9 takeaways from FC Cincy's fight through fatigue to snap three-game losing streak

CINCINNATI -- FC Cincinnati needed something to go its way.

It finally did Wednesday, as the Orange and Blue jumped out to a three-goal lead in their first ever meeting with the Ottawa Fury and held on for a 3-1 win in front of 20,058 fans at Nippert Stadium.

The win snapped a three-game losing streak and pushed FC Cincinnati back into the United Soccer League playoff picture with seven games left.

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

1. Back in the picture

After dropping out of the Eastern Division’s top eight for the first time in almost two months following a 4-0 loss at New York Red Bulls II on Saturday, FC Cincinnati (9-9-7) bounced back to sixth on Wednesday with the three points putting them at 34 total through 25 games.

Cincinnati was 0-3-1 in August heading into the match.

“No league game is more important than any other game,” FC Cincinnati coach Alan Koch said. “Every game you play is worth three points. But, with what we've gone through as human beings, players, coaches, the staff, the last week was very, very challenging for all of us. We've used the word embarrassed. We were embarrassed, but I'm nothing short of proud of every single player tonight. They all did their jobs and that's what it takes to be successful as a team.”

The Orange and Blue are now one point behind Rochester, which has only played 22 games, and four points behind Tampa Bay, which has played 24 matches. The top eight make the playoffs and top four host first-round games.

FC Cincinnati has played at least one more match than 13 of the 14 other teams in the Eastern Division, as 13th-place Harrisburg City is the only other team to have played 25 games.

2. Welcome back

Defender Tyler Polak jumped right back into the starting lineup in his much anticipated return from a foot sprain that sidelined him for more than a month.

He was active early on, a refreshing burst of energy on the left flank, and his efforts paid off for FC Cincinnati in the form of two assists, one hockey assist that doesn’t count in the stats because of a slight deflection. He sent in a cross for Danni Konig to bury in the 34th minute for a 1-0 lead and made it 3-0 by launching a free kick in for Sem de Wit to finish after a deflection in the 57th minute.

“Tyler's left foot we know is quality,” de Wit said. “He's got great service, and it's up to us to do something with it, and we did.” 

Polak suffered the injury in a 3-2 win at Louisville City on July 15 and missed five league matches, in addition to the international friendly with Valencia and two U.S. Open Cup games. At the time he went down, Polak was one of the team leaders in minutes played and had started in 15 of the 16 matches he appeared in, especially playing well as a wingback.

3. Crucial confidence booster

Konig’s goal was crucial for FC Cincinnati, as the club was trying to rebound from three tough losses and a generally disappointing start to August.

Cincinnati had lost its last two league games by a combined score of 9-0, and right in between those, the Orange and Blue dropped a 3-2 heartbreaker in extra time in the U.S. Open Cup semifinals against Major League Soccer’s New York Red Bulls. The first match in August was only slightly less frustrating, as it took a Konig goal in the 92nd minute to tie Orlando City B at home.

The early advantage Wednesday came after several closes chances were denied (like when Harrison Delbridge hit the crossbar on a long strike in the 29th minute and Konig’s header off a corner kick just went wide a minute later). So, when Konig put in his ninth score of the season, somehow beating Andrae Campbell to a 50-50 ball at the top of the 6-yard box, it was a huge confidence booster for a club in need of one.

“They are a very good team, and how they play in terms of the long throw and the big bodies they will throw up front, no game against them is ever safe, so it was important for us to score the first goal and of course getting the second and the third helped,” Koch said.

4. Cartwheel worthy

Everybody loves when McLaughlin scores – if not because he’s a relentless player who often comes up unlucky then because of his well-planned goal celebrations.

After putting FC Cincinnati up 2-0 in the 42nd minute, he pulled off a cartwheel and somersault combination move the fans could really enjoy with the added cushion on the scoreboard. He patterned his celebration after Ireland national team star Robbie Keane.

“I was watching 2002 World Cup highlights and Robbie Keane scores a goal and that became his signature celebration,” McLaughlin said. “I figured I look a little like Robbie Keane, so I'll throw it out there.”

McLaughlin’s fourth goal of the season came after Sem de Wit stepped up to intercept a loose ball in FC Cincinnati’s defensive third and sent a perfect through ball to McLaughlin – originally intended for Danni Konig, who dummied it –  with an open field in front of him. McLaughlin, who hadn’t started since Aug. 5, dribbled into the box and executed to the far-post. Three of his goals have come in the last six league games.

“They were bombing on their wingbacks, so it was something we had spoken about before the match,” McLaughlin said. “Coach said there was going to be a lot of space behind to exploit, and Sem won the ball and played a great ball behind. It was coming right to Danni and I gave him a little shout to leave it and he kind of bodies the defender, and I'm on a breakaway at midfield. I was actually looking across to see if I could tap it to Danni just for a tap-in really, but then decided last minute to put it in myself.”

5. Not letting up

Five minutes after FC Cincinnati initially got on the board, a breakdown on defense nearly allowed Ottawa to even it back up, but Mitch Hildebrandt came up with two saves and Delbridge stopped another on the goal line with a SportsCenter Top 10-worthy bicycle kick on a string of shots by the Fury.

FC Cincinnati went into halftime up 2-0 and added a third goal in the 57th minute when Polak’s free kick from the right flank found de Wit’s foot for a one-touch volley. It was de Wit’s first professional goal.

“It was a great cross from Tyler, and it got deflected, I got in front of my guy and just tapped it in,” de Wit said.

Ottawa’s Steevan Dos Santos eventually put the Fury on the board in the 63rd minute, redirecting Ramon del Campo’s shot, but unlike the late meltdown against the Red Bulls in the Cup semifinals, FC Cincinnati held it together well enough to hold on for the win.

“When they scored their first, I'm sure people started to question things in terms of fatigue and how our players would respond, but the guys really just stepped up to the plate,” Koch said.

6. Defensive battle

FC Cincinnati dominated play in the first half, possessing the ball 54.8 percent of the time, but was outshot 13-2 in the second half as the Fury controlled the ball for 65.4 percent of play.

Much of that could be attributed to Ottawa pushing guys forward later in the game, and FC Cincinnati sitting back to absorb the pressure. The Fury managed one goal out of it, but even that was questionable as it appeared Dos Santos was offside.

“I think we did a good job after the second goal,” said de Wit, who played on the three-man back line along with Justin Hoyte and Delbridge. “We came out the second half, they came at us. They were going to put bodies in the box, so we dropped a little bit but we did well in that situation with all the balls in and we did a good job tonight.”

Hildebrandt finished with six saves on 19 total shots, while Ottawa goalie Callum Irving had just one on 10 FC Cincinnati shots.

7. Fighting fatigue

Koch said it is tough to pinpoint all the problems that led to such lopsided losses the previous two league games, but it all stemmed from fatigue.

FC Cincinnati managed to fight through that Wednesday with the midweek game coming off just three days rest.

“It's tough to say what the problem was,” Koch said. “There were so many, it wasn't just one situation. ... It was our energy, our mentality, individual responsibilities. The factors that led to it was obviously fatigue, but it’s inexcusable and of course the players responded to a lot of criticism. We criticized them a lot after Saturday. We came back Monday morning and didn't take our foot off the pedal. We kept giving them critical information to what they needed to do better, and we had an excellent training session Monday and we had an excellent training session yesterday and they played well in the game tonight.”

The win was a relief more than anything, de Wit said.

“Relief that we got the win after 4-nil, 5-nil, up 2-nil against the Red Bulls and we concede three goals,” he said. “It was a tough week so after tonight, it's nice to walk out with three points and everyone was happy.” 

8. Attendance update

Attendance topped 20,000 tickets sold for the ninth time this season in 13 league games at home. Not bad for a midweek match when enthusiasm might be down based on recent results.

The last midweek league game, on April 19 against Tampa Bay, drew just 15,227 fans.

Wednesday’s crowd might have been helped by the “College Night” promotion and $5 beers, as University of Cincinnati recently kicked off its school year. FC Cincinnati is now averaging 22,009 fans per league game.

9. What’s next?

FC Cincinnati gets a much needed rest after playing six extra matches in Open Cup play, an international friendly and at least one more league match than 13 of the other 14 teams in the Eastern Division.

The Orange and Blue won’t play again until Sept. 2 when they host the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in a late afternoon game at Nippert. Koch is giving the team four days off from training, their first real break this season.

“These guys deserved the three points tonight,” Koch said. “They've gone through a lot. I've been very open and transparent about it, that Cup run, having to play so many games has taken so much out of us physically, emotionally. We are all past exhausted.”

FC Cincinnati will get another break from action after the Pittsburgh game before traveling to Harrisburg City on Sept. 12, and the club wraps up the home slate for the regular season Sept. 16 against New York Red Bulls II.

The final four games of the regular season are on the road.

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