FC Cincinnati overcomes slow start to draw 1-1 with Tampa Bay Rowdies

CINCINNATI -- FC Cincinnati coach Alan Koch gladly will take the one point awarded for his team's 1-1 draw with the Tampa Bay Rowdies, but was disappointed in some of the circumstances behind it.

The Orange and Blue gave up an early goal but responded later in the half with one of their own and held on for a 1-1 tie Wednesday in front of a crowd of 15,227 at Nippert Stadium, despite playing the last 15-plus minutes down a man. The result moved FCC to 2-2-1.

"They scored a world-class goal to start the game," Koch said. "We addressed it at halftime, we weren't happy with how we started the game, … but we adjusted and got a great goal by Harrison (Delbridge). I truly believe in the second half until the red card, we were starting to go with them, creating opportunities and really going with them.

"In the context of the 90 minutes, we'll take the one point (in the standings)."

Here's a look at the top 9 takeaways from the match:

1. Defensive letdown

Coming off its best performance of the year, the defense was a little slow to start the game. One bad FC Cincinnati giveaway led to Marcel Schafer's strike from about 30 yards out, as Tampa Bay took a 1-0 lead in the seventh minute. The hard curler would have been tough for any keeper to stop, but it could have been avoided without the breakdown on defense, which Delbridge, a center back, took blame for in the post-game press conference.

"I was disappointed because I sort of intercepted one and then gave it away," Delbridge said. "It was obviously a good strike, but you can't give the ball away like that."

It wasn't until about 30 minutes in that the defense started making plays, but as the back line tightened up and began intercepting passes and making better clears, the momentum shifted for the offense, too.

2. Making up for the mistake

Delbridge made up for his mistake when he became the first FC Cincinnati player other than Djiby Fall to score this season. His header off Kenney Walker's corner kick in the 36th minute tied the game at 1-1. He was just disappointed the goal couldn't have been for the lead instead.

Fall had scored the team's first six goals, including all four Saturday, and was the only player with more than six shots through the first four games. He had 17. Delbridge had two shots through the first four games.

"I'm happy with the group to step up and battle to get the point to end the game," Delbridge said. "A lot of guys responded. A slow start, sometimes a goal (given up) sort of wakes you up when you haven't started on the front foot."

3. Man down

The Orange and Blue played the final 15-plus minutes with 10 men after Kadeem Dacres was sent off with a red card in the 75th minute. His high kick took down Darwin Jones, and the center ref didn't hesitate to pull the card, which makes him suspended for the next game.

Koch said he didn't think it should have been a red card but will review the film before making a decision to dispute it with the league.

Moments after the card, Mitch Hildebrandt batted away a good Tampa Bay opportunity, and Walker headed away the rebound shot to keep the game tied. FCC's defense held up the rest of the way despite the personnel disadvantage. FC Cincinnati had played down a man for almost 70 minutes in a 2-0 loss at Bethlehem earlier this month.

"I'm really happy with the way the guys responded to an unfortunate call," Delbridge said. "It's something we learned from being a man down against Bethlehem. Once something like that happens in a game, the strategy changes a little and I think the boys had an idea how we were going to manage it and were able to get the point."

4. Physical battle

Late in the game, McLaughlin took a kick to the face from former England international Joe Cole and lay on the ground in pain for a few minutes before jogging off and then re-entering at the next stop. Cole did not get carded for the kick, despite groans from the crowd during a replay.

That play, along with Dacres' card, were just two examples of the physical play between the two teams. There were five cards issued overall, and FCC had 11 fouls compared to Tampa's 20.

"Give them credit: They saw how we played on Saturday when we played very, very well, and they came in and one way to disrupt a team's rhythm is to go in and play very, very physical," Koch said. "At times, the referee is going to call things, and sometimes they are not. I think that's how they tried to impose themselves on us at the start of the game. They have some big bodies. I don't think it rattled us by any means … but I don't think that was part of the game plan."

5. Addressing the slow starts

This was the second straight game FC Cincinnati turned around a slow start, but Koch said this one could be attributed to Tampa Bay's competitiveness and experience level on the field with several "world-class players."

"They did a very good job remaining compact and making it difficult to play through them, but when a team closes one space, another space opens up and the first 30 minutes we didn't do a good job of finding that space," Koch said.

Despite the slow start, FC Cincinnati ended up with possession advantage the first half but unsurprisingly was left chasing for two-thirds of the second half, in large part because of the red card to Dacres. FCC still outshot Tampa 10-7 for the game; the Rowdies keeper finished with two saves and Hildebrandt had one.

Koch still plans to address the need to get out of the gate quicker and said he will review the film with players to see what could be done better.

"It is imperative in this league, the way the league has evolved and gotten better and better each year, including pulling in teams like Tampa Bay (from the North American Soccer League), you have to be ready to play right from the start and be able to play a full 90 minutes," Koch said. "It's definitely something we have to address."

6. Lineup changes

Koch clearly isn't superstitious. After a solid all-around performance Saturday leading to a 4-0 win over St. Louis FC, he made two adjustments to the starting lineup Wednesday.

Remaining in a 4-3-3, FC Cincinnati replaced Victor Mansaray with Jimmy McLaughlin and Andrew Wiedeman started in place of Aodhan Quinn. Both McLaughlin and Wiedeman were returning to the starting XI. Wiedeman had been in Mansaray's spot (though in the 4-1-4-1 formation used the first few games) and McLaughlin was benched last week to get Corben Bone into the starting lineup for the first time.

Mansaray had made his first start Saturday, but aside from one memorable move, a yellow card and a few flops, he had little to show from his performance. He had no shots, no chances created and the fewest touches of any of the starters before McLaughlin replaced him in the 67th minute. Quinn was pushed out of the starting XI for the first time but seemingly not for lack of performance, as he had one of the highest passing accuracy ratings Saturday and one chance created.

McLaughlin in particular played well Wednesday, Koch noted, saying he brings a "huge amount of energy and creative elements when taking plays on."

7. Attendance update

FCC was already guaranteed a strong paid attendance figure, thanks to the 11,000-plus season ticket holders, but the stadium filled in nicely in as the game went on for an impressive midweek crowd of 15,227.

The Orange and Blue had five USL home games under 16,000 last year. The lowest of three weeknight games was a 14,157 attendance on a Wednesday in late August against Rochester and the highest was 17,415 on Labor Day. The third weeknight game was a Wednesday in July, drawing 16,127 fans.

8. What the result means

Tampa Bay entered Wednesday sitting in fourth in the Eastern Conference standings, while FC Cincinnati was seventh. FCC had knocked St. Louis FC out of the top spot on Saturday, so that's four points earned the past two games against quality competition.

FCC had just three points before this homestand and were tied for 13th in the Eastern Conference. The club was at fifth late Saturday night.

"We're disappointed we didn't get the three points, but like I said, given the circumstances, we'll take the one point and move forward," Koch said.

9. Looking ahead

FC Cincinnati faces a top 4 team for the third straight game at home Saturday, hosting rival
Louisville City (3-0-1) in what has been deemed a blackout game. Louisville was sitting in first in the Eastern Conference at the beginning of the day Wednesday.

The teams went 1-1-1 against each other last year with Louisville winning the first one 3-2 and FCC winning the last one 2-0. Louisville won the division last year and made the Eastern Conference finals for the second straight season.

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