FC Cincinnati rallies but settles for 1-1 draw against Charlotte

CINCINNATI -- FC Cincinnati came back from an early deficit to tie the game on Justin Hoyte’s first goal with the club, but settled for a tie in a winnable game.

After giving up a goal in the first 20 minutes, FC Cincy rebounded just before halftime as Hoyte sliced a shot off the far post for the equalizer in a 1-1 draw with the Charlotte Independence in the first match of the “Queen City Cup” rivalry series Saturday at Nippert Stadium.

The match was the start of an important three-game home stretch over eight days, featuring Major League Soccer’s Columbus Crew SC and United Soccer League Eastern Division leader Charleston.

Here are the top 9 takeaways from the tie:

1. No holding back

Despite some outside speculation FC Cincinnati might rest some starters to go all in against Columbus Crew SC on Wednesday, Koch trotted out a full lineup of regulars. It wasn’t so surprising, though.

GALLERY: FC Cincinnati settles for 1-1 draw

FC Cincinnati hadn’t played in a week and last Saturday did take a chance to rest some players after a busy stretch of three games in eight days, so it was unlikely to see that twice in a row from a club pushing for a USL title – no matter how big Wednesday’s game is.

Koch did save Djiby Fall, who was eligible to return from his six-game suspension for the first time in league play. Fall entered in the 72nd minute for Danni Konig.

2. Slow start

FC Cincinnati got off to a slow start to the game, especially on defense with several breakdowns, including one that finally amounted to an Independence goal.

Alex Martinez got free in the box for a point-blank shot at a tough angle, roofing it over FC Cincinnati goalie Mitch Hildebrandt to put Charlotte ahead 1-0 in the 18th minute.

“We know we're not giving too much space because they have the quality to do stuff like that,” FC Cincinnati defender Harrison Delbridge said. “(Matt) Bahner showed him the line, which was what he was supposed to do, and gave him the worst angle possible, but I think we were a little disjointed when they came down the left on that run.

"It was a little disorganized, and maybe if we were better organized there we can adjust and cover better and push out and get tighter to the ball but we'll have to go back and look at it. It was a good finish.”

The Orange and Blue were lucky not to be down by more when the momentum finally shifted in their favor late in the first half. Charlotte had another near chance skim off the post in the 31st minute, and Hildebrandt finished the half with four saves on six shots.

3. Charlotte’s heavy attack

The Independence came down the field with plenty of pace and seemed to catch FC Cincinnati’s defense on its heels at times, but it wasn’t a surprise, according to Koch and Delbridge. Charlotte had rotated several of its midfielders and forwards Wednesday to rest some of its attackers, and they came back energized, Koch said.

Charlotte plays four guys up top, which is something FC Cincinnati doesn’t see often.

“I wouldn't say it was pace so much as they have a lot of numbers forward,” Delbridge said. “They've got four guys against our back four and that's a lot of interchanging, so more than chasing people around it's staying switched on mentally and passing people on instead of getting dragged around, so it was definitely one of those games where you have to be switched on and do lots of talking, which in front of 21,000 people don't realize how hard that is ... we weren't surprised with what they threw forward. They've got a bunch of technical players that will run at you and interchange, and it makes it difficult to get switched up.”

4. Hoyte heroics

Hoyte, a left back, scored the equalizer for his first goal with FC Cincinnati in just his third appearance – his second start since coming back from a hamstring injury suffered April 9 in his debut at Bethlehem.

The former English Premier League player kissed the far-post with a slicing shot from the left side on a give-and-go with Corben Bone in stoppage time, just before the halftime whistle.

“It just fell to me, and I just thought to curl it into the corner and it effectively went in,” Hoyte said. “It was a crucial time in the game and we needed the goal to tie it just before halftime, which was great to go even at halftime and regroup.”

Hoyte’s first goal since 2012 -- while playing with Middlesborough in England’s second tier league -- provided a confidence boost for a player who had seen limited playing time over the past three years.

“You might have heard my reaction when I scored,” Hoyte said. “It was just a sense of relief really. It's been a long battle for me being out of football, and Cincinnati gave me opportunities and I want to repay them by playing as many games as possible and giving 110 percent every game. If I happen to score, that's great, but I will look back on the video and work on my defense as well.”

5. Recharged, still stopped

FC Cincinnati dominated possession in the second half, holding the ball 54.1 percent of the time and limiting Charlotte’s attack, the home side had just one shot on target the second period while outshooting Charlotte 6-3.

The Orange and Blue had chances to win the game, regardless, and couldn’t get it done.

“The group raised the level in the second half and created some more chances and stuff, so there are always positives to take from games,” Delbridge said. “It's a long season so we have to take the positives but we also have to go back and analyze the game and learn from it.”

6. Shots from elsewhere

Hoyte was the first player not named Konig or Fall – the team’s two center forwards – to score for FC Cincinnati in more than a month, but it wasn’t all too surprising that the goal came from someone other than a striker this time.

FC Cincinnati finished with 17 shots (to Charlotte’s nine), but only two came from Fall and Konig and the other two forwards accounted for only another four.

“Different systems allow different players to get themselves in position to where they will have the option to shoot, so I'm not even worried about how many shots we had,” Koch said. “Seventeen isn't a bad number. We'll analyze and see why situations presented themselves that the guys up front didn't get many shots, but at the end of the day, it's not really who shoots. It's about us collectively taking shots.”

7. What it means

The result was enough for FC Cincinnati (4-5-4) to maintain its place among the top eight in the Eastern Division table in that last spot in the playoff race, while Charlotte (3-3-4) remained in 12th with other games still being played Saturday.

However, with division leader Charleston on the slate next weekend, the club could have used the full three points.

“The point feels like a loss,” Koch said. “Sometimes in this game a point can feel like a victory and sometimes it can feel like a loss, but obviously after the success we’ve had at home in the last few games, we come to play here and we expect to win. Give Charlotte a lot of credit. They are a very good team. They have very good individual players. They played a very good game tonight. We looked good in moments but individual little mistakes prevented us from really getting on top tonight.”

FC Cincinnati also is looking to defend its Queen City Cup trophy, which it won last year. The Orange and Blue travel to North Carolina’s Queen City on Sept. 29.

8. Attendance update

FC Cincinnati had one of its strongest weeks for ticket sales and saw its second largest crowd of the season, as 21,115 fans paid to attend. It was the third time in seven home games that Cincinnati turned out a crowd of more than 20,000, and it was the first time since April.

Delbridge said that was part of what made the draw so disappointing, given the great crowd out to support the club.

9. Coming up

FC Cincinnati steps out of league play to host Columbus Crew SC in the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday in a much anticipated matchup with Ohio’s lone MLS club.

FCC is expecting more than 20,000 fans for the mid-week tilt, which could be a preview of a future MLS rivalry should Cincinnati earn a bid into U.S. Soccer’s top league. It’s the first Ohio derby for Columbus, which was one of the founding clubs when the MLS kicked off in 1996.

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