FC Cincinnati is inching closer to a USL regular-season title

FC Cincinnati is inching closer to a USL regular-season title
Posted at 6:49 PM, Sep 12, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-12 18:49:42-04

CINCINNATI -- When FC Cincinnati clinched a playoff spot a week and a half ago, coach Alan Koch cared more about celebrating the win that night against Pittsburgh.

The Orange and Blue had rallied from behind with two goals in the final 10 minutes to beat the rival Riverhounds and that was something he wanted to enjoy for at least a bit.

It's safe to bet the same was the case Tuesday night when FCC clinched a home playoff game by beating River Cities Cup rival Louisville City FC, 1-0, in a match that began Saturday and had to be halted 38 minutes in because of weather. Corben Bone scored in the 23rd minute off Emmanuel Ledesma's assist in a downpour of rain on a water-logged field, and the team came back Tuesday and preserved the win.

FCC now heads into Sunday's match against Toronto FC on a 17-game unbeaten streak and leading the Eastern Conference by 14 points – nine away from clinching the USL regular-season title.

"Honestly, coming here tonight was focusing on this game, managing the 50-odd minutes we knew we were going to have to play and we'll do the exact same thing on Sunday," Koch said in his post-game comments Tuesday night. "I think it's what's put us in good standing all season long. You focus on one game at a time. You never think beyond that; there's no point (doing otherwise)."

No other teams have clinched a playoff spot yet, and Cincinnati already has clinched the home game for the first round of the playoffs, which begin Oct. 20. FCC has qualified for the postseason in each of its three seasons of existence, and this will be the second time in three years that Cincinnati will host a home playoff match. The Orange and Blue haven't advanced past the first round.

FCC doesn't just want to return to the postseason. The 2019 Major League Soccer expansion club wants to go out with a regular-season title and the USL Cup.

RELATED: FC Cincinnati Coach Koch: We're a much different team than last May

With six games left, Cincinnati (19-3-6) is closing in on that first goal. FCC has a maximum 81 points available but already is at 63. Real Monarchs SLC and Phoenix Rising are capable of finishing with the next highest points total at 71 in the Western Conference. Pittsburgh, which is second in the Eastern Conference, has a maximum points total of 70.

That means the Orange and Blue is still a few games away from being able to clinch the USL regular-season title; however FiveThirtyEight gives FCC a 30 percent chance of winning the USL Cup and SportsClubStats has it with a 1.0 average finishing position.

If Phoenix and Real Monarchs win their next three games and FCC keeps winning, the earliest the Orange and Blue could clinch the regular-season title is Sept. 26 at Richmond. Cincinnati's next three opponents are all among the bottom five teams in the USL Eastern Conference, and Toronto already has been eliminated from the playoffs with a 3-20-3 record.

The Orange and Blue aren't about to get overconfident now, though.

"We had a couple of goals on (Toronto) up there and they came back in the second half and tied the game up 3-3," FCC goalie Spencer Richey said in post-game comments Tuesday. "We know the table is what it is, but you can't overlook anyone in this league and we got a valuable lesson up at their place so we'll be ready for Sunday."

Koch said he has felt momentum building throughout the last three months and hopes for that to continue.

FCC has been finding ways to win in all kinds of different situations. The Orange and Blue hadn't trailed anyone since June 13 when they came back against Pittsburgh, and the win against Louisville – which accounted for two of the team's three losses this year -- was the first time they've had to stop a game and finish another day.

Since its last loss against Louisville on May 26, Cincinnati is 13-0-4 and its 17-game unbeaten streak is now the longest in the USL this season. The Orange and Blue have won six straight, and Ledesma has scored or assisted at least one goal in five of those games. The only one he didn't score in he didn't play because of suspension for yellow card accumulation.

"When you play well and win and even when you don't play well and you win, you grow in confidence and the team continues to move forward," Koch said last week. "We are significantly better than we were a few weeks ago or a few months ago and hopefully we can say the same thing in the future."