CINCINNATI -- FC Cincinnati could not hold up for a full 90 minutes against Spanish giant Valencia CF but walked away from the international friendly feeling satisfied with the experience.
Valencia, one the biggest clubs in Europe, scored two second-half goals to beat FC Cincinnati 2-0 in front of 23,114 fans at Nippert Stadium as part of its preseason trip to North America.
FCC used 22 players, including giving forward Omar Cummings one last appearance before retiring to a position with the club's front office, and sustained a barrage of attacks by Valencia before finally breaking down in the 62nd minute.
Here's a look at the top 9 takeaways from the match:
1. A good experience for all
This match was never about winning, although though both teams obviously wanted to come away victorious.
Although FC Cincinnati had a lot to gain with a good result, the match likely meant more to Valencia, which is about three weeks from its La Liga season opener and still figuring things out under new coach Marcelino Garcia Toral. With the win, Valencia improves to 3-1 this preseason as it seeks to improve from a 12th place finish last year.
For FC Cincinnati, it was mostly about giving players a chance to compete against a high-quality opponent and perhaps learn a little more about some players who haven't played a lot of minutes this season.
"It's not very often when you lose a game it's OK to smile," FC Cincinnati coach Alan Koch said. "We all hate losing but tonight was more than winning and losing. It was obviously a great experience for our entire group. It was (22) players we got to play and we managed to get some good minutes for guys that played a lot and managed to get some minutes for guys that haven't played that much. I was happy with how the entire group embraced tonight."
2. Breaking down
FC Cincinnati's defense held up for more than an hour before finally breaking down to allow a goal.
Valencia midfielder Dani Parejo had been sending long balls into the attack all night with many opportunities waived because of offside calls, but it finally worked in the 62nd minute when Nando managed to stay onside for a far-post strike at the corner of the 6-yard box. Parejo set him up with a tidy pass over top of the FC Cincinnati defense and Nando curved the shot past reserve goalie Dallas Jaye.
Valencia had a series of similar tries late in the first half: One that Alvaro Negredo put into the net as the offside flag waived and a couple that negated Simon Zaza shots. FC Cincinnati midfielder Aaron Walker had made a goal-line clearance to keep the game scoreless just a few minutes before Valencia finally found the net.
Zaza added an insurance goal moments before the final whistle sounded, beating third-string goalie Dan Williams one-on-one for an empty netter.
3. Mixed lineups
As expected, both clubs held back some stars but didn't completely deny fans the sight of some regular standouts.
FC Cincinnati sat scoring leaders Djiby Fall and Danni Konig and rested the likes of Harrison Delbridge, Austin Berry, Justin Hoyte, Kenney Walker, Corben Bone and Matt Bahner for at least most of the game, but still started goalie Mitch Hildebrandt and forward Jimmy McLaughlin, as well as Kadeem Dacres and Aodhan Quinn, who were regular starters early in the season. Newcomers Kyle Greig and Sem de Wit got their first starts, while Josu Currais, the lone Spanish native on the squad, reportedly was unavailable with a swollen knee.
"The players that played a lot showed why they have been playing a lot, and some of the players that haven't played that much showed they should be given an opportunity, which is great because it creates healthy competition," Koch said.
Valencia didn't even bring its biggest name player on its North American tour, as Luis Nani stayed behind, but otherwise the visiting club played a good number of regulars for much of the game. Well-known goalkeeper Neto joined Zaza and Parejo as some of the more exciting players to watch.
Because it was a friendly, both teams were able to use as many subs as desired.
4. A test of possession
FC Cincinnati has not faced an opponent like Valencia before, and the La Liga squad brought a highly technical, quick-paced possession game.
Though Valencia had many opportunities in the first half, FC Cincinnati still managed to take away the ball a few more times than the visitors would have liked. Eventually, however, the superior team adjusted and the Orange and Blue couldn't keep up.
Valencia outshot FC Cincinnati 14-5 and had nine corner kicks compared to the home side's three. FC Cincinnati finished with a total of five saves.
"Valencia is an amazing team," Koch said. "There is a reason they are the club they are and they play in the league they do. You could see their team was a little rusty. It's their preseason, and that's to be expected, but you could also see individual moments that were sheer brilliance and it showed the difference obviously between playing in La Liga and playing where we're playing at this time."
FC Cincinnati midfielder Marco Dominguez said the quick pace of the game was challenging but he and his teammates just tried to keep things "simple" and that allowed FC Cincinnati an opportunity to be competitive overall.
5. See you later, Omar
Cummings, who played briefly in just three league games this season, announced his retirement Sunday night and was recognized in a halftime ceremony in which he was presented with a framed jersey.
The former University of Cincinnati and Cincinnati State forward then took the field to start the second half for one last appearance on the field and played 28 minutes. Cummings will be joining the FC Cincinnati front office in a role working with its youth academy and community initiatives.
"Cincinnati has given me so much, from an education from college to the opportunity to play soccer here in the city. To move on and get the opportunity to be drafted by Colorado and move on to a professional career and to finish my career in Cincinnati has been a joy," said Cummings, who was drafted 31st overall by the Colorado Rapids in 2007 and went on to become Rookie of the Year that season.
Cummings hasn't been the same physically since his 2016 campaign ended with a knee injury in late August and said he considered retiring then but gave himself six months to recover. Had he not been ready by the preseason, he would have quit then, he said.
Still, he had played just 37 minutes prior to his arrival off the bench Monday, and Cummings said the emotions of the end of his career started to build during warmups.
Last season, he scored four goals, including one game-winner against Toronto FC, to go along with five assists to finish tied for third on the team with 13 points.
6. Strong game, weaker crowd
Attendance didn't come close to last summer's special against English Premier League club Crystal Palace, which holds the all-time Ohio soccer record at 35,061, but maybe that's a sign of how spoiled fans here have been this season.
Crystal Palace -- a team that has never finished higher than third in the EPL -- was the big event last year, while Valencia had to compete with a deep U.S. Open Cup run and an upcoming U.S. Women's National Team game drawing dollars from Cincinnatians' pockets.
For some added perspective, Valencia's friendly against North American Soccer League club New York Cosmos drew just over 15,000 in Regina, Saskatchewan.
Still, the crowd reflects an apparent lack of knowledge to the significance to bringing a club from La Liga, winners of the last four Champions League titles.
Perhaps if the friendly was on a Saturday like last year it would have done better, but then again, fans came out in droves for midweek games against two Major League Soccer clubs that in all reality are much less competitive than Valencia, which is the third most supported in Spain and one of the biggest clubs in Europe.
Monday's crowd was the fourth best out of all matches this season at Nippert Stadium, topped by the home opener against St. Louis and two U.S. Open Cup games against MLS clubs.
7. Building a following
The reason international clubs such as Valencia travel to North America for preseason games is to build their brand and following overseas. It worked well for Crystal Palace last year, which seemed to gain some fans and, at the very least, name recognition it might have lacked on a large scale here before the match.
However, the relationship with Valencia might not come out as strong from this one. Fans seemed discouraged Sunday when the club canceled an open training and autograph session and then created more confusion by announcing via Twitter that it would instead just be pushing practice back -- to the same time as the scheduled VIP event. Valencia sent a few players to the event, while others practiced, but the session was closed and there were no other opportunities made public for fans to meet the team.
Despite any disappointment for fans Sunday, both sides expressed positive impressions from the experience.
"What a joy for our fans to see some big-time players," Koch said. "I can say personally I will be following Valencia more this year than I would have, so it made it unique from that perspective. Getting to interact with their players and coaches, we all do the same thing. ... I'm excited to see how they do this season."
Toral said his club felt well-respected by fans. Time will tell if Valencia was in fact able to win over some fans with its magisterial possession game and technical skill.
8. Valencia's take on FC Cincinnati
Valencia coach Toral said the turf was a big adjustment for his team, but in terms of the atmosphere, FC Cincinnati provided an experience comparable to his club's La Liga season.
With what he saw on a Monday night, FC Cincinnati has a bright future.
"I know in a short period, the main goal is for FC Cincinnati to get to MLS and that's what I really hope they will achieve," he said through a translator. "I think it's really important, with what I've seen tonight, on a Monday night the stadium was as full as it was. That really shows the engagement of the fans here, and that's really a good thing. I wish them all the best."
9. Up next
FC Cincinnati will take the day off Tuesday and return to training Wednesday in preparation for Saturday's home United Soccer League game against Rochester Rhinos.
Cincinnati heads into that match sitting in fifth place in the Eastern Division, while Rochester is seventh, four points back. The Orange and Blue are five points out of first, a position held by Charleston, which has played one less game.