The heroics continue for FC Cincinnati forward Danni Konig.
Sprinting back on the field after getting a cut to his forehead patched up, Konig scored what ended up being the game-winning goal to lift FCC to a 1-0 win over Toronto FC II on Saturday in front of 18,214 fans at Nippert Stadium.
It was his third goal in three games since joining FCC (4-4-3) in a trade with Oklahoma City on May 10. The score held up despite a fury of chances for Toronto in the second half.
Here is a look at the top 9 takeaways from the win:
1. Konig continues
Konig found the back of the net for his third goal this season in two straight games to get FCC on the board, 1-0, in the 18th minute. Jimmy McLaughlin dropped a pass back to Tyler Polak, who delivered in the cross and found Konig on the bounce for a header far post.
The 6-foot-2 forward had taken a hit to the forehead in a duel with a defender moments earlier and had to leave the field because of the blood, but once trainer Aaron Powell patched him up, he sprinted about 60 yards into the penalty box just in time to finish off the goal.
“They patched me up and I ran on the field and scored right after that, so it was quite fun,” Konig said. “I came in at the break and told Aaron (Powell), 'Good job you made it so fast because maybe we wouldn't have scored.' It's a fun little story.
“It was a very good ball and it just took a bounce in that area and I was able to finish it, so great ball by Ty and good finish on the goal. It was the winning goal, so it's just amazing.”
Konig hadn’t scored a goal through Oklahoma City’s first six games, of which he appeared in four, and called his start in Cincinnati “close to being the perfect start” with a team.
2. Finally scoring early
Going into last weekend’s win over Bethlehem, FCC hadn’t scored a first-half goal in more than a month.
Konig has changed that. He scored in the 18th minute against Bethlehem, and FCC went on to win both games. FC Cincinnati is 4-0 this season when scoring first and was 10-2-2 last year when scoring at least one first-half goal. In 13 of those 14 games, FCC scored first.
“It doesn't matter how you go out and win the games, as long as you win the games, but it obviously was a catalyst to help us win the game tonight,” FCC coach Alan Koch said. “If you play well in the first 45 minutes, you set yourself up to put in a good performance in the second 45 minutes.
"If you struggle in the first 45 minutes, you have to go make some sort of adjustments, so it was pleasing for our group to score and be 1-0 up, it gives your players confidence and gives the fans confidence. That sort of positive energy is infectious.”
3. Three points
The win, FCC’s second straight, launched FC Cincinnati from seventh in the Eastern Division standings to fourth with games still being played Saturday. With 15 points, the Orange and Blue are just below Louisville City but only because of goal differential. Charleston (7-1-2) leads the division with 23 points before Sunday’s game against New York Red Bulls II.
FC Cincinnati was 0-2-3 in its last five games before its current two-game (not including the U.S. Open Cup) win streak.
"I think there were some moments we played some fantastic football," Koch said. "The ball was moving all over the pitch and we possessed the ball very well at times. I think we're still making a few too many mistakes, but we're still building. We want to put together that perfect 90 minutes. Tonight wasn't perfect by any means, but we got three points and that's all that matters as we move forward as a group."
Toronto remained at the bottom of the table, falling to 1-6-4 for the season.
4. Consistency paying off
For a third straight league game, FC Cincinnati used the same lineup after changing it every game for the first nine matches.
Koch said earlier this week he was hoping to keep it the same so the starters can get used to playing together, but it took some time to find a combination that worked while dealing with suspensions and injuries.
The lineup is sure to change again soon with Kenney Walker nearing a return from injury and defender Justin Hoyte just now working back into the available 18 after an April 9 injury. Djiby Fall also is set to return to league action June 11, when his six-game suspension ends.
Hoyte was one of the seven reserves Saturday, while Walker remained unavailable; however, Koch said Walker isn’t too far behind Hoyte.
5. Polak performing
With Hoyte ready to return, that could push Polak out of the starting lineup, but he’s making that decision more difficult. In the one game Hoyte started before suffering a leg injury early in his debut, he was playing in Polak’s spot at left back.
On Saturday, Polak had the assist to Konig’s goal but also had a goal-line clearance on defense and helped preserve the shutout.
“I don't think it was a statement,” Koch said. “I have a lot of confidence and belief in Ty. I think he's done a great job for us. Like all the group, we've had our ups and downs so far, but he's in a good place right now, just like the group too. Justin just gives us another quality player in the group, but Tyler is a great player too.”
Polak shrugged off the notion that he was motivated by the idea of Hoyte – a former Premier League player -- taking his spot.
“It's good to have depth in the group, to have guys come in, especially with the long season we have this year compared to last year,” Polak said. “It's good to have depth and challenge players. We're just going to keep working forward and making each other better.”
6. Numbers up on attack
FC Cincinnati must have been chomping at the bit when it saw that Toronto FC II was using a 3-5-2 formation to start the game, but it almost paid off for the visitors.
The Orange and Blue haven’t scored a ton of goals this season but that’s not for lack of opportunities. Most teams have packed the box against them and successfully limited the scoring, most notably when lower division AFC Cleveland forced Cincinnati to extra time with that tactic holding off the game-winner until the final minutes of overtime, despite FCC totaling more than 40 shots.
Toronto took a completely different approach with just three in the back. FCC held possession for 61.2 percent of the first half but TFCII had the advantage the second half and outshot the home side 17-12.
“I think we made it a little more difficult tonight than we would like the game to have been, but there are games so far this season where we feel like we played well or relatively well and we got nothing out of the game, so we will gladly take three points,” Koch said. “I think the guys showed a lot of character to withstand a barrage from Toronto at the end of the game and give Toronto credit, they've got a lot of good young attacking players and as a group they were very organized. They made it difficult for us to break them down, but that being said I think we had ample opportunity to finish off the game a lot earlier than we did.”
7. Clean sheet
Mitch Hildebrandt recorded his fourth clean sheet this season (all wins) but needed just three saves to preserve it, including one not-too-threatening shot on goal in the first half.
Toronto’s best chance came in the 64th minute when Hildebrandt came off his line and TFCII launched a shot from the top of the penalty box off the far post.
Prior to this two-game win streak, FCC’s defense hadn’t had a shutout (in league play) since April 15, a 4-0 win over St. Louis FC in the home opener.
“I'm proud of our players at the end,” Koch said. “I don't know how many crunching tackles inside the 18-yard box and outside the 18-yard box that our guys had to make in the last 20 minutes, but it shows the character we have in our group.”
8. Attendance update
FCC has been right around the 18,000-19,000 mark for attendance the last three league home games. Saturday’s attendance figure – for a 5 p.m. game on Taste of Cincinnati and Memorial Day weekend – ranks fifth of six home matches this season but was better than nine of the 15 home games last year.
9. Looking ahead
FC Cincinnati steps out of league play – sort of – to continue its run in the U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday. The Orange and Blue host USL rival Louisville City FC that evening at Nippert, a much anticipated matchup after an ugly battle to a 1-1 draw on April 22 in league play.
Fall, who leads FCC with six goals in just six games, is expected to be back in the lineup for that one (as he was two weeks ago for the second-round game), and there is sure to be some attention on him after Louisville successfully complained Fall had bit one of its players in an argument after the FCC forward was issued a red card. The complaint led to an extra five games being added to his standard one-game suspension. He is permitted to play non-league games, such as the Cup, throughout his suspension.
When asked about the chance to face Louisville in the Cup, Fall said the opponent doesn’t matter to him. He just wants to get back on the field whenever he can. Koch and defender Harrison Delbridge both said with curious smiles that they are looking forward to the match.