CINCINNATI -- A lone goal helped FC Cincinnati take an early lead over St. Louis FC, but Danni Konig made sure it held up for a win with an insurance goal in the second half.
Overall, FC Cincinnati put together one of its best United Soccer League performances to beat St. Louis 2-0 on Saturday in front of 20,125 fans at Nippert Stadium.
Here are the top 9 takeaways from the game:
1. Three more points
FC Cincinnati started the day in 10th in the Eastern Division standings, but three big points moved it back up to sixth – one spot above where the club finished last weekend following a 2-2 draw with Charleston.
The Orange and Blue (5-5-5) now has 20 points to follow Ottawa Fury FC only on goal differential. Fourth-place Bethlehem Steel FC has 22 points and Tampa Bay – which FC Cincinnati plays July 6 on the road – sits in third with 24.
“Awesome result,” FC Cincinnati coach Alan Koch said. “Obviously, an awesome night for the club and the city. I think what I like as a coach is I thought it was a very good performance.”
2. Finishing touch
Konig was in the right place at the right time to finish off an assist from Jimmy McLaughlin and put FC Cincinnati ahead 2-0 in the 66th minute.
McLaughlin unselfishly gave up a chance at his own shot after fielding a rebounded shot to find Konig wide open at the top of the 6-yard box.
“I was there where I had to be, and that's my job, so he passed it and I was there and I got an easy goal,” Konig said. “Thanks to Jimmy, I got an easy goal, thanks to the team. It was a good goal. A 2-0 goal is always important so it was very nice.”
Konig, who now has four goals in seven USL appearances, had just entered the game moments prior, replacing Djiby Fall, and easily tapped it in.
“One of the players asked me if it was my first touch, and I didn't think about it before he asked,” Konig said. “It was probably the fastest goal I've scored coming on.”
3. Gaining confidence
Last weekend, Andrew Wiedeman scored his first goal of the season in a juggling act that landed him on SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays of the day.
He was rewarded with his first start since June 3 – the 2016 full-time starter has come off the bench in six of the 14 league games he’s played this season -- and proved that to be a good move early on.
Although Wiedeman mistouched a shot inside the box in the seventh minute, it ultimately resulted in a score, as St. Louis defender A.J. Cochran got a foot on it for a clear but drove it straight into the lower left corner of his own goal to put FC Cincinnati up 1-0.
Ten minutes later, Wiedeman gave Corben Bone a perfect chance to add to the lead with a back-heel flick into open space in the box, but Bone sent the shot directly to St. Louis goalie Adam Grinwis’ chest. Wiedeman played the entire 90 minutes and finished with two shots on target, three chances created and was second in passing accuracy for FC Cincinnati at 86 percent.
4. Perfect passing
Wiedeman’s flick to Bone was just one example of how FC Cincinnati passed the ball on Saturday. It was arguably some of the best ball movement the club has shown this season with several give-and-goes and short feeds into the 18-yard box, rather than just working the flanks for crosses into Fall.
The cohesiveness in the attack amounted to nine first-half shots, including six on target, while St. Louis had just four shots, one on goal. There were just three open-play crosses by FC Cincinnati, all in the first half.
“We work every single day on technique with this group, and they all have very good base technique, but it’s about making intelligent decisions,” Koch said. “They are all professional football players and they should all have good technique but the hard part is making decisions when you have the ball at your feet.
“We've worked on a lot of positional play and the players have really embraced it. It's been a process, and I feel like they get better in that element of the game every single week. Tonight they were rewarded for their efforts.”
In a rare off night, defender/midfielder Matt Bahner seemed to be the only player really struggling to pass, finishing with a team-low 59.4 percent passing accuracy rating. He did not start last weekend’s game but was one of five players on the roster with more than 1,000 minutes of league play under his belt entering Saturday.
5. Solving St. Louis
FC Cincinnati has now beaten St. Louis twice this season, outscoring the Missouri foe 6-0 in two meetings. The Orange and Blue have played three other teams at least twice but experienced mixed results against all of them.
However, Koch said he doesn’t think it’s anything in particular about St. Louis – a team that also has been in and out of the top 8 of the division.
“I know people asked the same thing about us going up and playing Bethlehem, and we couldn't beat them up there,” Koch said. “They were individual games. Then we came back here, and figured out a way to beat them. We're happy we've beaten them (St. Louis) twice. I think both games we put in good performances, and more often than not when you put in a good performance it's going to lead to a positive result. We’ve played well against St. Louis twice this season.”
FC Cincinnati still has one more date with St. Louis, this time on the road Sept. 23.
6. Tweaking the system
Koch has been tweaking his system of play and mixing it up lately with some different formations. After two straight outings with a 3-5-2 featuring Konig and Fall up top, he went back to a 3-4-3 on Saturday with Fall in the middle and McLaughlin and Wiedeman joining him to the sides.
It does seem he is liking the back line of Austin Berry, Paul Nicholson and Harrison Delbridge together, but the systems are allowing different players to get into games based on their abilities and how they match up against opponents.
“We've changed it a couple times this year but it suits the players and they've adapted the different systems to the players we have in the locker room,” midfielder Kenney Walker said. “it's starting to change with a couple players coming in and a couple players coming out, but they're changing the system to set us up for the best performances out there and to put it together like we did tonight here on out.”
7. Playing its best soccer
FC Cincinnati extended its unbeaten streak to four games, including U.S. Open play, but Saturday marked the club’s first league win since May 27.
Koch had liked his club’s first-half performance against Charleston last weekend in a 2-2 draw, three days after a tiring 1-0 win over MLS’ Columbus Crew SC, and said this is how he envisioned FC Cincinnati playing.
“We're getting better every single week, but getting better every single week doesn't guarantee you're going to get positive results every week,” Koch said. “That’s the uncertainty of the game, but I can reflect on where we are now and say the players have gotten better every week, and sometimes you get rewarded for those efforts. Tonight we got rewarded for a good performance but obviously a very positive result too.”
The FC Cincinnati defense also played well Saturday, as it collected its seventh clean sheet this season. Mitch Hildebrandt finished with three saves, as FC Cincinnati outshot St. Louis 12-8 for the game.
8. Attendance update
For a fourth straight game and sixth time this season, FC Cincinnati topped 20,000 fans, including the 30,000-plus attendance drawn for the Crew game on June 14. All of the other games were USL matches.
The club has topped the 20,000 mark nine times in 24 league games at home over the first two seasons.
9. What’s next?
FC Cincinnati resumes U.S. Open Cup play Wednesday when it hosts MLS side Chicago Fire FC in the Round of 16. Chicago is second in the MLS Eastern Division standings and one of the hottest teams in the league right now.
“We know we are the underdogs, and we've got nothing to lose,” Koch said. “The Fire are playing fantastically this year. They are obviously where they are in MLS because they are a very good team. I firmly believe all the pressure is on them. We will prepare ourselves to go out and continue this journey. We've enjoyed this Cup run. It's been fun.
"Every game has presented different obstacles, as we progressed but to play one of the top MLS teams currently on Wednesday here is going to be a huge challenge, but we believe in our group and we firmly embrace the underdog role as we did two weeks ago against Columbus. We got a positive result, so why not do it again on Wednesday.”
The game, which follows a record-setting crowd in FC Cincinnati’s fourth-round win against Columbus Crew SC, kicks off at 8 p.m. and air on ESPN2 (and ESPNDeportes) with Taylor Twellman and Adrian Healey calling the live action and Julie Stewart-Binks slated to be on the sideline. FCC’s broadcast team of Tom Gelehrter and Kevin McCloskey will provide the play by play and color commentary on ESPN 1530.
More than 18,000 tickets had been sold as of Friday morning. The Orange and Blue then return to league play July 1 at Orlando City B in Melbourne, Fla.