As time waned, FC Cincinnati was staring down at a loss but Danni Konig evened the score at the death to salvage a point in the standings.
His goal in the 92nd minute gave FC Cincinnati a 2-2 draw with Orlando City B on Saturday in front of a United Soccer League regular-season single-game record crowd of 25,308 on Fan Appreciation Night.
Here is a look at the top 9 takeaways from the game:
1. Point taken
FC Cincinnati had plenty of chances to score and could very well have won this game, but coming so close to a loss, the Orange and Blue were content with the point gained from the tie.
“When you score a goal in the 92nd minute to get a point against a very good group, you gain something,” FC Cincinnati coach Alan Koch said. “A second before you score the goal, you've got nothing. So, to get a point right at the very end is definitely a point gained.”
The point doesn’t help FC Cincinnati (8-7-7, 31 points) move up any in the standings, as it remains in sixth place in the Eastern Division, but it does help keep the competition closer. Fifth-place Rochester, which lost to New York City Red Bulls II on Saturday, is just one point ahead, and Louisville City, which fell to Charlotte, is ahead by four points in fourth.
Tampa Bay swapped spots with Louisville thanks to a win over Harrisburg City, and Charleston drops from first to second with a loss to Toronto, allowing Charlotte to take over first place with 39 points.
FC Cincinnati is just one point up on seventh-place Bethlehem but now four points ahead of eighth-place Red Bulls II.
2. Scoring first
Newcomer Kyle Greig scored his first goal for FC Cincinnati in his first competitive start, putting the Orange and Blue on the board in the sixth minute.
Greig, brought in on loan from the Vancouver Whitecaps on July 11, has appeared in two league games off the bench and started the international friendly against Valencia but his header off Josu Currais’ beautiful cross was his first goal in any game with Cincinnati. Greig was starting at center forward in place of Djiby Fall, who missed Saturday’s game because of a red card issued in the first half of last weekend’s loss to Rochester.
“It felt good,” Greig said. “Obviously, I played a couple minutes in a couple league games past but it was good to get a start and get a lot of opportunities throughout the game. I'm excited about what the future holds for me with this club.”
Koch had hinted that Greig would start last week since he was ineligible to play in Wednesday’s Open Cup quarterfinal at Miami and others would need a rest.
3. Missed freebie
The next time down the field after Greig’s goal, he was pulled down in the box to give FC Cincinnati a chance to make it 2-0 in the ninth minute.
However, Orlando goalie Earl Edwards Jr. saved Aodhan Quinn’s penalty kick to the left, a seemingly poor strike for the team’s best penalty shooter in training. Quinn is 1-for-3 on penalty kicks this season, also missing in the shootout with the Chicago Fire in the U.S. Open Cup Round of 16 game.
When asked if he would consider a change in who handles penalty kicks, Koch said, “In hindsight, yeah, but beforehand no. Aodhan scored two penalty kicks a few weeks ago (only one counted because he had to retake the shot because a player stepped in the box), so we have a lot of confidence in him.
"It won't crush his confidence. That's part of this business. We have several guys that can take them, and Aodhan normally is very good at them. Give the keeper credit, he obviously made a big save.”
Still, a make there changes the game.
4. Paying for mistakes
That missed opportunity came back to haunt FC Cincinnati.
Five minutes later Austin Martz scored on a torching volley from the top of the box to even the score at 1-1, and in the 55th minute, Orlando pulled ahead on a goal by Hadji Barry, which seemed a long-time coming.
Martz’s goal came off a weak clearance by center back Sem de Wit, who was making his first USL start since signing with the club July 11. De Wit attempted to head away a long throw-in but gave the ball right to Martz, who took advantage on a one-touch strike to beat FC Cincinnati goalie Mitch Hildebrandt.
Barry found the net after he was released behind the FC Cincinnati defense on a long ball for a wide open shot, which he set to the far post.
“Obviously we scored and got a penalty kick so we were ready to go and energized, but I don't think we handled the moment of not scoring the penalty kick very well,” Koch said. “We allowed them back into it and they had so much quality in their group tonight, they were inevitably going to get something out of it if we allowed them to keep playing.”
5. The late equalizer
Konig came off the bench in the 69th minute for Andrew Wiedeman and provided a spark to an offense that had managed just five first-half shots (compared to Orlando’s 12).
He had just one shot for the night but made it count, lofting it over Edwards Jr., who came off his line to challenge for the loose long ball that Kenney Walker delivered into the box from the opposite end of the field. The goal was Konig’s eighth this season.
It was fitting that Greig and Konig scored the goals, as the two players brought to the club to replace Djiby Fall when necessary at center forward.
“It was nice to get a point out of it when it looked like we might not get points until the end of the game,” Greig said. “The special part of this group is Danni comes in and brings a little bit of energy and we snag a goal late. We're not happy but content with getting one point.”
6. Midfield struggles
FC Cincinnati is clearly a better team when Walker is in the game, and he was missed until he came on in the 56th minute (after the go-ahead goal) to replace Quinn.
The midfield looked flat with the tandem of Corben Bone and Quinn unable to fill a big gap between the forwards and defenders. At first it seemed Koch was trying to correct that by switching from the 3-4-3 to a 4-3-3 but eventually it took bringing Walker on to get things going in the right direction again.
Cincinnati dominated possession time in the second half, holding the ball 61 percent of the time to finish with 19 shots to Orlando’s 16.
“I don't think (a draw) is just reward for the group,” Koch said. “We had to deal with a lot of different situations. Tonight we adjusted multiple times to try to deal with what Orlando was throwing at us. They were very, very good so we had to make those adjustments and substitutions earlier than I normally would in terms of throwing all three out there, and I'm glad Danni and Kyle were rewarded with goals tonight.”
7. Capping an emotional week
This wasn’t an easy week for FC Cincinnati, which somehow managed to hold off Miami FC’s potent attack and score a late goal for a 1-0 win in the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals Wednesday.
Koch called Saturday’s game a “trap game” because of the emotion coming off a historical victory that sends Cincinnati into a home match for the semifinals – two wins from becoming just the second non-Major League Soccer team to claim the Cup in the MLS era.
Still, his players managed to overcome right at the very end.
“It was a very, very emotion week for all of us,” Koch said. “We've gone through a lot with the high of Wednesday and really something historic. It's emotionally draining, and to see our group come back and fight right until the very end, I'm very proud of the character we've shown this week, Wednesday and of course tonight right until the end.”
8. Fan appreciation
One week ahead of FC Cincinnati’s two-year anniversary, the club celebrated with a Fan Appreciation Night on Saturday, which included post-game fireworks.
The fans, as usual, did not disappoint. For an eighth time this season, a crowd of 20,000 showed up for a USL match at Nippert Stadium, and the attendance of 25,308 set a USL regular-season single-game record. FC Cincinnati held the previous mark at 24,376 last September against Orlando City B.
Koch said the record could have been a result of the fan base being energized by the Cup run but it goes beyond that, too.
“It's a little bit of everything,” Koch said. “I think it's because of what we're building. It says a lot about this club, a lot about this city. People really want to come out and support the team.
"There are lots of families with kids and college kids and older people out there that come out too. It says a lot about the diverse group that comes out and supports this club, but we're humbled by the support of these fans. It's unbelievably fantastic, part of something special. I'm glad we drew all the fans tonight. They deserved to get something out of tonight.”
The crowd was FC Cincinnati’s fourth best attended game across all competitions, following the Crystal Palace friendly last July (35,061) and the Open Cup matches against the Columbus Crew (30,160) and Chicago Fire (32,287).
9. What’s next?
FC Cincinnati hits the road for the next two league games, traveling to Louisville City on Aug. 12 and to play New York Reds Bulls II on Aug. 19, but hosts a U.S. Open Cup semifinal against Major League Soccer’s New York Red Bulls in between on Aug. 15.
The club already has sold more than 10,000 tickets to the Cup semifinal match before sales open to the general public Tuesday. Season ticket holders had first priority.
The Orange and Blue play their next home league game on Aug. 23 against USL newcomer Ottawa Fury FC.