CINCINNATI -- FC Cincinnati coach John Harkes was hoping a lineup of reserves could carry his squad through to the third round of Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup play, but it took a regular starter to get the job done.
Jimmy McLaughlin came in off the bench in the second half and scored the game-winner four minutes later to give FCC a 2-1 win over the fourth-tier Indy Eleven NPSL team Wednesday in front of an announced crowd of 8,668 fans at Nippert Stadium.
“It’s a survive-and-advance-type tournament, so it doesn’t really matter how you get it done, as long as you go on to the next round,” McLaughlin said. “We are happy with the result and excited to play Tampa Bay.”
FCC, which was playing its first Open Cup game, advances to face the North American Soccer League’s Tampa Bay Rowdies on June 1 in Florida, but before that, here’s a look at the top 9 takeaways from Cincinnati’s second-round game.
1. A win is a win
The U.S. Open Cup is a 90-game single-elimination tournament that includes teams from all levels of soccer in the United States.
The Indy Eleven was one of the 46 semi-pro or amateur teams to compete in the first round May 11 and advanced with a win over the Cincinnati Dutch Lions PDL team; but, it was a clear underdog to the third-tier United Soccer League’s FC Cincinnati.
Still, there have been plenty of Cinderella stories in the Open Cup’s 103-year history, so FCC is pleased to get an opportunity to play on in the tournament.
“We’re happy to get the result and advance on,” Harkes said. “Certainly in this competition, the unique part of the Open Cup is that it’s equal opportunity for everybody -- amateur and pro status. We were able to compete today, a lot of changes in the lineup, as well, to get some new faces out there and create a little more opportunity for our depth and our team, but at the same time we reflect back on some lessons learned here and the opportunities we created to put the game away.”
2. McLaughlin’s hot streak
McLaughlin scored in his third consecutive game, when he put away the game-winner in the 61st minute off a rebound on Omar Cummings’ header deflected by Indy goalie Cody Schweitzer.
It was also the third U.S. Open Cup goal of his career and his second goal off a rebound.
“I think I’ve always just been taught never to give up on a play, and I try to put myself in dangerous spots and anticipate what happens,” McLaughlin said of his knack for putting away second-chance shots. “Today, I was just kind of trailing the play, and I put myself in a decent spot where if there was some sort of a rebound, I could make a play, but it’s more just never giving up on a play.”
3. Reserves as the starters
Harkes had previously said the club would be taking U.S. Open Cup play seriously, but he still felt confident using reserves Wednesday with the idea some starters could help out if needed.
While trying to rest up players for Saturday’s USL game at Charlotte, FCC used a lineup that included just one regular starter. Paul Nicholson – who has started the last four games in place of injured Austin Berry -- served as the anchor at the center back position.
Three players who started Wednesday have not yet played during the USL season, including goalkeeper Dallas Jaye, defender Jamie Dell and midfielder Francisco Narbon, who is in his first professional season. Omar Mohomed and Derek Luke had the most playing experience, appearing in eight games.
Jaye also was one of three starters who played collegiately in Cincinnati. He and forward Luke Spencer played at Xavier, and Cummings is a former Cincinnati State and University of Cincinnati standout. Cummings has appeared in the last four games off the bench, while Spencer has played in five games.
“I think it was always an option, but you don’t ever underestimate any competitive team,” Harkes said. “Across the board in the U.S., at every level, the game has improved. The quality is there. You saw some of their players today -- they came out to compete, they came out to fight. Using players that can manage the game for us, come off the bench and make a difference, was always in the back of my mind. You’re always looking for that balance where you want to get the result and advance forward but give guys a chance to play.”
4. First-half dominance didn’t show on scoreboard
Cummings put FCC on the board first in the 36th minute, but Indy answered with the equalizer three minutes on a Vincent Mitchell goal assisted by Cristian Soto, and the game remained tied at the break.
Cincinnati had to be disappointed to be even with the Indy Eleven, especially after dominating possession most of the first half.
The home side had plenty of solid chances, but the Eleven seemed to gain confidence the longer FC Cincinnati let them hang around and was able to score the equalizer less than three minutes after Cummings’ goal. Both sides finished the half with five shots on target, though FCC outshot Indy 10-7 overall for the half.
“We created some great chances early on, and I looked up at the clock about 14, 15 minutes in, and we were unlucky not to be 2- or 3-nil up,” Harkes said. “But, when you don’t put those chances away, … then you open the opportunity for hope for the opposition. It’s something we’ll definitely look at and learn from.”
5. Chemistry an issue
Indy Eleven had one slight advantage Wednesday, in that its lineup had played together at least twice – once in their Open Cup first-round win and then in their NPSL opener Saturday.
FC Cincinnati hadn’t played a game with this lineup, and the lack of chemistry might have been a factor in the home side’s inability to finish opportunities. Normally a solid possession team, Cincinnati played the ball into too many 50-50 situations.
“Each time, as a young club, you want to get more games, more games, to get young players to trust each other on the field,” Harkes said. “That’s a great opportunity for us to do that. It’s a process and over a period of time they communicate more.”
Seven of the starters for Cincinnati made up the subs in the last game Saturday against Pittsburgh, but they have never all played together at once.
6. Conceding quick goals becoming too common
This wasn’t the first time FCC has conceded a goal right after scoring. In fact, it’s happened a few times. Harkes said he doesn’t worry about it becoming a theme for the club, but it is still something he will address.
“The thing you always talk about is, are we in the right frame of mind? Are we focused? Are we there?” he said. “I still think we are at times, but what happens is the teams are going to go for broke. When you get scored on, they aren’t going to sit back and die. They are going to fight and chase after you. They are dangerous players, and they did well to create. Am I happy about it? No. We concede the ball, we turned the ball over through midfield, and then we don’t respond individually or collectively as a group.”
A fan on Twitter started a new hashtag fitting of Jaye’s performance early in the game -- a play on the hashtag used for starting goalie Mitch Hildebrandt (#MitchSaysNo).
FC Cincinnati’s social media account then made use of the new hashtag after Jaye made a save on a Thomas Schmitt one-on-one chance in the box in the 33rd minute. Schmitt got the rebound but sent a volley over the crossbar.
Jaye finished with four saves -- all in the first half, as Indy’s three second-half shots were all off target.
8. Formation change
FCC played most of the game in a 4-4-2, as opposed to its usual 4-3-3, which usually features Sean Okoli alone in the middle.
Harkes said the change was made because he wanted to get Spencer and Cummings together up top.
“We want to get Luke Spencer and Omar Cummings an opportunity to get together and play and create and move off the ball with each other,” Harkes said. “At times it worked well, but at other times it takes a little time to get used to each other in that shape.”
Cincinnati moved back to the 4-3-3 for the last 16 minutes of the game.
9. What's ahead?
FC Cincinnati returns to USL play for now, but resumes Open Cup play June 1 when the nine U.S.-based NASL teams enter the field. The 17 MLS teams then enter in the fourth round June 15.
“It’s a really special tournament and of course we definitely want to go as far as we can and see what happens,” McLaughlin said.