CINCINNATI -- FC Cincinnati coach Alan Koch did not want to discuss Louisville City’s allegations that Djiby Fall bit one of their players in Saturday’s rivalry match.
But he did insinuate that teams are perhaps trying to bait the standout forward into negative reactions or at least take him out of his game.
Fall, the United Soccer League’s leading scorer after a four-goal game against St. Louis on April 15, was issued a red card in the 87th minute of Saturday’s 1-1 draw for a cleats-up tackle on Louisville midfielder Niall McCabe.
After the play, the two made contact in an apparent shouting match, but it is unknown what was said.
Louisville coach James O’Connor told the Louisville Courier-Journal after the game that during the fray, Fall bit McCabe’s cheek. FC Cincinnati stood behind Fall in a statement issued by the team, and Fall was not at practice Tuesday or made available to media.
“The fact he scored those four goals and he is a big, physical presence, other teams are definitely more aware of him, and they are doing whatever they can to get under his skin,” Koch said, speaking in general terms about how teams are defending Fall. “You can see in our games, he is getting doubled, he is getting tripled. You will see players intentionally fouling him. They are doing whatever they can to obviously get under his skin, and not only disrupt him but to disrupt us as a group.”
The attention has been on Fall since the St. Louis match put him at six tallies for the season in just four games. He had seven shots, six on target, in that outing to go along with 32 touches.
In two games since then, Fall managed just three shots, none on goal, and 46 touches combined.
“They know he was our lone striker and he scores a lot of the goals, so … based on his last performances, I think they might be playing him a little differently,” FC Cincinnati midfielder Corben Bone said. “The whole league knows he's a guy that scores goals for us and they'll do whatever they can to stop him.”
Koch noted after both the Tampa Bay and Louisville games last week that teams are starting to play FCC more physical overall.
Defender Austin Berry said the team grew accustomed to that last year when the attention was on negating Sean Okoli, who is now with Major League Soccer’s New York City FC after a Golden Boot and USL MVP season with FCC in 2016. Fall was brought in to help replace Okoli and the production he provided with 16 goals -- nine of which came on penalty kicks that often resulted from fouls he drew.
“Teams just try to disrupt the rhythm a little bit,” Berry said Tuesday after practice. “The more we can get the ball into dangerous positions, the less they are going to want to foul us because I think we have shown we are decent on set pieces as well. So I think the better we get breaking lines and getting into the attack, I think the less fouls we'll see because a lot of the fouls and physical play is happening in the middle third and our back third."
There were 31 fouls combined in each of the last two games (62 total), including 20 committed by Tampa Bay and 14 by Louisville.
When asked if the more physical play has led to a discussion reminding players not to react emotionally, Koch said he hasn’t felt a need for that just yet because his players have “managed it very, very well,” so far.
FCC has three red cards in six games after picking up one all of last year -- and even that one was wiped from the records by an appeal to the league but Koch said all three were in reasonable circumstances. Defender Paul Nicholson collected the first one two weeks ago at Bethlehem Steel FC in the 23rd minute of a 2-0 loss for FCC, and forward Kadeem Dacres was dealt a red for a high kick to the groin in the Tampa Bay game last Wednesday.
“If you look at the red cards we've picked up so far, it's certainly more than we'd like to get, but if you look at the first one, Paul Nicholson actually trips and his head falls into the guy's leg,” Koch said. “It's almost comedic to a certain degree. It is a red card because he's the last man back, and then Kadeem has a bad touch and tries to get the ball and circumstantially, is it a red card or not, who knows?
"Obviously in Saturday's game there were so many fouls and situations that present themselves in the game, and then unfortunately, Djiby left his feet and when you leave your feet you expose yourself.”
Koch did not elaborate further regarding what happened after Fall’s red card but when asked if he was surprised to hear that O’Connor had publicly made accusations through the media, he said: “I think there are certain avenues to deal with situations that present themselves in games. I'll just leave it at that.”
Louisville City submitted photos to the league that show Fall and McCabe pressed up against each other in the verbal dispute, and USL spokesperson Nicholas Murray told WCPO.com on Tuesday the league is still investigating.
“The league is reviewing the incident along with all other bookings from the weekend and expects to make an update later this week,” Murray said in an email.
FC Cincinnati issued its own statement in which President and General Manager Jeff Berding said the club found no evidence of a bite in its internal review of the incident.
"It is unfortunate that Louisville City's head coach has once again made serious post-match allegations against FC Cincinnati,” Berding said in the statement. “James O'Connor said during post-match comments that Djiby bit one of their players, that the referee acknowledged this occurred and that the allegation would be included in the referee's post-match report.
"… We have seen no evidence to substantiate the allegations made by Louisville City Head Coach James O'Connor, and it is our belief his post-match comments are not true. Djiby is in the midst of his 14th season as a professional soccer player and received just the second red card of his career (Saturday) night. Any attempt to portray Djiby as a dirty player is extremely unfair.”
Fall will be suspended for one game for the red card, thus missing this weekend’s game at Bethlehem. He could potentially face additional discipline if the league finds evidence to substantiate O’Connor’s claim.
“We know he is suspended for this weekend, so we have belief and faith in our entire group of players,” Koch said. “One player doesn't make a team.”