CINCINNATI – FC Cincinnati was seconds away from gaining another three points in the division race but couldn’t hold onto its one-goal lead in the closing minutes.
The Richmond Kickers scored the equalizer in stoppage time and forced FCC to settle for a 1-1 draw Saturday in front of 11,278 fans at Nippert Stadium.
PHOTOS: FC Cincinnati draws Richmond
Despite the disappointing finish, Cincinnati (6-2-3) remains unbeaten in its last seven United Soccer League matches. Here are the top 9 takeaways from the match:
1. Late letdown not new
It’s been a while since FCC has experienced a late-game letdown like this one, but that seemed to be a trend early in the season.
This one happened when Cincinnati briefly got away from its possession game – and that’s usually how the goals against FCC are scored. Richmond intercepted the ball in the air in its defensive third, then moved down the field quickly for the equalizer.
Kickers defender Hugh Roberts scored off a cross from Brian Ownby to the near post, moments before the final whistle sounded.
“I think we started to get away from what we’re good at, playing out of the back and keeping the ball,” defender Harrison Delbridge said. “We started getting into a more physical battle, which is what they sort of wanted. On the practice field, we have practiced finishing games out and sticking to the way we play, and we’re all just disappointed we sort of got away from that.”
2. Same old problems
The breakdown in transition is one thing, but the consistent inability to pull the trigger on opportunities to extend early leads continues to be the biggest concern for FCC.
Cincinnati once again had several scoring opportunities, finishing with 14 shots, but put just six on target and only finished on one of them.
“We dictate the game, we press them, we have the goal,” FCC coach John Harkes said. “We should be 3-nil up with 20 minutes to go, and we weren’t. We could manage things better for sure.
“We had chances. Guys got opportunities. We had chances and we just didn’t bury them. It’s all part of the growth. We will dust it off and prepare this week and make sure we’re ready to go.”
Harkes addresses this issue in just about every home post-game press conference. This was the seventh match in which FCC took the first lead, and while they have won five of those, four were decided by one-goal margins.
3. Missed opportunity in the standings
A win Saturday would have moved FCC into second in the Eastern Division standings with 23 points in 11 league matches.
Instead, FCC is one of three teams with 21 points and sits in third behind New York Red Bulls II, who also have 21 points but a better goal differential. New York plays Sunday, as does first-place Louisville City (24 points), so both have a chance to further extend their leads.
“We are disappointed in giving points away,” Harkes said. “That goal, we just didn’t manage the game so well. That’s part of the game. If you aren’t putting the ball in the back of the net, you’re always going to open the door for the opposition. It’s a lesson learned. There’s still a lot of time to learn from this and move on.”
4. He’s back
Sean Okoli went seven straight league games without scoring in the run of play after finding twine in two of the first three matches, but he ended that streak Saturday with his fifth goal of the season. He gave FC Cincinnati the lead in the 13th minute, putting in the rebound after Richmond goalie Charlie Horton saved a potential own goal when a defender deflected Eric Stevenson’s cross to the far post.
The FCC forward scored on a penalty kick last weekend against Harrisburg City to break a three-week drought since driving in a PK on May 4, and he said then that he wasn’t worried about his personal lack of scoring because “the goals will come” with hard work and persistence.
Okoli said he had been a little “unlucky,” but that wasn’t the case this time. He found himself in perfect position for the rebound, took a touch past a diving Horton to work out of a tricky angle and found an open goal in front of him.
5. Lineup change
Midfielder Eric Stevenson looked sharp in his first USL start Saturday, replacing Ross Tomaselli in the lineup, as FCC used a 4-2-3-1 for a second straight league match.
Stevenson, who had appeared in six previous league games, sent in the cross intended for Okoli, which he ultimately scored on anyway, had two shots in the first half and remained active in the attack until Tomaselli entered for him in the 67th minute.
“We’re looking at personnel, guys getting opportunities,” Harkes said “Eric’s been doing well. He’s a creative player. We felt like getting Eric Stevenson on the field is an opportunity to not only give him a chance to kind of expose them in the little spaces behind, but also rotate players and save some legs.”
6. Rain, rain go away
The match was delayed 58 minutes because of lightning in the area, which sent the teams to the locker rooms just 43 seconds after kickoff.
By kickoff, the rain had cleared and fans returned to their seats to provide another decent crowd for the orange and blue.
FCC has played one home game in warm, sunny conditions – the April 16 game against Louisville City – while the rest have either been cool, rainy or both. Still, the club has drawn more than 10,000 fans to every league game at Nippert Stadium so far.
7. Clean-sheet streak ends
After giving up six goals through a 2-2 start, the club has allowed five during an unbeaten streak of seven United Soccer League games, but the late goal allowed Saturday prevented FCC from a third straight clean sheet.
Harkes had expressed disappointment in the lack of clean sheets after playing Wilmington to a 1-1 draw on April 30, and the club went two more games after that before getting its first one in a 1-0 win over Pittsburgh on May 14.
Goalie Mitch Hildebrandt finished with six saves and still had a remarkable performance Saturday.
8. Physical play hurt FCC
FCC has done a pretty good job this season not letting physical play rattle it, but that seemed to be getting more and more difficult as the game went on Saturday.
Usually the club plays around the physicality by playing the ball on the ground and avoiding 50-50 balls, but FCC played into Richmond’s hands with several long balls late in the game.
“One of our strengths is not letting teams get into that battle with us,” Delbridge said. “We do a good job of keeping the ball and holding most of the possession, which we did in the first half quite a bit, dominating the flow of play. We do a good job of dictating play with possession, so it’s disappointing we got away from that when you let teams battle with you like that physically, it’s anyone’s game, but when you stick to keeping the possession, we usually come away with the win.”
Richmond finished with 11 fouls to Cincinnati’s five.
9. More possession, less opportunities
One thing that stood out in the box score was the number of shots by each team.
FC Cincinnati did have a possession advantage, but managed 14 shots compared to Richmond’s 17. The Kickers outshot FCC 10-6 in the second half, and they also had five corner kicks, while Cincinnati had just two.