CINCINNATI - After a nine-day layoff from matches and a strong week of training, FC Cincinnati coach Alan Koch and his players envisioned a certain amount of success in Saturday’s match against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds at Nippert Stadium.
A 1-1 draw wasn’t what they had in mind.
The Riverhounds emerged with a pressing attack that produced a goal in the third minute. Although FC Cincinnati forward Andrew Wiedeman scored the equalizer in the 40th minute, neither team established key separation in the second half – or in the United Soccer League Eastern Conference standings.
“(We’re) definitely disappointed because that’s a game that we wanted to get three points in,” defender Harrison Delbridge said.
Here are the key takeaways from the draw.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN? The good news for FC Cincinnati is that Pittsburgh did not get three points, either. Every little bit counts as the playoff picture becomes clearer. As of this writing, which preceded other Saturday league matches, the Orange and Blue (9-9-8, 35 points) remained in a decent position with plenty of soccer to be played.
PHOTO GALLERY: FC Cincinnati 1, Pittsburgh 1
The goal, of course, is to be among the eight divisional teams that reach the playoffs. Wiedeman said it would be a “huge disappointment” if FC Cincinnati missed that mark, but he also felt confident about the team’s opportunities in its last six regular-season matches.
“That’s the beauty of American sports. Nobody really remembers what happens during the regular season, right? It’s getting in the playoffs. Get in the first spot? Great. If you get in the eight spot, it doesn’t matter. As long as you get a foot in the door, it’s basically a whole new competition. And we’ve shown this year that we have a lot of resilience in a do-or-die sort of format with Open Cup runs. I mean, I like our chances,” Wiedeman said.
FC Cincinnati has just one more home match (Sept. 16 against New York Red Bulls II) and closes out its regular-season slate with four straight road contests.
The team has fared much better at Nippert (11-3-6) than on the road (3-7-2), which means it must shore up its best soccer away from its supportive home crowd. More than 22,600 supporters weathered Saturday’s drizzly and damp conditions.
While FC Cincinnati’s road form “hasn’t been great,” Wiedeman said, there’s no time like the next match to return to the win column.
“If we don’t do it now, we wouldn’t get to do it in playoffs anyway,” Wiedeman said.
SLOW START: The Riverhounds rode three straight wins into Saturday’s match. It was clear they desperately wanted a fourth consecutive victory – which would have been a franchise-first since 2013 – based on the way they promptly attacked the goal.
Forward Corey Hertzog fired a shot just 40 seconds in and Romeo Parkes did the same in the second minute. Hertzog broke through in the third minute, shrugging off a defender and firing the ball into the left side of the net to elude goalkeeper Mitch Hildebrandt.
Delbridge said FC Cincinnati wanted to replicate the way it handled the Ottawa Fury in an Aug. 23 win. Surrendering an early goal was not part of that plan.
“I honestly think they took a little bit of figuring out,” Delbridge said. “They were a different team than they were when we played them earlier in the season. They played in a little bit different of a formation than they played in last time. But at the same time, in the first five minutes of the game everyone knows how important that is. And sometimes it’s just safer to clear the ball out, and we didn’t do a good enough job of that and ended up giving up a goal.”
THE TIDES TURN: Wiedeman buried the equalizer in the first half after the Riverhounds missed a chance to clear the ball. Taylor Washington’s deflection created an inadvertent cross pass for Wiedeman, who seized the opportunity to knot the match.
That sequence was indicative of an FC Cincinnati team that found its bearings and turned up the pressure on its opponent.
In fact, the Orange and Blue had possession for nearly 65 percent of the outing. That was a silver lining in the match: Aside from the first few minutes, FC Cincinnati was the aggressor.
“In the first five minutes, it was obvious that Pittsburgh came out flying," Koch said. "Our response was key and we were able to manage them. I’m not happy with the first five, but I was pleased with the remainder of the match.”
A WORD ON THE LINEUP: Neither Djiby Fall nor Austin Berry garnered starts Saturday, but Koch said that was no reflection on their play. Koch wanted to keep intact the starters that set the tone against the Ottawa Fury. The only difference was Tyler Polak, who injured his heel Friday and remains day-to-day. Djiby and Berry subbed into the match in the second half.
PICK A CARD: Three FC Cincinnati players received yellow cards. Hildebrandt garnered the caution in the 34th minute after clipping Hertzog outside his box. Kenney Walker received a yellow card in the 50th minute for a tackle at midfield and Delbridge was carded for rough play during a foot race in the 82nd minute.
NEXT UP: The Orange and Blue have 10 days before facing Harrisburg City on the road Sept. 12. FC Cincinnati defeated Harrisburg City 3-0 on July 22 to cap a modest three-game winning streak.
As the pressure ramps up in the standings, the onus is on FC Cincinnati to make the most of each outing.
“We need to get on a good rhythm, but also take it one game at a time,” Delbridge said. “We started out playing a lot of tough teams early in the season, which I think helped. We’re aware of the remainder of our schedule and know how the tables can turn.”