CINCINNATI - FC Cincinnati’s run in the United Soccer League came with a bittersweet finish.
The New York Red Bulls II stunned FC Cincinnati 1-0 in the Eastern Conference semifinals Saturday at Nippert Stadium, ending the regular-season champions’ 24-game unbeaten streak with a goal scored in transition in the 12th minute.
The Orange and Blue were three wins short of a perfect ending to their USL tenure before heading into Major League Soccer next year.
“The guys are very disappointed right now, but at the same time, you have to look at the positives,” coach Alan Koch said. “This has been a historic season. I don't usually use the word historic casually in speech, but the broken records, the undefeated streak, consecutive victories, the ability to bring a trophy to our city and our club ... there's been clubs around the world that have been in existence for decades and haven't brought a trophy back to their city, so for us to do that in our third year, winning the league championship, we're incredible proud of it.
"It doesn't feel that way right now, but when you reflect, there are a lot of positives to take out of this season as we continue to build this club.”
Now, the club will put its full focus into preparing for its first MLS season, but a record-breaking 2018 campaign won’t soon be forgotten. FC Cincinnati finished as the winningest team in league history at 24-4-8, and before Saturday’s game, the Orange and Blue hadn’t lost since May 26.
Here is a deeper look at Saturday’s match:
1. Breakdown on defense: After FC Cincinnati took a corner kick, New York cleared and moved quickly in transition to get the ball to Amando Moreno and set up the lone goal of the game in the 12th minute. Moreno cut past a defender and ultimately beat three FC Cincinnati players to get a shot off from the top of the 18-yard box, sending it far post beyond Spencer Richey’s reach.
Koch had warned his players how good the Baby Bulls are in transition, and it ended up costing the Orange and Blue greatly.
“They are very good in transition, and we knew that,” Koch said. “It came from a set piece. The beauty of set pieces is we've scored a lot of goals on set pieces this year, but the flip side is you're most susceptible because you're putting so many bodies up the field. Obviously, they exposed us ... and unfortunately, they capitalized on that moment.”
2. Wasted first half: The Orange and Blue seemed rattled after giving up the goal, and New York was able to get under their skin with physical play, which really took FC Cincinnati out of its game.
The two teams combined for 19 fouls the first half, and tension peaked after Fatai Alashe took a foot to the mouth and then seemed to retaliate with a foul of his own moments later. Fanendo Adi was shown a yellow card after getting into it with a member of the Red Bulls coaching staff in the 41st minute.
In the meantime, FC Cincinnati managed just one shot in the first half and couldn’t get into any rhythm. The Red Bulls had five shots, including three on target, and maintained possession for 52.1 percent of the half.
FC Cincinnati showed more composure in the second half, conceding just two fouls while New York had eight, but the damage was done with the missed opportunities in the first 45 minutes.
“The first 45 minutes, I thought they did a very good job of managing the game, manipulating the game, getting under our skin, coercing situations in not-so professional performance, which set them up for success in the first 45 minutes,” Koch said.
“I thought we were better in the second half. I think it's about managing moments, and we've done a fantastic job of managing moments this season, but we were on the wrong end of managing one individual moment tonight.”
3. Unable to finish: FC Cincinnait switched from a 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2 in the second half and almost immediately looked like a different team, but it couldn’t finish opportunities on 10 shots.
In the 50th minute, Emmanuel Ledesma fed a pass to Fanendo Adi inside the middle of the penalty box, but New York goalie Evan Louro stopped Adi’s shot to the near post with his feet. In that same minute, Nazmi Albadawi had a shot saved.
Another close chance came from Corben Bone in the 68th minute, but his shot from a distance hit the woodwork and went out for a goal kick.
The Orange and Blue subbed forward Emery Welshman in for defender Blake Smith in the 86th minute to bolster the attack, but as the game wore on, FC Cincinnati seemed to be forcing passes in an attempt to get the equalizer and turnovers became an issue.
“I don’t think it was hard to break them down. We didn’t play a very good game,” Adi said. “We approached the game… we kept the ball, I think we won all the possessions and everything, but the ball [didn’t] go into the net. It’s one of those games, we couldn’t find a goal today, but I think they got one chance and they had so many chances they couldn’t bury, but they were lucky to bury the first chance.
"We kept pressing, but we couldn’t get a goal.”
New York especially was playing close defense on Adi, who managed just that one shot – an opportunity he surely would have liked back for a better touch to bury it.
“I think it was a very complicated game,” Adi said. “They came in a very disruptive way. That’s the way they wanted to play, to go to the referee for every little thing -- five or six players out there. It’s one of those games you can’t really do much. We had very few chances and we couldn’t take them. It’s just part of the game.
"I told the guys in the locker room, we must give credit to the guys. It’s been a tough one today, but the guys have come this far, winning a lot of games. As much as this is disappointing today, everyone’s got to hold their heads up. It’s part of the game and I think we’ll learn from this moment.”
PLAYER PERFORMANCES OF NOTE
Fanendo Adi: Adi managed just one shot, conceded one foul, got booked for a yellow card for dissent and was good on just 56 percent of his passes, but much of that boils down to the way New York’s defense was playing him and he couldn’t seem to get calls he was asking the referee for.
It certainly wasn’t his best performance, but he now heads into his longest offseason in a while and plans to do some traveling and training in Europe before returning for the club’s inaugural MLS season.
Justin Hoyte: Hoyte played a strong game at right back and created two chances, but as usual he was open on the wing more times than he was given the ball. He was solid in switching fields and sending the ball into the attack, as he completed 66.7 percent of his passes accurately, and on defense he tracked back and won one tackle.