CINCINNATI — FC Cincinnati has taken the city by storm without having a real star.
That’s changed. Sean Okoli has established himself as the club’s top player. Okoli scored both goals in FC Cincinnati’s 2-1 win over FC Montreal Saturday at Nippert Stadium.
PHOTOS: FC Cincinnati beats Montreal 2-1
The goals gave Okoli four goals in his last three games. He has four more goals that anyone on the roster.
“I love the character he has,” FCC coach John Harkes said. “He drove the ball into the box on the penalty.”
Okoli, a 23-year-old forward from Federal Way, Wash., by way of Wake Forest, knew he was capable of this.
“I’ve been working on my craft, being a professional,” Okoli said. “This is my third season as a professional. I’m figuring out things in my game — what I have to work on each day, what I have to do in training.
“I always knew the goals would come one way or another. I just have to stick to the process.”
Cincinnati has won nine of its last 10 matches. The lone loss was to the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the U.S. Cup Open tournament.
“I’m happy to get the three points,” Harkes said. “From a team concept, I’d loved the way we came out in the second half. Great energy, great creativity. A lot of times, I think because of our energy we put them on their heels.”
It was 91 degrees at the start of the match. It was 116 degrees on the turf. The field, mercifully, was in the shade from the start. The referees did stop play at the 29-minute mark for a hydration break.
“It was scorching,” FCC forward Andrew Weideman said. “It was very hot out there. Both teams have to play in the conditions. If anything, it helped us. We’re more used to it.”
A crowd of 14,267 showed up, despite the heat.
“We’re pleasantly surprised,” Harkies said. “But, then again, we’re not. The guys are out in the community doing a lot of service. We see a lot of converts. They say, ‘I don’t know anything about soccer, but I’m coming out.’ From our perspective, it’s great.
“This is a fun team to watch. It’s pleasing to the eye. People want to see a level of performance.”
FC Cincinnati took the lead on Okoli’s penalty kick at 34:21 mark. Okoli faked, then drilled it into the middle of the net. Montreal goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau had no chance.
The penalty was called when Montreal player tripped up Okoli as he and Jimmy McLaughlin were free in front of the Montreal goal. There’s a good chance one of two would have scored anyway.
Okoli added a second just over two minutes into the second half. Eric Stephenson set up Okoli perfectly on the right side with a long pass from the left side. Again, Crepeau had no chance.
“Clinical finish,” Harkes said. “Great ball movement.”
“This one was big for the team,” Okoli said. “We really wanted to get that second one coming out of the half. It was a great ball from Eric. I had a little bit of space. I was able to get it in.”
Okoli was thinking hat trick.
“When you get two, you always want to get the third,” he said. “But, at the same time, it was good to get the three points.”
Cincinnati had seven shots on goal to four for Montreal in the first half.
Wiedeman had three shots on the goal on the night.
FCC goalkeeper Mitch Hildebrandt nearly recorded his third shutout of the season and third in the last six games. But David Choiniere scored with just over 10 seconds in regular time.
“You don’t want to give up that late goal,” Weideman said. “But when you’re up two you can afford that luxury.”
A loss would have been a huge disappointment for FCC. Montreal came in 1-9 and dead last in the United Soccer League standings.
“I’m proud of the guys,” Harkes said. “The way they went up and competed today and got the three points. We focused on how we could get behind them and stretch it out. I think we did that.”