After a disappointing midweek loss at Tampa Bay, FC Cincinnati bounced back Sunday to earn its first win over the Richmond Kickers.
FC Cincinnati took an early lead on a goal by Djiby Fall in the third minute and finally got some insurance with Aodhan Quinn’s penalty kick in the 91st minute for a 2-0 win in front of 21,769 fans at Nippert Stadium.
The two teams had played two draws in their first three meetings in the all-time series.
Here is a look at the top 9 takeaways from the match:
1. Rotating back to normal
After dropping a 2-0 loss at Tampa on Thursday with a lineup missing standouts Jimmy McLaughlin, Corben Djiby Fall, Matt Bahner and injured Harrison Delbridge, FC Cincinnati’s starting 11 looked a little sturdier Sunday, and it paid off.
FC Cincinnati coach Alan Koch continues to adjust the lineup to accommodate a full schedule made more congested by the club’s U.S. Open Cup run, but FC Cincinnati needed a win after gaining just one point in two games on the road last week.
“Full credit to the players -- 13 games in 53 days, I've never been through that before,” Koch said. “I'd like somebody to tell me another team that has. To show the endurance and character that our group has showed to get through this is nothing short of remarkable.”
McLaughlin, Bone, Fall and Bahner all returned refreshed and contributed to the win. Delbridge remains out and “day-to-day” with an abdominal injury suffered July 1 at Orlando City B.
2. Three big points
There is no such thing as a must-win at this point in the season – just the second match beyond the halfway point – but the three points gained Sunday were big coming off a two-game road trip that amounted to one point.
The win helped move FC Cincinnati up two spots to sixth place, ahead of Rochester Rhinos by goal differential at 24 points each and ahead of eighth-place New York Red Bulls II, which dropped a loss to Bethlehem on Sunday to remain at 21 points.
“Wins are important for sure, especially coming off a loss,” midfielder Corben Bone said. “You always want to bounce back and get a result, especially coming back home. Coming back here and winning in front of our fans, that's fantastic. As a club, I don't think we've beat Richmond yet, so that was the first time we beat them. It's a good night to win.”
Rochester had beaten Harrisburg City Islanders 1-0 on Saturday to temporarily move ahead of FC Cincinnati. The No. 2-7 teams are all within five points of each other, led by Louisville City’s 29 points,
but Charleston Battery continues to run away with the lead at 35 points. The top eight teams in each division make the playoffs.
Richmond entered the game last in the 15-team Eastern Division with just 12 points.
3. Perfect setup
FC Cincinnati got on the board in the third minute with its quickest goal in club history, after Fall ran onto a well-timed long ball from Kenney Walker and tapped it home from the top of the 18-yard box.
Walker sent in the pass from the defensive third, launching it over Richmond defender Conor Shanosky to give Djiby a wide open space front and center for his ninth goal of the USL season (12th overall) just 2:24 into the game. It was Walker’s third assist this season and set the tone for the rest of the half.
“It's huge,” Koch said of the early goal. “It doesn't matter when you score in a game, but if you score early, you grow in confidence and there's obviously that feel-good factor in terms of how you go about the rest of the game. Scoring early gave us that confidence and allowed us to possess the ball with more confidence, move the ball.”
Fall had just missed on two headers to start the game, one that Richmond goalie Matt Turner batted away for a corner kick and the other on that set piece, which he sent just over of the cross bar.
4. Early opportunities
The home side had some great opportunities in the first half beyond Fall’s goal, as FC Cincinnati came out attacking hard against Richmond’s three-man back line.
Koch was surprised to see the Kickers come out with just three defenders but didn’t believe that contributed to the early goal.
“We didn't scout them playing that way so it was an element of surprise,” Koch said. “We saw it and recognized it right away. Did that shape impact the first goal? I don't think so. It was an intelligent ball by Kenney and a great run by Djiby but we were surprised with the formation they came out and started the game with.”
A couple chances were waived off by offside calls, including what would have been Corben Bone’s first goal of the season in the 22nd minute when Andrew Wiedeman was flagged behind the defense before sending in the pass to Bone.
Fall nearly had a second goal in the 41st minute when his shot from the top of the box hit the cross bar and bounced in front of the goal line before Richmond cleared it away.
5. Richmond adjustments
The Kickers began packing the box after a rough opening five minutes on defense, but FC Cincinnati still had the possession advantage at 64 percent for the first half.
Play opened up for a more balanced second half, as the Kickers began pressing for opportunities late in the game; however Mitch Hildebrandt preserved the shutout with two saves and Quinn stepped up to add a cushion with his penalty kick in the 91st minute.
“The fear as a coach in those types of games is the tempo,” Koch said. “We wanted to keep the tempo high so we could try to break them down as much as possible but give Richmond credit, they did a great job of trying to sit back and trying to close down space. We've seen another team do that in this stadium successfully in the last few weeks, so fair play to them for trying to do it, but obviously I'm very happy with how our group tried to break them down early and then obviously finished the game off at the end.”
6. More than insurance
Quinn’s penalty kick provided more than just insurance. It also helps FC Cincinnati in the division standings as goal differential could become increasingly more important in a tight playoff race as the season progresses.
FC Cincinnati has scored more than one goal in just five matches this season.
Quinn had missed his attempt to open the penalty kick round against Chicago Fire in the U.S. Open Cup win June 28, but connected on two tries Sunday. His first attempt was waived off because a player stepped in the box too early, but he made the retake, switching direction to send his shot to the lower right corner.
FC Cincinnati was awarded the kick after Danny Konig was taken down in the box by goalkeeper Matt Turner. Moments earlier, Richmond’s Fred Owusu Sekyere was sent off with a red card for an elbow that took Quinn down.
7. McLaughlin still searching
McLaughlin once again created several chances without personal reward Sunday.
Following the trend as of late, he led the team with seven shots, including four on target, but still couldn’t connect as he continues to search for his second goal of the season. His first came more than a month ago in the May 6 draw against Richmond.
“It's frustrating,” McLaughlin said. “Every game you want to try to score a goal and that's the job of being an attacking player. I just have to keep shooting, and to use a baseball term, to break a slump you have to keep swinging, so I'm just going to keep going and keep creating chances. I thought I was extremely dangerous today, a little unfortunate not to get one, but short-term memory, moving on, forget about it, go over whatever I can improve on and maybe do a little extra shooting this week and hopefully put some in the net against Miami or Louisville.”
8. Attendance update
The crowd of 21,769 marked FC Cincinnati’s second largest attendance this season for a USL game, trailing only the 23,144 throng that showed up for the home opener April 15 against St. Louis.
Overall, Sunday’s attendance ranked fourth for an FC Cincinnati regular-season USL game and eighth across all competition since the club debut last year.
9. What’s next?
FC Cincinnati returns to its Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup run Wednesday at Miami FC in a quarterfinal match set to kick off at 7:30 p.m. at Florida International University.
Miami -- co-owned by former AC Milan and Italian national team star Paolo Maldini and international entrepreneur Riccardo Silva -- claimed the North American Soccer League spring championship Sunday with a 7-0 win over San Francisco. Stefano Pinho scored four goals to lead Miami (10-3-2), which finished dead last in the NASL spring standings last year.
The winner advances to the semifinals Aug. 9 against Major League Soccer’s New England Revolution or New York Red Bulls at a location to be determined. Meanwhile, FC Cincinnati returns to USL play Saturday at Louisville City.
“It doesn't get any easier,” Koch said. “Obviously we know going to Louisville next weekend will be very difficult. We're not thinking about it yet but we know going to Miami is going to be a very difficult game. Miami obviously just ran the show in the NASL in the first half of the season, destroyed San Francisco last night. … They (San Francisco) were second in the league so to beat your closest rivals 7-0, we're in no illusions as to how difficult the task is going and playing Miami at Miami.”