Controversial calls doom FC Cincinnati in 3-2 loss to Rhinos

CINCINNATI -- FC Cincinnati kept up with Rochester for most of the night, despite being down a man for about 50 minutes, but in the end the club couldn’t overcome. 

The visiting Rhinos took advantage of a pair of controversial calls in the box to put away two late penalty kicks for a 3-2 win Saturday in front of 23,548 fans at Nippert Stadium.

Even before Rochester was awarded the kicks, which put the Rhinos up 3-1 by the 82nd minute, the officiating had become a storyline, as the flow of the game was constantly interrupted by calls and cards.

“There were lots of individual moments in the game that we feel weren't handled correctly, but I haven't had the luxury so far of seeing if it was a penalty kick, if it was a handball, if every foul we made deserved a yellow card, if the fouls they made were deserving of just warnings or more,” FC Cincinnati coach Alan Koch said. “I don't know at this stage. The crowd and people that have the ability to watch replays probably know better than I do." 

Koch said dealing with "the elements" is just a part of the job. 

“It's important for a coach to be nice and calm and collected during the game, and it's important for his players to go out and embrace the game and go out and put in a good shift, and it's also important for the officials in the game not to get caught up in the game and lose control," Koch said. "Unfortunately some of those things didn't happen.”

Here’s a look at the top 9 takeaways from the game:

1. The game changers

With the score tied 1-1 in the 78th minute, Wal Fall took a foul in the box by Andrew Wiedeman and the official awarded Rochester its first penalty kick. Less than four minutes later, FC Cincinnati’s Kevin Schindler was called for a handball in the box – though the replay showed he trapped the ball with his body with arms clearly behind him.

Wal Fall put both of the kicks past FC Cincinnati goalie Mitch Hildebrandt, who dove the wrong direction on each attempt.

FC Cincinnati finally received a penalty kick of its own, which Danni Konig scored on after a handball in the box, in the 86th minute, but that was all the hosts could do to answer.

“The first (PK) the players ran into each other, and I don't know if it's a penalty but I haven't seen it yet,” Koch said. “Moments like that can break you, and the second one, from what the guys were saying wasn't a handball and all the sudden you're like, 'What the (heck) is going on?'”

2. Out of control

Two calls by head referee Guido Gonzalez Jr. ultimately decided the outcome of the game, but he changed the flow of play well before that first penalty kick.

It really started to get out of control when Djiby Fall received his second yellow of the game in the 42nd minute in a soft collision with Rhinos defender Wal Fall in which Djiby seemed to clearly make a play for the ball. Then, less than three minutes later, Wal Fall went down again on a similar play by Josu Currais and Currais was given a yellow.

“A lot of refs come in with pre-conceived notions about Djiby just from earlier this season, but it seems he didn't give a lot of warnings,” defender Austin Berry said. “The first little tackle he shined a yellow a lot. I don't see a lot of yellows on forwards when we're getting tackled, but we need to be a little smarter in situations.”

Fans booed Wal Fall every time he touched the ball after that, as well as when the officials walked off the field at halftime, but nothing changed after the break.

FC Cincinnati finished with eight cards to Rochester’s two, and the teams combined for 35 fouls – 18 to Cincinnati and 17 to the Rhinos.

“I do know there were multiple fouls made by them that they got warnings and we didn't get warnings,” Koch said. “We ask for consistency. ... That's what makes the game a level playing field and you can appreciate whatever happens during the game.”

Koch later added, “The referee was very dictatorial. He's clearly came in and wasn't open to communicating with anyone tonight. He was there to obviously be the show.”

3. Opportunity lost

Koch refers to games like this one as potential for a six-pointer because that’s what it feels like with a win.

The loss not only caused FC Cincinnati to miss out on a chance to gain three in the standings, but also a chance to further separate itself from Rochester and the others behind it in the playoff chase. Cincinnati was sitting in fifth place entering the game, one point ahead of the sixth-place Rhinos, and would have been four points up with a win. Instead, the two teams flipped places.

FC Cincinnati, which had its three-game win streak in USL play end, is now seven points behind leader Charleston, which beat tied Orlando City on Saturday.

“It takes a lot of extra energy to stand up right now, but you've got to be careful and make sure you channel that in the right direction,” Koch said. “… It is very frustrating right now.”

4. Conceding early

It seemed only a matter of time before Rochester was going to score after dominating possession the first 10-plus minutes of the game, and the goal came after Bradley Kadem Fewo sent a dangerous cross into the box.

Sofiane Tergou got a head on it to put the ball right near the penalty dot, and FC Cincinnati center back Justin Hoyte couldn’t get a clean clearance, allowing Jochen Graf a chance to finish. Graf trapped the ball with his chest and volleyed his shot off the near post and in to make it 1-0 in the 12th minute.

The goal was Graf’s third in the last five games. He leads the Rhinos with five goals on the season.

FC Cincinnati bounced back after that but the slow start proved detrimental.

“We asked the guys, 'Did we play well for most of the 90 minutes?' and the answer was obviously, 'No,’” Koch said. “We played well for huge chunks of the game, but we didn't start the game as well as we needed to. In this league, you have to be ready to play right from the start to have success.”

5. Snake-bitten no more

Maybe all Jimmy McLaughlin needed was a little confidence booster to break his unlucky streak.

The second-year FC Cincinnati forward/midfielder scored in a second straight game to even the score at 1-1 in the 29th minute when Kenney Walker sent a long ball that McLaughlin got a foot on to beat Rhinos goalie Tomas Gomez for an empty-netter.

McLaughlin has three goals this season but several more near goals. Koch said earlier this week that he had told McLaughlin he was sitting on the bench to start last weekend’s game against Harrisburg but that he would go in when everyone else was fatigued and take advantage – which he did for a late goal.

Walker leads FC Cincinnati with five assists.

6. Overcoming disadvantage

FC Cincinnati still hung in there, despite conceding possession time to the Rhinos in the first 12 minutes and playing more than half the game down a man.

Ball control favored Rochester only slightly at halftime and FC Cincinnati finished with 44.4 percent possession time even with the personnel disadvantage the entire second half. It never felt like Rochester was dominating, except the first 12 minutes.

“We still gave ourselves a chance to stay in the game and get something out of it,” defender Austin Berry said. “A couple unfortunate plays at the end, but we still came down and played the ball well at the end of the first half and at points in the second half.”

FC Cincinnati was playing to protect the score in the second half to at least secure a point but did bring on some subs with hopes the fresh legs could net a goal.

“We did a good job of closing the space down and getting behind the ball, which takes a lot of hard work when you are a man down,” Koch said.

7. Fired up

Berry said the loss stung but will likely just fire up the boys even more for the next one.

“I haven't had a lot of games like this in my career, knock on wood, but the majority of the time the next game you come out just on fire because there's a lot of guys that are pissed off in a good way,” he said.

FC Cincinnati was 6-1-4 at home going into the game and had been playing some of its best soccer in recent weeks.

“We've been fantastic the last few weeks, and one loss doesn't change that by any means,” Koch said. “It humbles us a little bit. It might be a good way for us to come back down to earth, and we'll keep working to get the next one, which is obviously an exciting game.”

8. What’s next?

FC Cincinnati dives back into U.S. Open Cup play Wednesday when it travels to face North American Soccer League spring season champion Miami FC in the quarterfinals at Florida International University.

The match originally was slated to take place July 12 but never got started as storms hit about an hour before kickoff and showed no promise of clearing that night. FC Cincinnati was going to be without its entire starting back line because of injuries, two of which were unknown until the club’s announcement that evening. That line of Austin Berry, Harrison Delbridge and Justin Hoyte started Saturday.

The winner of Wednesday’s match hosts Major League Soccer’s New York Red Bulls in the semifinals on Aug. 9 and becomes the first non-MLS club to make the final four since 2011.

FC Cincinnati resumes league play Aug. 5 when it hosts Orlando City B.

9. Average attendance milestone

Lost in the controversy of the officiating was the fact that FC Cincinnati became the first club in United Soccer League history to hit the 20,000 mark for average attendance Saturday with its crowd of 23,548.

The club was at 19,727 fans per league game entering the match and needed 22,810 to reach the milestone. It now averages 20,062 fans a game. Saturday’s crowd was the second largest (for a league game) in FC Cincinnati’s two-year history, behind the Orlando City B game last September, as well as the seventh one this season over 20,000 – in 12 home league games -- and the fifth one in the last six USL contests at Nippert.

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