CINCINNATI -- Djiby Fall gave an electric crowd plenty of reasons to cheer during FC Cincinnati’s home opener Saturday.
The veteran striker amassed four goals to carry FCC to a 4-0 win over St. Louis FC (3-2-1) in front of a United Soccer League home opener record crowd of 23,144.
PHOTOS: FC Cincy crushes the competition
Fall, a newcomer to Cincinnati this year, got FCC (2-2-0) going late in the first half, and St. Louis simply couldn’t keep up from there. Here is a look at the top 9 takeaways from the game.
1. Djiby Fall does it all, literally
There were some questions about Fall when he signed this offseason, as he hadn’t scored a lot of goals since his Norwegian Player of the Year season in 2010 when he amassed 16. However, he showed in the preseason he could be effective, particularly in the air, with five goals in exhibition games, and with his double brace Saturday, he now has all six of FCC’s regular-season tallies.
“It was awesome,” FC Cincinnati coach Alan Koch said. “Congratulations to Djiby for scoring the four goals. That's amazing. And congratulations to the whole team. I think Djiby would be the first one to say this: The service into him tonight was very, very good. Obviously, it's a team sport, congratulations to him scoring the four goals, but congrats to the whole team. I think we looked dangerous and created a lot of opportunities.”
His first three goals this season all were on headers.
Fall’s first goal Saturday came on a beautiful cross by Lakota West High School graduate and former UC player Matt Bahner, and the second was on a quick touch from Harrison Delbridge just before halftime. The third goal of the night came as FCC peeled through St. Louis’ defense with a string of nice passes before the wide open Fall finished off a feed from Tyler Polak in the 47th minute. The fourth was off a service from Kenney Walker from the right flank in the 62nd minute.
2. Better than Ugo?
For a little perspective on how meaningful Fall’s performance has been, the comparison naturally goes to the guy he was brought in to help replace.
FC Cincinnati lost USL Golden Boot winner and MVP Sean Okoli to Major League Soccer’s New York City FC during the offseason, leaving serious concern as to where the goals would come from this year. As impressive as Okoli was, though, only seven of his 16 goals came in the run of play. Nine were on penalty kicks.
All six of Fall’s have come from the open field, and it’s just the fourth game.
“I'm very happy, but I want to congratulate my teammates because without them I can't score goals,” Fall said, noting he had never scored four goals in a game before. “We've thought a lot about how to use me and how we need to get goals, so congratulations to the team because it wouldn’t happen without my teammates.”
3. An attacking lineup
After scoring just two goals through the first three games and being shut out at Bethlehem on April 9, FC Cincinnati went with a different look to the lineup Saturday.
Koch traditionally has gone with one striker up front, using a 4-2-3-1 or 4-1-4-1, but in an attempt to get more offense, he turned to a 4-3-3 against St. Louis with youngster Victor Mansaray getting his first start alongside Kadeem Dacres and Fall.
Andrew Wiedeman and Jimmy McLaughlin found themselves on the bench as reserves, and Corben Bone, a regular starter last year, was back in the starting 11 in the midifield.
4. A game of possession
The Orange and Blue got off to a slow start, seeming out of sync as in previous games, and had few chances through the first 30 minutes. While dominating possession, the defense and midfield couldn’t find players to their feet in the offensive third and sent too many unreachable through balls that ended up sailing over the touch line or scooped up by a St. Louis defender.
FCC finally got in a rhythm after a near goal by Matt Bahner in the 32nd minute. Two minutes later, Fall found the back of the net, and with the 2-0 lead coming out of the locker room, FC Cincinnati looked like the passing team it has strived to be.
“We struggled with that a little bit in our first three games, but I think tonight we really took care of the ball,” Koch said. “You could feel the groove once the group went out and maintained possession at the end and we really finished off the game. … Our group was very good defensively for the course of 90 minutes.”
The defense did its part in limiting St. Louis to seven shots, none on target, as Mitch Hildebrandt collected his second clean sheet without needing a save.
5. High-scoring hopes
FC Cincinnati is aiming for 62 goals this season, which would be one more than defending USL champion New York Red Bulls II tallied last year, and the goal might seem a bit far-fetched after the Orange and Blue totaled 42 tallies in 2016.
However, the team’s performance Saturday is a positive step in that direction. FCC scored three goals in a game just once last year and never more than that. Fall was the first player in club history to record a hat trick.
“I don't care who scores the goals,” Koch said. “A few other guys looked dangerous tonight. We like that Djiby can score goals, but we have some other guys who want to step up and score when the opportunities present themselves.”
6. A Memorable homecoming
Bahner said he couldn’t have imagined a better homecoming. The local product got to throw out the first pitch at the Reds game Friday and then had quite the performance himself Saturday. He assisted the first goal, helped the defense earn the shutout and had a chance to play in front of a hometown crowd he never dreamed would be possible.
The starting defender said he had several friends and family members in attendance and relished a chance to play in such a special environment.
7. Three big points
St. Louis entered the game sitting atop the Eastern Conference table with 10 points, but it’s too early to gain much excitement about that. The important thing was getting a much-needed win.
Even Koch sensed a level of concern from the fans after a 1-2-0 start, and players have expressed their own frustration in not living up to what they feel they are capable of accomplishing.
FCC was among the bottom half of the Eastern Conference with just three points but moved to sixth in the 16-team conference with the win.
“For some people, we played our first three games of the season on the road, there was a little concern in terms of how we were doing,” Koch said. “It's not very easy to go play on the road in this league, as tonight's game showed. It was a good performance by our group, a good performance by our fans, an awesome result and gives us something to build on the next two games at home.”
8. Attendance record shattered
FC Cincinnati broke the Sacramento Republic’s home opener attendance record of 20,231, which it set in its inaugural home game in 2014.
That figure had been the league’s single-game record, as well, until FCC topped it in the second home game last year and broke it two more times in the 2016 regular season. The record stands at 24,376. Saturday’s crowd was the club’s third highest regular-season attendance ever.
“I've been a part of this game for a long, long time, and that was a pretty special environment tonight,” Koch said. “You could feel it, the players could feel it. It was great we were up 2-0 at halftime and the place got a good shift in the first 45 minutes, but you could really feel the place getting behind the guys.”
9. Looking ahead
FC Cincinnati doesn’t get much time to enjoy the win, as it continues its three-game home stretch Wednesday against Tampa Bay Rowdies (3-1-0), who suffered their first loss Saturday, and then meets rival Louisville City on April 22.
Koch said the chance to play at home makes a big difference.
“It's not going to be easy, and every game is going to get more difficult as you move ahead but we will let the guys enjoy this tonight, rest tomorrow and come back Monday and Tuesday to get ready for a big battle against the big names in Tampa Bay,” Koch said.