Yellow, red cards continue to dog FC Cincinnati striker Djiby Fall

Top scorer won't back down from physical opponents

CINCINNATI -- Djiby Fall takes his job as a center forward seriously and won’t back down when challenged.

That’s been both a blessing and a curse for the first-year FC Cincinnati player.

Fall leads the team with 15 goals this season, including 11 in United Soccer League play and four game-winners in the U.S. Open Cup -- the most recent coming in a quarterfinal at Miami FC on Wednesday.

Yet his high level of play hasn’t come without cost.

As opponents have become more physical with Fall, he’s become a victim of his own success. He picked up his second red card of the season (this time from a double yellow) last weekend in a 3-2 loss to Rochester and will miss Saturday’s home match against Orlando City B as a result.

Fall previously served a six-game suspension for a violent conduct ejection April 22 against Louisville, a punishment that was extended because he allegedly bit an opposing player in an argument after the card was drawn.

FC Cincinnati forward Djiby Fall tries to steal the ball from Rochester Rhinos’ Joe Farrell during their game at Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati Saturday, July 29, 2017. (E.L. Hubbard/WCPO Contributor)

The 6-foot-2 Senegal native also will miss the club’s Cup semifinal match against Major League Soccer’s New York Red Bulls on Aug. 15 because of yellow card accumulation, as he picked up his third yellow card of the tournament while leading FC Cincinnati to victory in Miami.

“He's a big, physical presence, and every person who plays against him is literally all over him, and every team we play against puts their big boys on him, and they've got arms, legs around him for 90 minutes,” FC Cincinnati coach Alan Koch said. “He's an experienced pro and knows how to manage that, but they've been very physical with him and he cannot shy away from that challenge.”

'I am happiness'

Fall said he has been surprised by many of the cards he has received and believes some of them were issued unfairly based on a false impression officials have of him since the six-game suspension.

“It's like, 'What's wrong?'” Fall said. “But in general, I don't focus on what they (the officials) do. I just play my game. I cannot change the way I play. This is my way to play. Sometimes it could be more fair to both sides, but at the moment, it feels like since the things that happened before against this team, I have a lot of good talking against me, so I don't see why I could change it because (when) I came back from the game against Cleveland in Cup, after my suspension when I came for the first start, if I bumped the guys, I got a straight yellow card.”

Fall was given a yellow card in the 38th minute of FC Cincinnati’s second-round Cup game against AFC Cleveland, but that didn’t hold him back.

He scored the game winner in the 117th minute to set up an extra match against Louisville in the next round.

“To me, they put a lot of negative things in the minds of people, but this is not the real Djiby Fall,” he added. “I am happiness. I am not like what people take it. If you're not close to me, you don't know who I am. If you're on the pitch, I respect the football, and some people don't respect you. They do things and try to show the bold side against me, and this is not normal. The only thing I have to answer to them is what I do and score some goals.”

Captain Austin Berry noted after last weekend’s game that officials don’t seem to be giving a lot of warnings, particularly when it comes to Fall. He, too, believes refs are coming in with pre-conceived notions about Fall, based on what happened earlier this season against Louisville.

FC Cincinnati is first in the league with six red cards and 11th of 30 teams in yellow cards, but the Orange and Blue hadn’t had a red card since the end of April until last weekend when Fall and backup goalie Dallas Jaye were sent off with ejections.

“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,” Berry said.

Still scoring goals

The 32-year-old Fall has continued to produce regardless of how opponents have played him and without regard to how officials might react to his play.

He has earned USL Team of the Week honors four times and is fifth in goals, despite sitting out six games in league play. He recorded four goals and one assist in July, while helping FC Cincinnati to its first three-game USL winning streak in club history.

“Every single day I work to score goals,” he said. “That's my job. When you play striker, you need to score goals, and that's the best way I can help the team.”

Djiby Fall and teammates celebrate after Fall scored the winning goal against AFC Cleveland in a U.S. Open Cup game in May. Fall also received a yellow card in the match. (WCPO file)

Koch had seen Fall’s scoring ability in the past and was confident he could repeat it for Cincinnati, though he had just three goals combined over the two seasons prior to signing with the club.

Fall, who has scored 10 goals or more five times in nine seasons, has always played center forward but Koch said he probably wasn’t always put in the same kind of position for success in other leagues, where the style of play differs from place to place.

“I think the way we play as a group sets him up for success, and he obviously has to be calm, cool and collected and seize those moments, which is not that easy to do, but he's done it before and the fact he's done it before, I was confident he could come into this environment and do it again,” Koch said.

Fall is the only FC Cincinnati player to score in Cup action (no one scored in the win over Chicago Fire, which came in a shootout) and has accounted for almost half the club’s 32 goals this season, but Koch maintains his confidence in the others around him.

Danni Konig, who was signed during Fall’s six-game suspension, adds seven goals in 17 games, and Jimmy McLaughlin has three goals -- two in the last two USL games -- with several other close chances.

“I know there are a lot of people that seem quite devastated about it, but I am a firm believer in our squad,” Koch said. “I know he's been a guy that has scored goals to help us with some of our Cup games -- he's a great asset, a big part of our team -- but we have other players too."

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