CINCINNATI -- Last week, in a crucial road match with playoff implications on the line, Danni Konig delivered a penalty kick in the final minute of stoppage time that allowed FC Cincinnati to escape with a 2-2 draw against St. Louis FC.
He said he would have missed that goal a year ago.
Everything was mental then, a knot of over-thinking and frustration that dominated his second season with Oklahoma City Energy FC. After scoring 21 regular-season goals and finishing second in the race for the United Soccer League’s Golden Boot in 2015, Konig contributed just four goals in the same span in 2016.
“Sometimes you don’t have the luck. It gets to you. And this is why it was good for me to get a new start -- new people, new coach and new teammates to look at you. And I think I’m back on the level where I have to be,” Konig said.
Konig has been with FC Cincinnati for more than four months now following a trade that sent Andy Craven to the Energy. The experience has been a bit of a trial by fire -- Konig played his first match for the Orange and Blue after just two days of training -- but the forward also regained his stride.
Konig enters Friday’s 7 p.m. road match against Charlotte Independence with a team-second 10 goals thus far, just one behind Djiby Fall. The Danish player was strategically traded in order to provide scoring relief when Djiby was suspended for six matches and has become a crucial cog in FC Cincinnati’s offensive attack.
“Danni’s come in and delivered exactly what we needed. Whether he starts or whether he comes off the bench, he’s a goal threat at all times. And you need to have players like that. We cannot be solely reliant on one player or be one-dimensional,” FC Cincinnati coach Alan Koch said.
Despite the recent months of good fortune on the pitch, life has been agonizing at times on a personal level for Konig, 30. His family -- wife Valentina and kids Andjelina, 5, and Adrian, 4 -- lived with him in Oklahoma City but returned to Denmark after his trade to Cincinnati.
Because Konig’s contract ends after this season, the family decided to visit for two months and go home once school started. Valentina is pursuing a degree with an interest in law while Andjelina has just begun her formal education.
The adjustment has been difficult for the family man.
“If you asked me this question five years ago, I would tell you there’s no chance in hell this is ever going to happen. But you can’t predict what’s going to happen in life. We made this decision for the family. At the end of the day I’m doing it for them,” Konig said.
The distance from Denmark (4,169 miles) and time differential (six hours) have been tricky to navigate. Konig squeezes in phone calls to his kids and wife every day. Although they can watch his FC Cincinnati matches on YouTube, they usually don’t; a 7 p.m. start here is a 1 a.m. start in Denmark.
So for now, Konig is living a bachelor life that he prefers not to have.
“My wife is complaining -- we talk together in the evening and she says, ‘What have you been doing all day?’ I’m like, ‘Oh, I’ve been laying on the bed, watching TV shows and going to the pool.’ She’s so jealous,” Konig said, laughing.
“But it’s not the life. It would be if they were here, but they’re not. So it’s not even close to being the life. I told her I would change with her. We both have things that each other wants.”
In the meantime, Konig has enjoyed fellowship with his teammates and their debates over all things soccer. FC Cincinnati once had a team bonding experience where players split into groups and chose fantasy starting lineups, their “best 11s in the world,” Koch said.
“It’s obviously a very subjective thing but Danni was pretty serious that his opinion was the best opinion in terms of which players would be in that starting 11,” Koch said. “It shows the passion that he has for the game.”
Konig said he couldn’t have come into a better situation than FC Cincinnati, from the franchise’s record-setting crowds to his ability to return to scoring form. Besides being “in a good place” physically, he’s eager to help the team reach the playoffs.
The final regular-season matches are pivotal as USL teams jockey for Top 8 finishes per division to reach the postseason. The Orange and Blue are in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, just one point ahead of Bethlehem Steel FC and Orlando City B.
Second-ranked Charlotte is no stranger; the Independence and FC Cincinnati played to a 1-1 draw in June at Nippert Stadium.
FC Cincinnati has not won on the road since Aug. 2, a 1-0 nail-biter at Miami FC in the U.S. Open Cup, and sorely needs the three points from a victory to provide separation in the standings. Konig, who has scored two goals in FC Cincinnati’s last five outings, is confident the team can make a statement Friday.
“We have to go to that match and just play our match. We are so close to the next teams. Like St. Louis, if we didn’t get a draw there then they would be two points behind us,” Konig said. “It’s so close now and we have to get something out of the game, and I’m sure we can.”