FC Cincinnati struggling with red cards -- and suspensions -- so far this season
Craven hit with four-game ban
Laurel Pfahler | WCPO Contributor
4:12 PM, May 3, 2017
CINCINNATI -- Here we go again.
FC Cincinnati picked up a fourth red card Saturday in a loss at Bethlehem Steel FC, and offender Andy Craven was suspended four games as a result of the “violent conduct” and deliberate targeting of an opponent’s head.
Last week, forward Djiby Fall was hit with a six-game suspension, one for a red card in the April 22 draw with Louisville City and an additional five for allegedly biting an opposing player during an argument after the call. FCC has lost four players for a combined 12 games.
The trend is somewhat alarming considering FCC had no red cards last season -- Mitch Hildebrandt’s ejection from a game at New York Red Bulls II was later overturned on appeal and wiped from the records. However, first-year FCC coach Alan Koch said the cards are no reflection on the type of players and coaches that make up the club or the style of play on the pitch.
He just hopes he doesn’t have to talk about red cards after this weekend’s game at Richmond.
“We are frustrated,” Koch said about the red cards in the first open practice of the week Wednesday. “It was very frustrating for everybody. Andy just came in and apologized to the group, and he obviously put something on social media a few days ago. We accept his apology.
"Crazy things happen at times in the heat of the moment, but we definitely know as a group we have to address it.”
Craven’s card was the first that obviously resulted from a “heat-of-the-moment” reaction, as he had tangled with Bethlehem’s Santi Moar multiple times during the game before finally losing control in the waning minutes of the 1-0 loss.
Fall’s additional five games beyond the normal one-game penalty came as a result of a reaction after the red card was pulled for a cleats-up tackle, but the two prior cards came on plays for the ball.
“It was a reaction,” Koch said. “They were pulling at Andy, pushing him, trying to get under his skin and it wasn't just one isolated incident, it was repetitive. You can watch the game and see it was happening continuously, but eventually obviously he reacted. We all know people will try to get under your skin and we have to make sure we don't respond the way he did, unfortunately.
“If you analyze the red cards overall, you can't say they are malicious. Isolated incidents happen all over the field. There are horrendous tackles that happen in the course of the game and sometimes people only get a yellow card. I'm not saying we weren't deserving of the red cards, but we are not a malicious team by any means.”
Four red cards in seven games -- all in the previous five matches, including the last three in a row -- is a bit much, though.
FCC leads the 30-team United Soccer League in red cards and is fifth in fouls conceded (96) and 18th in yellow cards (nine).
A year ago, the club was the only one in the league without a red card on record, and the most any team had was eight. FCC is already halfway there less than a fourth of the way through the season. Fourteen of 29 teams had four reds or more in all of last season.
Red cards not up elsewhere
Are officials calling games tighter, are players less disciplined or is it all just circumstantial?
“It's a decision that's made on the field,” said Hildebrandt, who has the best view of the field in goal. “The club takes care of it on their end, and the referees do too. It's just the game. Things happen on the field, and situations are situations, so from my perspective I don't really have a comment on (why there have been more red cards).”
It doesn’t appear to be a league-wide trend.
Going into Wednesday, there had been 20 red cards issued around the league so far. Most teams had played about six games to that point, putting the USL on pace for 107 red cards this season. There were 111 red cards last year.
Last week, midfielder Corben Bone said play has been more physical but the fouls aren’t unusual.
“The way we play, teams might be more physical to try to disrupt our style of play, but I don’t think it’s been abnormal,” he said. “Some games have gotten chippy, but that’s part of the game. It happens in every league. You just have to control your emotions and not let it get to you.”
The chippiness just got a little out of hand for Craven.
However, the first-year FCC forward publicly took accountability for his red card on Monday, posting an apology on Twitter before later addressing his team.
“I didn’t represent my club and fans with integrity this past game and I’m sorry,” he wrote. “I’m blessed to be with FC Cincinnati and will work hard to earn back the respect of the fans and club.”
(1/2) I didnt represent my club & fans w/ integrity this past game and Im sorry.
Fans took to social media to complain about the accumulation of red cards after Saturday’s loss, some even claiming they are a reflection on the coaching staff and saying Koch has lost control of the players. Koch replaced John Harkes on Feb. 17, after Harkes was unexpectedly fired the day before FCC left to open its preseason slate in Florida.
When asked about fans placing blame on the staff for the increase in red cards this year, Koch said they should look at a larger sample size before making a judgment in that regard.
“I've been coaching as my job now for close to 20 years, and I think I've had just as many red cards in the last few games as I've had as the leader of a group of men over the course of 20 years,” Koch said. “It certainly has nothing to do with how I coach the group or the style of play.”
Koch spent two years as the Vancouver Whitecaps 2 manager, guiding them to the Western Conference final in 2016, and had previous head coaching experience at NCAA Division II Simon Fraser University in Canada, where was went 126-21-7 in seven seasons, and at Baker University in Kansas.
Vancouver had three red cards in 30 games last year and two in 2015.
Hildebrandt said he supports and respects the coaching staff and believes the rest of the players do as well.
“We’ve got a great group of guys and everybody is a good guy, which you don't get in professional sports,” Hildebrandt said. “We're all fighting for each other and taking the good with the bad together and Alan is right there with us.”
It’s not the first time fans have said a Cincinnati head coach has lost control of players. People have said the same about Bengals coach Marvin Lewis in reference to the defense with players like Adam Jones and Vontaze Burfict racking up personal fouls, fines and even multiple-game suspensions.
Though it’s tough to compare the two sports, Koch argues that none of his players have a history of ejections or bad behavior and none are repeat offenders this year.
Perhaps the frustration of not meeting expectations has affected the emotions and decisions by players on the field.
Despite missing a chance to add points Saturday in a game FCC (2-3-2) dominated, the club remains in seventh in the Eastern Conference with eight points -- five behind leaders Charleston Battery and Tampa Bay Rowdies. Still, many players have been posting apologies and promises to do better on social media after losses.
“We are obviously very critical of ourselves and we know we haven't reached our max by any means," Koch said. "We know we can get better, we know we will get better but we also have to be patient during that process. I still firmly believe in this group. We have 25 games to go and show how good we can be.”