CINCINNATI — With a national spotlight shining on FC Cincinnati for its first ever home game as a Major League Soccer franchise, the Orange and Blue put on a show.
FCC stunned 2018 MLS Cup runner-up Portland Timbers FC 3-0 on Sunday in front of a soldout crowd of 32,250 fans at Nippert Stadium and on national television, as the game was broadcast on FS1.
The win was Cincinnati’s first in MLS, three games in and following a surprising draw at defending MLS Cup champion Atlanta United.
“I'm glad we could reward the city and our fans in a game that was very special to this community with the great performance and obviously a huge three points,” FCC head coach Alan Koch said. “Our fans are the reason we are where we are today and I’m glad we could give them that sort of performance.”
Cincinnati came out attacking and scored in the 15th minute when captain Kendall Waston snuck to the back post behind his defender and headed in Leo Bertone’s free kick. Portland responded with a barrage of chances at the other end, but Spencer Richey came up with two key saves on a sequence of shots by Portland and FCC managed to carry a 1-0 lead into halftime despite holding just 40 percent possession time. Richey, who was making his second start in place of injured starter Przemyslaw Tyton, dove to get a hand on Bill Tuiloma’s blast to the far post and blocked a shot right in front of the goal moments later.
In the second half, FCC wasted little time adding to the lead. Allan Cruz tucked away a rebound off his back heel in the 61st minute when Roland Lamah’s blast from outside the box was deflected by a Portland defender, and two minutes later, Mathieu Deplagne tapped in Darren Mattock’s cross at the far post for a 3-0 advantage.
Here are three key takeaways from the win:
1. Big step forward
The home opener couldn’t have gone much better (save one notable injury) for FCC. After a poor showing two weeks ago in the season opener at Seattle, the Orange and Blue fought back to steal a point at Atlanta last week and finally put together more offense Sunday while also preserving a clean sheet.
That’s just the kind of progression you want to see early during a tough stretch to open the season, and FCC got even more than expected out of a match against a quality opponent. Nine of the first 10 games are against 2018 playoff teams.
“I'm very proud of our club, our city and all the players,” Koch said. “I think we all know this club has worked incredibly hard to get where we are today and I think the players showed their willingness to sacrifice for the team and they deserved to get the three points tonight.”
Cincinnati had just 40 percent possession time in the first half and finished at 48.6 percent, but outshot Portland 17-10 and the Timbers hardly threatened in the second half. FCC switched to a 4-4-2 with Kekuta Manneh joining Fanendo Adi up top to start the game.
Portland was without defensive midfielder Diego Chara, who was suspended after getting sent off with a second yellow last week at LAFC, and that played to FCC’s advantage. The Timbers haven’t won a game without Chara in 23 games now, dating back to June 2015. It didn’t help Portland it had to play the final 20-plus minutes with 10 men after Larrys Mabiala was sent off with a red for unsporting behavor.
2. Overcoming injury
Adi went down with what he called a “mild sprain” to his ankle shortly before halftime and was replaced by Mattocks for the second half, but doesn’t believe it will take long to recover. Adi had just one shot, a header that was just off target early in the game, and was disappointed to leave the home opener against his former club.
He used a crutch to help get around the locker room after the game.
"Mentally it can be tough, but for me, I take it as what was meant to happen was going to happen,” Adi said. “For us, it was more important that the team got the victory today. I think we did excellent and we just have to keep building on this team."
As the club’s first designated player, Adi is a key piece to the offense, so to see the team respond with two more goals in his absence was a positive sign. Mattocks said he knew going into halftime he would need to step in and he was ready to go.
Koch had full confidence in him and was pleased with his performance. Mattocks had been a late sub in the first two games.
“We know what Darren is capable of doing,” Koch said. “I think he knows what he's capable of doing, and the positive for him was he got more minutes tonight than he did the first two games. The negative I don't know exactly where Fanendo is right now. I hope it's nothing too serious because he was putting in his body about and he's been fantastic all season long, through preseason and the first two games and again tonight so I hope it's nothing too serious.”
3. Trusting the offense
With the 4-4-2, Cincinnati’s fullbacks weren’t as active on offense as they were last week at Atlanta, which was a big part of the ability to remain compact on defense and not allow much opportunity to Portland, especially on counter attacks.
The result was the club’s first clean sheet. Richey finished with three saves.
“I think it was just the preventative coverage,” FCC center back and Lakota West High School graduate Nick Hagglund said. “They were going to try to go on the break with (Diego) Valeri, (Dairon) Asprilla and (Lucas) Melano and (Sebastian) Blanco, and those guys weren't really going to defend, so making sure we held those guys accountable and making sure Alvas (Powell) and Mathieu were behind honest, staying back defensively and letting the guys up ahead do the work.”
The offense did its part, and Waston said the three goals were a result of team chemistry finally showing up in games. His son planned his goal celebration and Waston said he was surprised some of his teammates joined in as he wiggled around in a circle on the ground.
"Beautiful,” Waston said of getting his first goal with FCC. “It was a long time waiting, the preseason and these two games we had before and finally in front of our great supporters I could score. The special thing here was getting the three points and first game at home, it was very special."
FCC heads to New England next Sunday and will be without five players who were called up to national team duties for the FIFA window opening Monday, so some new faces will be in the lineup. Powell and Mattocks were called up with Jamaica, Waston and Cruz with Costa Rica and rookie Frankie Amaya with the U-20 Team USA squad.