CINCINNATI -- A week ago, FC Cincinnati was disappointed in its draw with Charlotte. Fast forward to Saturday, and the same result against conference leader Charleston Battery felt a little more like a win.
Coming off a thrilling – but draining – upset of Major League Soccer’s Columbus SC on Wednesday, FC Cincinnati capped a stretch of three games in eight days with a 2-2 draw against the Battery on Saturday in front of 21,074 fans at Nippert Stadium.
FC Cincinnati had taken an early lead and gave up two second-half goals before Andrew Wiedeman salvaged a point in the standings for the home side with the equalizer in the 80th minute.
Here are the top 9 takeaways from the game:
1. Important point gained
FC Cincinnati coach Alan Koch said the emotionally and physically draining win over Columbus Crew SC made it especially difficult to then go face the Eastern Division-leading Battery, so his club will gladly take the gained point.
The Orange and Blue moved up one spot in the standings to seventh with 17 points to push a little closer toward the front of the pack chasing the top 3. The No. 4-12 teams are all within five points of each other with Rochester leading that group with 20 points. Third-place Tampa Bay has 24, just one point behind Louisville City, and Charleston still leads with 28 points.
“I wouldn't say it feels like a win, but it feels a lot more like a win than a loss.” Koch said. “We're emotionally drained. To be quite honest, I'm hoping to go to sleep for the next 24 hours. I can't imagine how the players must feel right now.
"To be 1-0 up and then concede two goals like we did, there's not many teams that will have the character to get the result against a class team like Charleston like our group did tonight. It says a lot about our group and where we're headed. We're still building and this week from a club perspective and a team perspective, we put down some really good bricks.”
2. Djiby delivers -- again
Djiby Fall put FC Cincinnati on the board first in the fourth minute on yet another header, finishing off a head ball from Harrison Delbridge on Josu Currais’ free kick into the box. It was Fall’s 10th goal overall this season and seventh in league play. Seven of his 10 goals have come in the air.
Fall was tied for sixth in the league for goals entering the day, despite missing six USL games. Reno’s Dane Kelly had the lead with 12 scores.
The 1-0 lead held until the second half.
3. Strong start overall
Fall’s goal was the fastest FC Cincinnati has scored in its two seasons.
Sean Okoli, who is now with Major League Soccer side New York City FC, scored a goal in the fifth minute in the home opener last year but the quickest goal so far this season came in the 18th minute, twice.
The early goal was part of an overall strong first 30 minutes to game for FC Cincinnati, which had several exciting chances to add to the lead before Charleston stepped up to outshoot the hosts 8-4 for the first half.
“Seeing good moments like that is fantastic,” Koch said of the first 30 minutes. “We talk to the guys about a full 90 minutes, and if we did that for 90 minutes tonight, we would have won the game, but it's not easy to do that against quality teams. … We've got to capitalize on those moments.
"I think in the first 10-15 minutes, we had a few chances, and we make those chances and it's 2- or 3-0 and we're probably standing here with three points, but it's pleasing to see how we're playing, how we're possessing the ball. We're possessing with purpose, and I think we've taken a big step forward in that regard.”
4. Late breakdowns
FC Cincinnati still has yet to beat Charleston in five meetings dating back to last season, and for the third time, the Orange and Blue squandered a lead.
Charleston came back from behind to finish in a 1-1 draw at Nippert last July, then rallied for a 2-1 win in their playoff matchup in October. In the 2016 opener this year, the Battery scored a goal in the 94th minute for a 1-0 decision at home, and in the opener this season, FC Cincinnati evened the score at 1-1 in the second half but couldn’t hold on for another 2-1 loss.
This time, Charleston got the equalizer on a Romario Williams flick-in on Ricky Garbanzo’s feed to the top of the six-yard box in the 63rd minute, and then Forrest Lasso put in the go-ahead goal on a header off a long throw-in.
5. Making something out of nothing
Wiedeman stepped up with the play of the game for FC Cincinnati in the 80th minute, beating his defender with a nifty juggling move to his left side after receiving a cross from Currais at the corner of the six-yard box. Wiedeman finished it off with a side volley for his first goal of the season.
“A lot of it was salvaging a bad first touch,” Wiedeman said. “It kind of came out, and I maybe could have left it, but I stuck my foot out and it popped up, and I thought, 'Oh no, I better make something out of this now or I'm going to get an earful.' It went in, though, so that was good.”
FC Cincinnati had brought on Wiedeman for Danni Konig in the 68th minute and shifted to a heavier attack with the insertion of forward Kadeem Dacres for defender Paul Nicholson in the 77th minute.
“Obviously going up at halftime, we thought we could have hung onto it, but little moments in the second half cost us and thank goodness for a special moment from Andrew Wiedeman,” Koch said. “We're very proud of him and the tight group tonight to show the character to come back and salvage a tough game and get a point against the team that's atop the league.”
6. Fatigue a factor
Nicholson, who moved into the starting lineup Wednesday, said fatigue seemed to be a factor in the “two sloppy goals” that FC Cincinnati allowed. The club is playing much better defense overall this season, he noted, and Saturday’s breakdowns were an exception.
“The first 25 minutes, we were playing some good football, and I don't think it was really an issue, but I think just as the game went forward, maybe we got tired and we let them get back into the game,” Nicholson said of handling the emotional week. “It was tough, but I think we did a good job to manage it.”
FC Cincinnati did make some personnel changes over the past three games, using 16 different players in the starting lineups, and Koch said he will continue to manage the players’ minutes as they recover and as he still tries to find the best 11.
The Orange and Blue have played 17 games overall, compared to 14 at this point last year, but they continue to remain competitive thanks to more depth on the roster.
“Last year I was playing every single game, so minutes have been managed a little more this year so you're able to kind of recover, but I think it's also a testament to our depth,” Wiedeman said. “We have a lot of guys that can step out there and play. We probably played 18 guys over the last three games, and that's something we wouldn't have done last year.”
7. Staying in formation
Koch elected to keep with the 3-5-2 formation that worked well enough to beat MLS club Columbus Crew on Wednesday.
The formation fits the club well as a way to get Fall and Danni Konig in together, while also creating versatility on defense. Justin Hoyte and Currais are able to track back to help the three-man back line of Austin Berry, Paul Nicholson and Harrison Delbridge, and Kenney Walker and Corben Bone solidify things in the middle in the transition game with Jimmy McLaughlin bridging the gap to Konig and Fall.
“You can tell we made some changes this week, tactically,” Koch said of the formation. “We played a few different players and the players embraced what we did this week, so we're very happy from that perspective.”
However, he said he needs to reflect on how individual players performed and see where they are medically before deciding whether to stick with that formation or re-adjust in the future.
8. Attendance update
FC Cincinnati topped 20,000 tickets sold for a third straight game Saturday and totaled 73,349 fans over that stretch with help from a 31,160 draw to Wednesday’s match against the Crew, which did not include any season tickets.
The club also surpassed the 150,000 season attendance mark Saturday and total attendance sits at 156,962 through eight league games.
“Thanks to the fans, three games in a week to come out and support our group like they have done this week is nothing short of remarkable, so we appreciate the support,” Koch said.
9. What’s next?
FC Cincinnati has the week to prepare for St. Louis FC, which it hosts June 24 in another battle between teams pushing for playoff positioning in the Eastern Division table.
After that, it’s another busy week with MLS side Chicago Fire FC coming to Nippert for a U.S. Open Cup fifth-round game (Round of 16) on June 28, followed by a July 1 game at Orlando City B.
Koch said the team will have Sunday and Monday off to relax before a get-together Monday night, but those who didn’t play much this week will still practice Monday.
“As much as we just went through all these games, there's still a lot of games coming up, so we are going to have to manage the group and make sure they are ready to go when their chance comes along,” Koch said.