emmanuel Ledesma spoke in the post-match press conference about his aerial prowess.

“A long time ago [was last time I scored a header]. I never score with my head … That was an amazing ball from ‘Magic’ (Corben Bone).”

Who Started?

Alan Koch started the exact same lineup that featured in the 0-0 draw with Nashville last Saturday.

Ledesma – König
Albadawi
Walker-Bone
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Smith –  Lasso – Keinan – Hoyte
Newton

What’s Next?

The Orange and Blue are quickly back into action on Wednesday for an 8pm match against the Charlotte Independence at Nippert Stadium. That game will be featured on ESPN2. Recall that Charlotte handed the Orange & Blue a humiliating 4-1 defeat away from home earlier in the season. The Orange & Blue will then face a surging New York Red Bulls II three days later to complete a stretch of three matches in eight days.

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s 2018 season.
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Match Program: FC Cincinnati vs Tampa Bay Rowdies

Orange & Blue Press’ Match Program supplies the information and fast facts you need for FC Cincinnati’s league meeting with the Tampa Bay Rowdies.

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Design: CSDIV / Images: Ryan Meyer (cover)  Joe Craven (both infographic photos)

FC Cincinnati returns to Nippert Stadium on Saturday to face the Tampa Bay Rowdies for a 7:30pm kickoff. It’s the first time this season these teams have met in league play and the first of a long stretch of home games for the Orange & Blue. Although they couldn’t manage a goal or a win in Nashville last weekend, Alan Koch’s side is still in first place and undefeated in their last seven games.

Historically, the Rowdies have proven to be a difficult opponent. The Orange & Blue are 0-3-1 all time versus Tampa Bay in league and playoff matches. However, FCC topped the Rowdies during the 2018 preseason. They managed a 1-0 victory in Bradenton at the end of March, courtesy of a second-half Garrett Halfhill strike. The last time they played Tampa Bay competitively was in the first round of last year’s playoffs, where FCC was eliminated with a thorough 3-0 defeat. During last year’s USL season FC Cincinnati drew with the Rowdies 1-1 at Nippert and lost 2-0 at Al Lang Stadium in early July.

Tampa Bay is not in stellar form at the moment. They’ve only won one game in their past five, and that was against bottom-of-the-East Toronto FC II. A preseason favorite to finish in the top four, the Rowdies currently sit in eleventh place in the Eastern Conference. Just under two months ago, head coach Stuart Campbell stepped down after four straight shutout losses and a 4-5-0 start to the season. 34-year-old defender Neill Collins transitioned from player to coach, and the team is 2-2-4 since he’s taken the reins.

The Rowdies have also made some key roster changes recently. Most importantly, German international midfielder Marcel Schäfer departed the club to become the sporting director of VfL Wolfsburg. Midfielder Jack Blake was also loaned from Tampa to Real Monarchs of the Western Conference. In response, the Rowdies bolstered their roster with the June signings of Afrim Taku, Dominic Oduro, and Kwadwo Poku. They also announced the signing of New York Red Bulls striker Stefano Bonomo on July 3rd.

Fast Facts

Here are four fast facts to get you ready for Saturday’s 7:30 kickoff at Nippert Stadium.

  • FC Cincinnati has four clean sheets in their last six matches played and are averaging 0.83 goals against per game during that period. Compare that to Tampa Bay who has conceded 1.33 goals per game and just one clean sheet over the same period.
  • FCC has only scored 1 goal ever against Tampa Bay in a competitive match. That goal came last year in a 1-1 draw at Nippert Stadium. Fan favorite Harrison Delbridge scored that goal with a header, capitalizing on a Kenney Walker corner kick.
  • Marcel Schäfer will be difficult for the Rowdies to replace. In the first half of the 2018 season, he had 4 assists, 40 key passes, and 75 crosses at a team-leading accuracy of 29.3%. That’s 31 more crosses than anyone on FC Cincinnati’s roster, despite playing one less match.
  • Corben Bone and Emmanuel Ledesma lead FC Cincinnati with 16 starts each and are consequently also the team’s leaders in minutes played; Bone with 1424 minutes and Ledesma with 1362.

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati versus the Tampa Bay Rowdies.

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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Preseason Match Two – Takeaways, Player Selection, and Who Looked Good

More on FC Cincinnati’s second preseason match including takeaways, team selection, and who looked good.

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All photos courtesy Ryan Meyer Photography

Two preseason matches have translated into a draw and a win for FC Cincinnati. Here are a few observations from yesterday’s 1-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Rowdies, as the Orange & Blue continue their preseason preparations in Florida.

Match Takeaways

First and most importantly, the squad escaped the match with no additional injuries. After Heinemann’s release and Gibson’s broken leg, the team can’t afford more injury trouble in the preseason. The players continue to build fitness, and the focus now is on learning the tactical system that the coaching staff is putting in place. Saturday’s win is a nice plus, and the team should take some confidence from it.

On the other side of the coin, the Rowdies controlled much of the first half and created clearer chances despite being only a week into preseason. That Tampa Bay squad looks solid, and they strengthened an already strong roster in the offseason. We shouldn’t analyze anything too closely at this point, but it would have been ideal if our first eleven was able to possess the ball more and create more clear chances versus their stronger counterparts. The starters did show some sustained pressure in the closing minutes of the first half and also earned a number of corners and free kicks.

The second-half unit did well to grab the lead and hold onto it with four trialists in the squad. They were playing against a weaker Rowdies eleven, but one that still had good quality (see one Marcel Schäfer).

Closer to a Starting XI

The first preseason match against New England featured two mixed lineups in each half, that blended likely starters with less experienced players pretty evenly. In contrast, Alan Koch fielded a very strong first half lineup against the Rowdies, again in a 4-2-3-1 formation.

First Half Lineup:
König
Haber – Bone – Ledesma
Walker – Albadawi
Smith – Lasso – Barrett – Hoyte
Richey

One could tip quite a few of these players to start in the March 17 opener against Charleston, although it’s still way too early to be certain. The second-half roster was definitely more experimental and aimed at getting a good look at the trialists, while mixing in the experience of players like Keinan, Laing, Bahner, and Newton.

Second Half Lineup:
Trialist #1
Laing – Trialist #2 – Cicerone
Halfhill – De Wit
Trialist #3 – Keinan – Trialist #4 – Bahner
Newton

There were definitely some new faces in the mix yesterday that we haven’t seen in training before. Notably, two of them started in the center forward and attacking midfield roles. Keep an eye on this space, as Alan Koch looks to add additional quality to the roster and find a suitable replacement for Tommy Heinemann.

Who looked good?

1. The goalies. Both Spencer Richey and Evan Newton looked sharp and made key saves to keep the Rowdies off the score sheet. The whole team has to be satisfied any time it can produce a clean sheet, even if it’s preseason.

2. Garrett Halfhill. Halfhill made the headlines with his goal and had another nice outing as a central defensive midfielder, this time lining-up next to Sem De Wit.

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Garrett Halfhill

3. Lance Laing. Laing showed his versatility on Saturday. He started the match on the left wing and provided the assist for Halfhill’s goal. Later in the half, he moved into the back line after McLaughlin entered the match. There, Laing made a critical clearance at the back post to keep to Rowdies off the board late in the game. It was also great to see Jimmy McLaughlin back on the field after his early season foot injury.

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Lance Laing

Two preseason matches are now in the books. FC Cincinnati will conclude its Florida friendlies with a match next Wednesday against the Chicago Fire Reserves.

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati 2018 preseason.

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FC Cincinnati 1 – 0 Tampa Bay Rowdies: Halfhill with the Preseason Decider

Following a solid debut, FC Cincinnati held Tampa Bay in check to score their first win of the 2018 preseason.

Recap-FCC-Tampa-0210With one full preseason game in the books, FC Cincinnati squared off against the Tampa Bay Rowdies, a team that has proven to be difficult for FCC to figure out. The last time the Orange & Blue met up with Tampa Bay, the Rowdies delivered a 3-0 spanking at Al Lang Stadium that eliminated FCC from the playoffs.

The Rowdies were making their preseason debut after adding forward Jochen Graf and midfielder Junior Flemmings to their already-stacked squad, while FC Cincinnati was coming off of a 1-1 draw against the New England Revolution on Tuesday.

Both teams played two different squads in each half, with FCC trotting out a starting XI that carried over seven players from the first-half team on Tuesday. Tampa Bay countered with Graf and Flemmings playing alongside Joe Cole, and that appeared to give Tampa Bay the energy and presence to rattle the FCC defense. Graf got two good looks in the middle, only for goalkeeper Spencer Richey to sprawl to his right twice and deny Graf. Despite the possession being dominated by the Rowdies, both squads went into halftime with a 0-0 score.

FCC provided a trialist-heavy squad in the second half that saw Lance Laing and Russell Cicerone playing on the wings, while Tampa Bay brought in a squad loaded with Marcel Schafer and Georgi Hristov in the middle. Despite the difference in known talent between the two teams, FC Cincinnati took the lead in the 63rd minute—Laing threaded a pass from the right of the Tampa Bay goal back to Garrett Halfhill, who cranked a right-footed shot under a sliding defender and past goalkeeper Akira Fitzgerald to give the Orange and Blue a 1-0 lead.

For the rest of the game, Tampa Bay pressed harder on offense, only for Laing and Dekel Keinan to counter with solid defense. Hristov managed to make the middle a problem for FCC, heading a shot right at Evan Newton in the 75th minute, then clipping the crossbar on a dangerous free kick in the 83rd. FCC made some substitutions late in the game, and the defense salted away some heavy pressure in the box to keep the 1-0 win.

Key Events

21’ Yellow Card – Nazmi Albadawi (FCC)
41’ Yellow Card – Paddy Barrett (FCC)

63’ Goal – Garrett Halfhill, assisted by Lance Laing (FCC)
76’ Yellow Card – Hunter Gorskie (TBR)
86’ Yellow Card – Alex Morrell (TBR)
88’ Yellow Card – Georgi Hristov (TBR)

Match Notes

While the true formations for FCC’s squads were uncertain, it appeared they went with the familiar 4-2-3-1 setup to mirror Tampa Bay’s own formation. Richey got the start in goal in the first half, while Newton took over in the second half. Corben Bone appeared to again be pushed forward into more of a midfield role, while Kenney Walker and Albadawi played behind him.

The squad was completely replaced in the second half with four trialists used mostly down the center of the formation. Two were removed in the 80th minute for Will Seymore and Jimmy McLaughlin. The Pennsylvania native made his first appearance of the spring after spending some time dealing with an injury. Josu, who is still recovering from offseason surgery, did not make an appearance in uniform. Forward Emery Welshman and goalkeeper Mark Village were not inserted into the game.

Naturally, this does not count in the actual win column against the Rowdies, but this should give FCC some good vibes going into their final Florida game. While the team still doesn’t have a starting XI figured out, both squads played well against a talented Rowdies roster that looks to be a handful and should compete near the top of the standings. For Tampa Bay, Graf already appears to be a solid striker after a successful opening season with Rochester in 2017. If goalkeeper Cody Mizell has a season like he did for Charlotte last year, the Rowdies look loaded for bear.

First Half Lineup:
König
Haber – Bone – Ledesma
Walker – Albadawi
Smith – Lasso – Barrett – Hoyte
Richey

Second Half Lineup:
Trialist #1
Laing – Trialist #2 – Cicerone
Halfhill – De Wit
Trialist #3 – Keinan – Trialist #4 – Bahner
Newton

Substitutes:
80’ – McLaughlin (for Trialist #1)
80’ – Seymore (for Trialist #2)

While the audio and video took some time to be adjusted, IMG was able to provide a YouTube video feed of the game that you can access again for a replay.

Next Up

FC Cincinnati’s stacked preseason rolls on with their third and final friendly at IMG Academy against the Chicago Fire’s reserve team on Wednesday, February 14th at 10:30 AM (stream TBD). The team will then return to the Tri-State area for five more preseason friendlies against USL teams and local colleges before they begin the USL season in Charleston.

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

Recap-FCC-Tampa-0210

USL Eastern Conference Playoff Predictions: Conference Finals

Which team left in the East will go to the USL Cup Final? The numbers (and our stats geek) never lie…


Don’t stop me, folks—I’m on my way to Vegas to blow my life savings on the craps table.

If the first week was beginner’s luck, then the second week must have been the work of a scientific genius. The numbers don’t lie, and they haven’t told me otherwise yet—I’ve hooked my horses to the cream of the crop since the start of the playoffs. Rochester may argue, and FC Cincinnati fans may gnash their teeth, but Louisville City FC and New York Red Bulls II have been the two best teams in the USL the past three years. It only makes sense that they get a pivotal rematch this year at Lou City’s home grounds, once again for the privilege to represent the Eastern Conference in the USL Cup.

It doesn’t even matter if Swope Park makes their own return to the championship or if Oklahoma City completes their own Cinderella run to the final. They shouldn’t even show up. Whoever wins this game in the East will win all the marbles. Write it down.

But just to make sure, let’s see what the numbers say this time…


Conference Finals Predictions

#1 Louisville City FC (20-8-6) vs. #7 New York Red Bulls II (15-5-14)

Head-to-head record:

New York leads the overall series (4W-2L-1T), but Lou City beat the Baby Bulls both times this year.

The story so far:

Louisville and New York played a scrapper of a game in last year’s Conference Finals, one that managed to produce almost everything but the kitchen sink, including a relatively sizable crowd of 2,700 at Red Bull Arena. Lou City hit the scoresheet early with a Paco Craig header in the 11th minute and managed to put pressure on the goal for most of the first half. However, things went bizarrely wrong for Lou City in the second half—after goalkeeper Greg Ranjitsingh was subbed off in the 51st minute from a groin injury, New York managed to build up their momentum. A set-piece in the 74th minute resulted in a header from Florian Valot to tie the game at 1-1.

The 30 minutes of extra time almost felt like a different game, as two players from Lou City and a player from New York were shown the door from red cards. The resulting penalty kicks gave the game to the Baby Bulls, as New York keeper Ryan Meara palmed away two shots, while substitute Lou City goalkeeper Tim Dobrowolski couldn’t save any.

Past results:

Lou City honestly had a bit of a nail-biter last weekend, as Rochester’s rigid defense bent just enough for Louisville to come away with a 1-0 victory. Surprisingly, it was Rochester who controlled the first half to their liking, outshooting Louisville 7-2 over the first 45 minutes, but the score remained 0-0 at the break. However, Louisville used their substitutes well, bringing on speed and skill at the start of the second half. The gamble worked for Lou City, as substitute Brian Ownby played a long-distance give-and-go to scuttle past the defense and flick a shot over the approaching Rochester keeper in the 77th minute. The rest of the game, despite a late set-piece save by Ranjitsingh, was salted away, sending Louisville to the Conference Finals.

New York Red Bulls II had a much harder time getting this far with a tight road game against the Tampa Bay Rowdies. A deflection in the 26th minute sent the ball inside the New York box, where Tampa Bay feathered it past goalkeeper Evan Louro for a 1-0 Rowdies’ lead. However, the Baby Bulls scrambled around the Rowdies’ goal most of the first 60 minutes, and a foul in the Rowdies’ box resulted in a 58th-minute goal by the Red Bulls’ Stefano Bonomo at the PK spot. Bonomo would give New York the lead early in extra time with a 92nd-minute deflection, and Louro repeatedly denied Tampa Bay for the 2-1 upset win.

Prediction:

Admittedly, the needle is pointing in Louisville’s direction. After losing five straight to New York over the last two years, LCFC has changed the overall momentum with two wins this year—a 3-0 drubbing at New York and a 2-1 squeaker at Slugger Field. While the stats skewed heavily in New York’s favor in the first game, all three of Lou City’s shots on frame went in, while New York’s offense was forced to take too many shots from outside the box. The closer game at Louisville almost resembled the 2016 Conference Final, but a Luke Spencer header was the difference maker in this closely-played game.

On paper, Lou City’s confidence should be at an all-time high. Ranjitsingh is lights-out automatic in the playoffs, as he has not given up a single goal in postseason play (442 minutes). The back line of Craig, Tarek Morad, and Sean Totsch has been steadfast and dependable all season, while Ownby has scored twice in two playoff games so far. This is a balanced, well-disciplined team that should give any team a run for its money.

However, it’s easier to suggest that the first game wasn’t a barometer of New York’s true strength. The Baby Bulls found their wheels spinning from a lack of offensive power the first twenty games of the season, losing half of them, but once the team got Bonomo back from a hernia injury and inserted Jordan Scarlett on defense, the team got immensely better. Check these numbers:

  • Without Bonomo: 27 goals scored in 19 games (1.42 gpg)
  • With Bonomo: 36 goals scored in 15 games (2.40 gpg)
  • Without Scarlett: 38 goals allowed in 16 games (2.38 gpg)
  • With Scarlett: 23 goals allowed in 18 games (1.28 gpg)

Both players can affect the game by a whole goal. With either Bonomo or Scarlett missing from the lineup, New York has a goal differential of -9. With both in the lineup, the goal differential is +11. That’s startling.

That’s also a statistic that is hard to ignore, even with the home-pitch advantage in Louisville’s favor. While the last matchup at Slugger produced a win and over 10,000 spectators, LCFC will need a packed and energetic house to rattle New York, but the talent that has returned to the Baby Bulls will be too good to deny. I’m predicting the Red Bulls II team to return to the USL Cup. New York 2, Louisville 1.

If you’ll excuse me, I need to catch that flight. Papa needs a down payment on a condo.


So what are your predictions for this final week of the Eastern Conference playoffs? Let us know!

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more news, analysis, and color commentary on FC Cincinnati.