CINCINNATI -- FC Cincinnati picked up Danni Konig less than two weeks ago, expecting him to produce more goals for the team.
A 22-goal scorer in 2015, Konig showed signs of returning to that form Saturday while lifting FCC to a 2-1 win over Bethlehem Steel FC in front of 18,441 fans at Nippert Stadium.
Konig scored both goals for FCC, including the game-winner early in the second half, and the defense held up to preserve the win despite late pressure from Bethlehem. The game went into a lightning delay before the four minutes of stoppage time could be played but finally was called complete after two hours of waiting.
Here are the top 9 takeaways from the win:
1. Important win
FCC (3-4-3) needed this win, after losing twice to Bethlehem earlier this season in disappointing fashion and struggling in the last few games.
The first loss to Bethlehem, a 2-0 decision April 9, came after an early red card put the Orange and Blue down a man for the majority of the game. The second one came on a late goal after FCC had dominated possession and failed to put in any of the 21 shots taken.
Cincinnati was 0-2-1 in its last three league games heading into Saturday, coming off a 2-0 loss to Orlando City B last weekend before an extra-time win in the U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday. The win over Bethlehem moved FCC from ninth in the Eastern Division to sixth with games still being played Saturday night.
“We've worked very, very hard this week,” FCC coach Alan Koch said. “We weren't happy with the result last week against Orlando. We've worked on a bunch of different things. We obviously rotated our squad for the cup game Wednesday and gave players a chance to show us what they could do.
“It obviously took longer Wednesday night than we would have liked it to, but we got the result to move on to the next round in the cup and we just got a huge three points tonight so we're definitely turning in the right area and finally our players are rewarded for the hard work they're putting in.”
2. Konig connects
Konig, acquired May 10 in a trade with Oklahoma City, did just what he was brought in to do Saturday, scoring his first two goals of the season in his second game with FCC and sixth overall.
“It's always nice to have a coach who believes in you and of course you want to repay him and show he made the right decision,” Konig said. “I'm not thinking about it when I'm in the game, but I want to pay him back for the confidence he has in me.”
The center forward put the home side up 1-0 in the 17th minute on a diving header off
Jimmy McLaughlin’s slicing cross to the far post, just past an approaching Bethlehem goalkeeper Jake McGuire.
Konig had a goal waived off just three minutes before that when he headed in a deflected floater but was called for fouling McGuire.
Konig’s second goal gave FCC a 2-1 lead in the 53rd minute, cutting past a defender around the penalty dot and taking one quick touch before sending the left-footed shot past McGuire. The play started with a long ball from Aodhan Quinn to Kadeem Dacres, who turned past his defender and fed a perfect pass to Konig.
“He showed tonight what we know he is capable of doing,” Koch said. “He was rewarded for his efforts. Last weekend was his first game. He had some good moments. It is difficult obviously to go out after you've trained for only two games, but we made the decision to put him in and the fact he played last week and we played the same starting 11 again tonight allowed everybody to get on the same page.
“He obviously fed off some good service but he had the ability and the confidence to bag two goals, so we're very happy for him. We brought him in to be a big part of our group and he showed that tonight.”
3. Unfortunate equalizer
Bethlehem tied the game at 1-1 on a penalty kick in the 32nd minute after Quinn gave up a turnover in the box and took down Seku Conneh while trying to get the ball back. Conneh beat Mitch Hildebrandt on the kick, as Hildebrandt dove the opposite direction.
It was the second penalty FCC has allowed in as many games. Orlando City broke a scoreless tie last weekend on a Dacres foul in the box and then added an insurance goal to win 2-0.
4. Correcting turnovers
Turnovers were a concern in the first half, but FCC had fewer of those mistakes down the stretch and held up despite some dangerous opportunities late in the game.
“I thought we defended really well tonight, all the way from the front with Danni to the back line,” Hildebrandt said. “I commend the group on how hard we work because I thought defensively that was our best 90 minutes pressing together as a team. I have no doubt we will come back and do that again next week and leading into the rest of the season.”
The FCC defense had survived one turnover in the box in the 19th minute when Hildebrandt came up with a brilliant save and Harrison Delbridge was there for the stop on the rebound shot. FCC finally was able to clear the ball away but wasn’t so fortunate on the next mistake in the back that led to the penalty kick.
At the end of the first half, Matt Bahner lost another turnover to give Chris Nanco a breakaway but with Quinn closing in from behind, Nanco took too big of a touch on the dribble and Hildebrandt came out to make the save.
5. Mitch says “No”
Hildebrandt had one of his best games this season, finishing with five saves, including a few highlight reel-worthy ones.
In the 56th minute, he batted away a Bethlehem header over the cross bar, which otherwise would have tied the game at 2-2. Fans loved that one just as much as the point-blank shot he saved in the first half off the turnover, before Delbridge’s stop.
Hildebrandt had 21 saves through the first nine games and had a 1.11 goals against average.
“It wasn't an easy game,” Koch said. “We played very well, but there were a couple moments where Bethlehem was very, very dangerous. We came together defensively. Mitch made some first-class saves, and we created all sorts of opportunities, too, and thankfully Danni bagged two goals tonight.”
6. Same lineup
For the first time this season, FC Cincinnati did not have a new lineup. The Orange and Blue started the same 11 players as its previous league game May 13 against Orlando City B.
Daryl Fordyce continues to start in place of injured Kenney Walker, who Koch was hoping would be ready Saturday after missing two games with a knee contusion. Walker was not even in the available 18.
The consistent lineup helped the offense take advantage of more opportunities.
Koch said in his television halftime interview that he thought FCC played some of its best soccer this season in the first 30 minutes, creating chances in a number of different ways before some breakdowns late in the half.
Cincinnati had possession for 58 percent of the time in the first half and took five shots with one on target, while five of Bethlehem’s eight shots (four on frame) were from outside the box. In the second half, the Orange and Blue had 12 shots with four on target. Bethlehem had 10 shots with three on target in the second half but most of those were in clusters.
7. The waiting game
Koch thought it was “ridiculous” to have to wait two hours for a decision to be made to call the game. Apparently the head official wanted to leave it up to the league, which decided to extend the waiting period an extra hour beyond when it could have called it.
Two hours after play was halted, it was still lightning.
“If that's what we have to do to wait to finish off a job, we'll wait that long,” Koch said. “We waited two hours and there's still lightning so it would make absolutely no sense to go out and play professional athletes who are assets and try to get them warmed up to go play now. Thank goodness sanity has prevailed.”
FCC players played table tennis and tried to relax during the delay, but Koch also wanted to keep them focused in case play were to resume.
8. Attendance comparison
Another impressive crowd of 18,441 fans marked the team’s second lowest attendance for a USL game this season, beating a midweek match against Tampa Bay that drew 15,227 fans; however, early forecasts for storms didn’t provide a lot of faith for good weather.
FCC is still outdrawing everyone else in the league, which averaged under 4,000 fans per game last year. The club topped 15,000 tickets sold by Wednesday.
Fans from The Bailey and other spirited supporters stuck around under shelter at the stadium during the delay and were treated to food and drinks from owner Carl Lindner III and president/general manager Jeff Berding.
“Hopefully our fans went and took shelter, but it was awesome to see tons of them still here, which is great,” Koch said. “They deserve to go out and have a good time tonight because they were a big part of the energy that was in that stadium tonight.”
9. Looking ahead
FCC remains home for a third straight weekend as it hosts Toronto FC II at 5 p.m. May 27 before resuming U.S. Open Cup play May 31 against Louisville City FC, also at Nippert Stadium.
Tickets already are on sale for season ticket holders to reserve their seats – the game is not included in any season packages – but the remaining tickets go on sale at 9 a.m. Tuesday to the general public.