CINCINNATI — FC Cincinnati couldn’t keep the momentum rolling Saturday, as the Philadelphia Union scored two second-half goals to end the expansion team’s three-game unbeaten streak.
Despite a slow start, the Orange and Blue managed to get to halftime still in a scoreless tie, but the Union took advantage on a counterattack early in the second half and ended up beating Cincinnati 2-0 in front of 25,867 fans at Nippert Stadium.
FCC was coming off two straight wins in which the club outscored the opponents 5-0 and the hot streak began with a 1-1 draw at defending MLS Cup champion Atlanta in Week 2. The Orange and Blue, which dropped from second in the Eastern Conference, look to rebound next week when they host Sporting Kansas City on April 7.
“We’ve had some high moments so far in a short season, and we certainly didn’t get carried away then, and tonight’s a low moment and we aren’t going to get carried away from this either,” FCC coach Alan Koch said. “But, we will learn from this and we will get better.”
Here are three key points from Saturday’s loss:
1. Sitting back again
FC Cincinnati was back to looking like a team on the defense Saturday after playing a more attacking style the previous two games against New England and Portland. Bunkering down at Atlanta in Week 2 worked sufficiently for a draw, but the defense wasn’t sturdy enough this time to avoid breakdowns and the offense didn’t create enough opportunities to keep Philadelphia off the attack.
Cincinnati was without captain and center back Kendall Waston for a second straight week, as he returned from Costa Rican national team duty with a calf injury, and right back Alvas Powell was on the bench after returning from a stint with Jamaica during the international break.
The Union outshot FCC 15-5 for the match (7-1 in the first half), while the Orange and Blue had just 37.3 percent in the first half (43.6 percent for the game) and struggled to connect passes against Philadelphia’s high press. In the first half, there was some build-up into the attacking third but the final pass or cross continued to be off target or blocked. Roland Lamah scored in the 27th minute but was ruled offside and the goal discounted.
The home side came out on the front foot to start the second half but gave up a quick goal to Marco Fabian in transition as the Union took a 1-0 lead in the 47th minute. David Accam doubled the cushion in the 60th minute when he dribbled through the box, causing Forrest Lasso and Nick Hagglund to miss tackles, and tucked a shot past Spencer Richey to the far post from the penalty spot.
“Philly is a very good team,” Koch said. “They obviously went out and beat Columbus 3-0 last week, so we knew it would be a tough match tonight. They came ready to play. They were class from the start to the end, so there weren’t any major surprises. … I don’t think we did what we needed to. We knew what they were going to be good at and we didn’t’ do enough to nullify it and we didn’t focus on what we needed to do to be better.”
2. Playing it safe
FCC’s lineup favored a more defensive approach, as Allan Cruz returned from Costa Rican national team duty and regained his spot in the midfield that Kenny Saief had filled last week when he tallied a goal and an assist in the 2-0 win at New England. Saief entered in the 60th minute as a sub for Manneh, whose speed broke down the Revolution’s back line last week but wasn’t utilized as well Saturday.
Cincinnati was short on attacking players with Fanendo Adi out and Emmanuel Ledesma nursing a mild hamstring injury picked up late in the week during training. Darren Mattocks, who came off the bench the first three games but was gone last week with the Jamaican national team playing, started at forward with Manneh, but there were no forwards on the bench.
“It (the international break and injuries) impacted our business because we didn’t have a thorough week to prepare but that’s not an excuse,” Koch said. “That’s just a factor.”
While the Orange and Blue did have more opportunity late in the game, by then the Union were sitting back more to protect their lead. Rookie midfielder Frankie Amaya, this year’s top overall draft pick, made his debut off the bench for the final 14 minutes, and defensive midfielder Caleb Stanko also got his first minutes, entering in the 71st minute.
Union goalkeeper Andre Blake made one great save on a Lamah shot to preserve the shutout.
3. Disappointing effort
Richey said the loss was particularly disappointing because FCC didn’t come out with the energy and effort they needed to get a win.
It was a complete turnaround from the last two games, and the hard, steady rain that fell throughout the night wasn’t an excuse because Philadelphia was impacted just as much by it. The turf didn’t seem to hold any standing water and there were very few times when the ball skipped further than it usually would have under less slick conditions.
The difference was that Philadelphia played well in possession and FCC did not.
“Alan (Koch) made the comparison to last week, that New England probably didn't come a ready to play as we did and you could probably say the same in reverse this week,” Richey said. “Philly came in and their application was better than ours was and the scoreline showed it.”
Behind strong performances from Richey the past three games, Cincinnati hadn’t allowed a goal since the first five minutes of the Atlanta game. The Union’s first goal of the night ended FCC’s shutout streak of 312 minutes. Richey had one save Saturday.
“It's obviously disappointing,” Richey said. “You want to win every game you step on the field, but we know it's a long season. We weren't going to win every game the rest of the year. We weren't going to go the rest of the year with a shutout, that's just the reality. It's a long year, and it's a tough league top to bottom. It's not like the NFL where the best team is going to beat the worst team no matter what, whether they show up or not. In this league, the worst team can beat the best team if the best team
doesn't show up. And, however Philly and we are at the moment on the table, tonight showed it that we were on a hot streak but we didn't show up and we got punished and we got beat for it.”