9 takeaways from FC Cincinnati's 3-0 shutout against City Islanders

Two separate lightning delays extended FC Cincinnati’s game an extra two hours, but it was worth the wait once the final whistle sounded.

FC Cincinnati came back a better team after the first delay and improved as the game went along to beat Harrisburg City Islanders 3-0 in United Soccer League play Saturday at Nippert Stadium.

All three goals were scored after the teams were sent to the locker rooms for an initial 70-minute break in action.

Here is a look at the top 9 takeaways from the marathon match:

1. Moving on up

FC Cincinnati (8-6-6) continues to climb up the United Soccer League’s Eastern Division table with its third straight win.

The victory Saturday pushed the club up a spot to fifth with 30 points – and it would have been up to fourth if Louisville City had not come back from an early deficit against St. Louis.

With first-place Charleston’s loss to Tampa, FC Cincinnati is now just five points out of first place and two points behind second-place Charlotte Independence, which was off this weekend. Louisville is third, also owning 32 points but trailing the Independence on goal differential.

“I’m very happy to get the three points, how our players reacted to the delay, and how after the first 27 minutes our players got it together,” FC Cincinnati coach Alan Koch said.

2. Sluggish start

FC Cincinnati looked sluggish to begin the game, which could have been a result of the heat as the temperatures felt around 101 degrees at kickoff.

However, Harrisburg didn’t seem impacted the same way if that was the case, and a much-needed trip back to the locker room proved valuable in allowing the Orange and Blue to make adjustments.

A 70-minute lightning delay, which halted play just 26:30 into the game, might have been frustrating for fans, but the break seemed to be the best thing for FC Cincinnati. The home side got on the board five minutes after play resumed and FC Cincinnati led 2-0 before a second delay late in the game.

“The first 25 minutes (before the first of two delays) was probably up there as one of our worst performances this season,” midfielder Kenney Walker said. “It was kind of like shooting yourself in the foot, but after that, scoring goals the way we did was probably one of the best responses we've had all season.”

3. Taking advantage

FC Cincinnati pounced on a Harrisburg mistake to take the lead in the 32nd minute, not long after returning to the pitch from the unexpected break.

Islanders defender Mohammed Abass botched an attempted pass backward to try to gain possession off Mitch Hildebrandt’s long clearance to the right flank, and Fall took advantage of the loose ball into the box. After gaining possession in the rundown, he needed just one quick cut in front of Tiago Calvano to get an open look to goal, and Fall drove the ball home to the far post for the 1-0 lead.

The goal was his 11th in league play, 14th overall in 17 total games, and it seemed to shift the momentum for FC Cincinnati, which had surrendered the possession advantage to the Islanders through the first 26 minutes.

“I don't think we were very good out of possession (to start the game), so we made a few adjustments and players absorbed that information and executed it to perfection,” Koch said when asked about the adjustments that were discussed during the delay. “On the flip side, in possession, we just had to take care of the ball. We were giving the ball away way too easily at the start of the game and we were trying to play the ball a little too much in our own half. We wanted to possess the ball, build up and go play in their half as much as possible.

“The most important thing was we give them all kinds of tactical information but unless you have the right mentality and right energy it doesn't mean anything, so we made sure we came out with the right energy and we saw a positive reaction.”

4. Two more for insurance

FC Cincinnati tacked on two more goals in the final 20 minutes that certainly will help in goal differential down the road.

The second tally of the night came on Fall’s first assist of the season when he split a trio of defenders to set Danni Konig up for his fifth goal in 14 games with FC Cincinnati. Konig ran onto the ball to earn a one-on-one with Islanders goalkeeper Brandon Miller and slipped it just past Miller to the center of the goal to make it 2-0 in the 70th minute.

There was little Harrisburg could do to prevent that one. Josu Currais blocked a pass near midfield and popped it up to Fall to move into the attacking third, and from there it was just a well-played ball by Fall and well-timed run by Konig, who checked back into an onside position.

Moments after a second 30-minute delay, Jimmy McLaughlin got on the board with a clean shot to the lower right corner for his second goal of the year – one that was a long time coming after several close chances in recent games.

“I feel like we get better every single week, and I feel like we got better throughout the course of this game tonight,” Koch said.

5. Rested up

For the first time in what seems like ages, FC Cincinnati had a full week to prepare for an opponent.

The Orange and Blue had an unexpected break heading into last weekend’s game at Louisville City when its midweek U.S. Open Cup game in Miami got postponed, but they still had an extra match to game plan for and the added toll of travel.

Meanwhile, Harrisburg City came in on short rest, coming off a draw with Charlotte on Tuesday.

The way the schedule and unplanned postponement worked out means FC Cincinnati could put out a lineup full of its regular starters and go for points Saturday, even knowing the club turns around to play its international friendly with Valencia on Monday.

There still are plenty of regulars that will be ready for Monday, including Jimmy McLaughlin, Aodhan Quinn, Paul Nicholson and Kadeem Dacres -- none of whom started Saturday, and newcomers Kyle Greig, Kyle Schindler and Sem de Wit also could make their debuts Monday. Needless to say, Koch is liking his squad’s depth even more now.

“It's not easy, but we obviously have had a lot of player movement throughout the course of the year so far and we don't just have 11 good players in our group,” Koch said. “There were a lot of good players that came off the bench tonight, were on the bench and even a couple players that weren't dressed in the available 18 tonight, so we will try to recover and assess things after training tomorrow.”

5. Another clean sheet

FC Cincinnati collected its 10th shutout of the season through all competitions, as Hildebrandt finished with two saves.

The Orange and Blue had half as many clean sheets at this point last season and finished with 10 overall. Four of the shutouts have come in U.S. Open Cup play but that’s just another sign of improvement by the defense, considering the competition faced in the tournament included two Major League Soccer opponents.

On Saturday, Cincinnati overcame a possession disadvantage to earn the victory, as Harrisburg finished with 54 percent ball control time.

“We have to be able to problem-solve on the field,” defender Austin Berry said. “... We got fortunate that we were able to come in collectively and talk about what we needed to do, what challenges Harrisburg was giving us and we accounted to it and came out much better.”

7. An extra set of eyes

A video assistant referee (VAR) was utilized for the first time at Nippert Stadium on Saturday but it had no impact on the game.

No reviews were needed.

The league has been testing the replay system since it made its U.S. professional soccer debut last August in a USL game between New York Red Bulls II and Orlando City B, and with Major League Soccer set to begin implementing VAR full-time Aug. 5, it likely could become more prevalent across the lower divisions, too.

8. Attendance update

The crowd of 18,344 ranked ninth of FC Cincinnati’s 11 home league games this season but the club will pass the 300,000 total attendance mark through all competitions this season with its next match.

FC Cincinnati has drawn 298,956 fans through 15 home games, including two 30,000-plus attendance figures against Major League Soccer’s Columbus Crew and Chicago Fire in U.S. Open Cup play.

With at least six home games left, the Orange and Blue should easily surpass last year’s total attendance mark of 333,353.

9. Up next

FC Cincinnati – coming off less than a 45-hour break between games -- hosts Spanish La Liga’s Valencia CF on Monday, which will give the Orange and Blue a unique challenge. Valencia plays a technically sound, quick-paced possession game that will make FC Cincinnati’s passing accuracy and touches extra important.

La Liga has produced the last four Champions League winners, and although Valencia has not won the league since the 2003-04 season, it is one of the biggest clubs in Spain. Its attendance figures rank behind only FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, which have won a combined 22 league titles since the 1990s.

“We would like to include as many, if not everyone, in Monday night's game because it is a special occasion,” Koch said. “It's important for us to embrace opportunities like this. We have nothing to lose playing a friendly against world-class competition, but it's something we can learn from and the best way to learn is to put your players in those situations.”

FC Cincinnati then turns its focus back on league play, as it hosts Rochester Rhinos on July 29.

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