CINCINNATI -- Early in the season, FC Cincinnati’s road troubles could be attributed to the growing pains of a team still transitioning to a new coach.
Now a jam-packed schedule could be a concerning factor, but amid a stretch with four of five games away from home, the club -- still riding high on its deep run through the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup run -- is ready to show it can win on the road.
After Saturday’s draw at Orlando City B, FC Cincinnati is 1-4-2 as a visiting team with the lone win coming April 1 at Pittsburgh. The Orange and Blue play at Tampa Bay Rowdies on Thursday on ESPNU before a quick stop back home Sunday against Richmond. They then head to Miami FC for the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals July 12 and to Louisville City on July 15.
“Early in the season we had quite a few road games, but we were still learning and figuring out everything and people were still getting used to the new players and whatnot, so it's a different time period,” midfielder Kenney Walker said last week. “We were still developing, and having that extra road factor of traveling, not sleeping in your own bed, maybe not eating the food you like to eat and playing on a surface you're not used to, kind of adds to it.”
FC Cincinnati heads into Thursday’s game on a six-game unbeaten streak that includes two wins over Major League Soccer sides in the Open Cup. The first five of those six games were played at home.
It’s no secret Nippert Stadium has been a sanctuary for FC Cincinnati with record-breaking crowds providing an obvious spark for the home side; however, Walker said it’s time for the club to start getting more points on the road in order to better position itself for the playoffs.
“We're in decent shape for getting results and scoring and with the Open Cup and stuff like that,” Walker said. “We haven't gotten all the points we would like with the league games, but I think the road games, if you look across the league in years past, if you find a team that wins 50 percent or gets 50 percent of their points on the road, they end up being at the top of the table."
The teams at the top of the Eastern Division table have done much better on the road than FC Cincinnati. Eleven of division-leading Charleston’s 34 points have come away from home, and second-place Louisville has collected 14 of 28 points on the road.
Meanwhile, FC Cincinnati (5-5-6) has gained just five of its 21 points in seven games away from Nippert Stadium, but five of its first eight matches this season were on the road.
“We played our first three games of the season on the road, and there was a little concern in terms of how we were doing,” FC Cincinnati coach Alan Koch said. “It's not very easy to go play on the road in this league, but I think we were still developing as a group early in the season, and we're in a much better place right now. It's time we get some more points on the road, but it's all part of the process.”
FC Cincinnati, which is 9-5-6 overall. Ten of the last 12 matches -- including all four Open Cup wins – were played at Nippert. The club is 7-2-3 in that stretch.
Midfielder Corben Bone said being at home has helped because road games truly are more difficult to manage.
“Being on the road is obviously different than being at home because we don't have our fans in the stadium, but that means you have to focus even a little bit more and focus on creating your own environment and your own energy and your own motivation to go out there,” Bone said.
The draw on Saturday -- though disappointingly not a win -- was satisfying in that it followed another emotional win June 28 against Chicago Fire SC in the Open Cup Round of 16. FC Cincinnati won in penalty kicks.
However, Bone said FC Cincinnati can’t let momentum slip, especially as the club begins the second half of the United Soccer League season Thursday.
“We're a confident team right now, and that helps when you go on the road, and maintaining that confidence and composure and focus is huge on the road, even more so, because you are traveling and staying in hotels,” Bone said. “These road games coming up hopefully gives us a chance to turn our road record around.”