CINCINNATI -- FC Cincinnati is known for its dynamic offense and attacking style which has helped the club rank second in the USL in goals scored.
But rather quietly, FCC has evolved into a solid defensive team as well.
Saturday night’s 2-0 win over the Tampa Bay Rowdies was the third straight clean sheet for the Orange and Blue, and fifth in the past seven matches.
“It’s a team game, we all know that,” FCC coach Alan Koch said. “The way we ask our team to play … everybody gets the same credit for the clean sheet. We’re very happy for (goalkeeper) Evan (Newton) and the back four. But it’s the collective effort and how the guys push themselves every single day.”
Goals might set off the smoke bombs in The Bailey, but it’s defense that ultimately could lead FCC to a USL title in its final season in the league. It was defense that rescued FCC in a scoreless draw at Nashville a week ago, and defense that helped spark Saturday’s win against a Tampa team that had retooled its offense coming into the match.
“That’s like a Christmas present for us,” defender Forrest Lasso said. “You ask any defender on the squad, we’d rather get a clean sheet than score any day of the week. The defending starts up top. It takes all 11 (players). It’s communication and putting your heart on the line to get the job done.”
FCC has eight clean sheets this season after having seven all of last year. Saturday’s defensive effort helped produce FCC’s first victory over the Rowdies in five meetings and extended its unbeaten streak to eight.
Danni Konig and Emmanuel Ledesma each scored their ninth goals of the season to share the team lead, helping FCC extend its lead in the Eastern Conference to four points over Pittsburgh and six points over third-place Charleston.
The defensive effort put forth before 25,416 fans at Nippert Stadium was the highlight, especially since it came against a Tampa side that had recently added a few new players. That includes midfielder Kwadwo Poku from the Russian Premier League, who started Saturday.
“I call them the new-look Tampa,” Koch said. “The group they’ve brought in now are very dangerous, and you could see it tonight. We nullified their threats for the most part through the course of the 90 minutes.”
Newton stopped both of Tampa’s shots on Saturday and recorded his seventh shutout of the season. The Orange and Blue will take a 285-minute shutout streak into their match against Charlotte Independence on Wednesday night at Nippert.
FCC had a week to get past a frustrating scoreless draw in its first-ever meeting with Nashville SC at Nissan Stadium last Saturday. Nashville controlled the match with 59 percent of the possession, but FCC escaped with a hard-earned point on the road. The script was flipped on Saturday against the Rowdies as FCC owned 64.4 percent of the possession and had better than a 76-percent passing accuracy.
“I wasn’t very happy with the way we played in Nashville,” Koch said. “I didn’t think we managed the game as well as we could. You’re going to have moments like that in the season when you’re playing in tough environments against good teams. We were happy to get a point down there, but we weren’t happy with the performance. Tonight we were happy with the performance and the result.”
Ledesma couldn’t remember the last time he scored off a header, but the opportunity arose in the 54th minute Saturday when “Magic” Corben Bone delivered a ball into the box in the ideal spot for the Argentina native to pound it past Rowdies keeper Cody Mizell.
“I never score with my head,” Ledesma said. “When I see the ball inside right between two central defenders, that was an amazing ball from 'Magic.' He’s magic. It’s too easy to play with him.”
Ledesma, the USL Player of the Month for June, leads the team in goals and assists. His ninth goal on Saturday was particularly special, since it was his son Benjamin’s birthday.
“I scored that goal for him,” Ledesma said.
In its third season of existence, FCC surpassed the one-million mark in attendance at Nippert Stadium in just 50 games. Saturday’s crowd pushed FCC’s season average to 25,004, tops in the USL and better than all but three Major League Soccer clubs.
Player performances of note
Danni Konig: He nearly had his ninth goal of the season in the 40th minute when his header went just inches wide. A little more than 40 minutes later, Konig regained the team lead in goals scored with Ledesma when he scored off an assist from Emery Welshman to put the match away.
“Emery got free right inside and played an amazing goal to me, and I finished it off,” said Konig, who has nine goals on just 14 shots on target this season.
Konig’s goal on Saturday resulted in a celebration on the sideline with Koch and his coaches.
“When it’s 1-0 anything can happen,” Koch said. “We did celebrate, because you felt pretty confident at that moment that we had the three points.”
Corben Bone: His precision delivery for the first goal on Ledesma’s header, which started the scoring on Saturday, was his obvious highlight. But Bone also had four shots and an 85.5-percent passing accuracy. He also just missed scoring his fourth goal of the season in the 58th minute when an excellent first touch had him in point-blank range of the goal, but his shot hit the crossbar.
Nazmi Albadawi: He didn’t score his eighth goal of the season, but he remained involved in the attack with an 89.7 percent passing accuracy with three shots and three chances created. He has stood out in recent weeks among the players most expect to be part of next season’s inaugural MLS club. Albadawi has scored six of his seven goals in the past nine league games and has netted in four of his past six matches.