CINCINNATI -- With Jimmy McLaughlin draped on his back and other FC Cincinnati players celebrating around him, a beaming Harrison Delbridge was elation personified.
His left-footed strike into the top corner of the right goalpost in the 67th minute gave the Orange and Blue a two-goal lead, and Kenney Walker’s free kick conversion ultimately ensured a 4-2 defeat of the New York Red Bulls II in Saturday’s regular-season home finale at Nippert Stadium.
A record crowd of 30,417 fans feverishly cheered as FC Cincinnati won its first match since Aug. 23, avenged an Aug. 19 loss to the Red Bulls II and handed the visiting team its first defeat since July 29.
The victory also gave FC Cincinnati a coveted 3 points in the United Soccer League standings.
“Important, very, very meaningful 3 points for our organization and for our team,” FC Cincinnati coach Alan Koch said.
“It’s nice for us to finally go out there and beat them, and it was thoroughly deserved. Our players played very, very well tonight, scored some fantastic goals, fed off the energy of our fans, and I think we had a beautiful night altogether.”
Walker had a career evening with two assists in addition to his first goal this season, and the home team prevailed.
Here are the top takeaways from Saturday's win:
1. Playoff race
With the victory, FC Cincinnati increased its point total to 39 and ascended to sixth place in the Eastern Conference standings.
In the post-match snapshot, the Orange and Blue were four points from hosting a playoff game as one of the top four finishers in the division. In the same snapshot, the team stood four points from ninth place and out of the playoffs entirely.
Neither scenario is near cemented. Because there’s much soccer to be played in the next month, and thus plenty of jockeying to come, FC Cincinnati has opportunities to improve its destiny.
The team’s performances away from Nippert will be a crucial, as it is 12-3-6 at home and 3-7-3 on the road this season.
2. Fast start
The previous time FC Cincinnati played at home, the Sept. 2 tie with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, Koch and players were disappointed with their lethargic start after a solid week of training.
There was no such trouble Saturday, as Austin Berry found a superb angle on a Walker corner kick and headed the ball into the right corner of the net for a 1-0 lead in the sixth minute.
Corben Bone delivered the go-ahead goal in the 32nd minute after a failed clearance by the Red Bulls II.
New York midfielder Florian Valot scored both his team’s goals, including one in the 18th minute, but neither team scored again before halftime.
3. Finding separation
The Red Bulls II outshot FC Cincinnati 12-3 in the second half, but the home team scored two goals after the break to maintain a comfortable cushion.
Going from a 2-1 lead to a 3-1 advantage was crucial, Koch said.
“When you’re 2-1 up, it’s very important to go out and score that third goal and give yourself a little bit of a buffer,” Koch said. “It was even better to score the fourth goal to get the larger buffer because if it was only 3-1 when they scored their second goal, who knows what’s going to happen in the last five, 10 minutes. Teams in this league, in New York … will throw everything at you.”
Delbridge’s goal gave the Orange and Blue breathing room. Walker made it 4-1 before Valot scored his second goal in the 81st minute.
4. Whirlwind week
It was a momentous night for Bone, who celebrated a goal and his 29th birthday just one week after his wife, Annie, gave birth to an 8 pound, 10-ounce boy named Brooks Marcus.
Bone discovered he was “really bad at goal celebrations” after scoring against the Red Bulls II, but that did not dampen his thrilling moment.
The Texas native maintained possession after New York cleared a ball out of the box. He ultimately placed it beyond goalkeeper Rafael Diaz.
Bone called it a dream situation for midfielders.
“The ball pops out the top of the box, you take a touch and you just kind of go after it,” Bone said.
Koch hugged Bone afterward as a group of fans crooned “Happy Birthday.” The goal punctuated an emotionally charged week for the new father.
“To score a goal like that for our team in front of the fans and for my newborn and my wife and my whole family and whole soccer family was amazing,” Bone said.
5. Seeing yellow
FC Cincinnati garnered four yellow cards in the first 26 minutes and finished with a lopsided 6-1 edge in yellows.
Berry and Djiby received yellow cards in the first 14 minutes while Andrew Wiedeman was shown yellow in the 23rd minute and Matt Bahner followed suit soon after. Delbridge and Bone were carded in the second half.
The Red Bulls II had only one yellow card, on Gideon Baah in the 88th minute. Koch was displeased with the disparity.
“I have to be careful what I say, but there was no consistency in decisions," Koch said. "We make a foul, and we get a yellow card. They make a foul, and there’s absolutely nothing out of it. It’s very, very frustrating, but yet again I was proud of the players, how they managed that. You’ve got to manage it."
“Unfortunately, we had to make it a substitution because of it. Literally we knew the referee was going to get Djiby sent off, and Djiby was not playing maliciously whatsoever, so we had to make that substitution to get him off.”
Djiby’s yellow was for dissent. He was replaced by Danni Konig in the 55th minute
6. A night to remember
A record crowd of 30,417 filled Nippert’s stands, supplanting the franchise’s former regular-season attendance benchmark (25,308) against Orlando City B on Aug. 5 and playoff record (30,187) against Charleston last year.
The Orange and Blue hit the road for their final four regular-season matches - at Saint Louis FC, Charlotte Independence, Ottawa Fury FC and Toronto FC II. One key to FC Cincinnati’s playoff hopes will be maintaining the momentum it established Saturday night.
“This is kind of a slower part of our season compared to the Open Cup run that we had mixed in with the league,” Walker said. “We had two, three games a week and now it’s one game a week.”