CINCINNATI -- FC Cincinnati got perhaps its most important win to date this inaugural season by beating first-place Louisville City FC 2-0 Saturday afternoon in front of more than 20,000 fans at Nippert Stadium.
Andrew Wiedeman and Sean Okoli scored for FC Cincinnati, while goalie Mitch Hildebrandt and the defense notched its first clean sheet in nearly a month against a team that entered the game tied for the USL lead in goals scored. The win solidifies FC Cincinnati’s hold on third place in the USL Eastern Conference, upping its points total to 37 and pulling it back to within four points of second-place New York Red Bulls II and five points of Louisville City.
The win, which snapped Louisville City’s 17-match unbeaten streak, also makes FC Cincinnati winner of the inaugural River Cities Cup by virtue of a 4-3 aggregate after the teams split the three-game season series 1-1-1.
“The attitude and dedication that they just showed to actually follow a plan that we put in place and the commitment to see it through was fantastic,” said FC Cincinnati manager John Harkes. “From our perspective, today was a maturity performance, a big maturity performance and a growth for our group. They took it to them, went at it really hard and didn’t hesitate.”
Here are the Top 9 takeaways from the win:
1. Depth shines
Playing its third match in eight days, FC Cincinnati played with energy and focus from the opening whistle. It handled Louisville City’s physical style and never backed down despite playing without regular midfielders Kenney Walker (turf toe) and Paul Nicholson (hamstring) due to injuries suffered in Wednesday’s 2-1 loss to NY Red Bulls II.
Six different players were on the pitch for the full 90 minutes, plus forward Omar Cummings played 87 minutes, but the five subs Harkes used all contributed to the win.
“We’re trying to manage minutes. Three games like that in a week is very difficult,” said Harkes.
2. Handle the heat
The air temperature was measured at 100 degrees shortly after the 4 p.m. kickoff, while field temperatures on the synthetic turf surface were even hotter. Tack on the humidity and it made for rough conditions for both teams.
“It was miserable,” said Wiedeman. “Honestly, I think that’s probably the hottest pitch I’ve ever played on. It was like 10 minutes into the game and we were all walking on the sides of our feet because it was so damn hot out there.”
3. Another big crowd
Add 20,151 to the record-season total for FC Cincinnati. For the record, that USL record is now 184,260 with four more home dates still to play among the remaining 11 regular season games.
This is the third time FC Cincinnati has hosted a crowd of 20,000 or more for a USL match. The record doesn’t include the more than 35,000 that showed up for last week’s friendly against English Premier League-member Crystal Palace. Fans are showing up in droves for this first-year team and it has responded with winning play.
FC Cincinnati is now 7-2-2 in USL play at home, and 8-3-2 in all games played at Nippert Stadium.
4. Clean sheet
Louisville City came into the game tied with LA Galaxy II for the USL lead with 37 goals scored and boasted the league’s leading scorer in Chandler Hoffman (14 goals). Hildebrandt was credited with three saves but he was much bigger than that as FC Cincinnati recorded its fifth clean sheet of the season and its first since beating Bethlehem Steel FC, 1-0, on July 2.
Hildebrandt was helped out as two of Louisville FC’s eight shots in the second half hit metal and bounced away, but a clean sheet is a clean sheet. After giving up three goals, all to Hoffman, in the first half of the first meeting of the teams on April 16, FC Cincinnati held Louisville City scoreless for the final 191 minutes (plus extra time).
5. Make Louisville City pay for physical play
Louisville City entered the game with the third-most fouls committed (242) in the USL. While FC Cincinnati ended up with more fouls in this game (12-10), it took advantage of that Louisville City aggressive style in the first half to score the game’s first goal.
Mid-fielder Corben Bone took a free kick from five yards inside the mid-field stripe and sent it long towards Cummings near the six-yard box. Louisville City defender Kadeem Dacres got the first head on the ball but Paco Craig couldn’t get a second one to clear the ball. Wiedeman instead won the loose ball on the right side and fired a quick shot into the opposite corner past Louisville City goalie Greg Ranjitsing for a 1-0 lead in the 39th minute.
6. Free kick execution
FC Cincinnati’s second goal also came off a Bone free kick, this one a corner kick in the 59th minute. Okoli got a clean look at the ball and had an easy time putting it away with a sharp header down into the goal. It was Okoli’s ninth goal of the season.
Louisville City had an 8-4 advantage on corner kicks but couldn’t convert any of the chances into goals.
7. Character builder
With the hoopla of the start of the season over with, FC Cincinnati is hitting the second half and for the first time was facing some adversity. It had lost three of its last four matches overall (including the friendly against Crystal Palace) and scored just five goals in its last six games.
This win was a refresher for the team, a win that can carry it through the final 11 weeks of the regular season and into the USL postseason. Not that the team was lacking confidence, but this win doesn’t hurt.
“It’s always nice to get a win and knock off the top team in the standings,” said Wiedeman. “But I don't think that any of us went into this match thinking that we were in underdog. We're very confident as a team in what we do.”
8. Rivalry born
Louisville City is in its second season of existence. This is the first for FC Cincinnati. The three games played this season were all tight affairs with strong fan support each time. It doesn’t hurt that they are among the top three teams not only in the Eastern Conference but the entire USL.
As long as the franchises remain in the same league, this will be a rivalry to enjoy.
9. Up next
FC Cincinnati’s run through the top tier of the USL Eastern Conference standings continues next Saturday, July 30, when it hosts Charleston Battery at 7 p.m. The teams met in the opening game of the season, on March 26, won by Charleston Battery 1-0 on its home pitch. Charleston Battery’s Romario Williams scored the game-winner in the 94th minute, barely beating the final whistle in extra time.
The teams have been that close in the standings. Charleston Battery had its own big win on Saturday, beating NY Red Bulls II, 3-2, to improve to 35 points, two behind FC Cincinnati.