CINCINNATI — FC Cincinnati dominated play for the better part of the first half, but the tide quickly changed when Real Salt Lake put away two rebounds in the final five minutes before the break.
There was no recovering as Salt Lake handed FCC a 3-0 loss Friday in front of 26,416 fans at Nippert Stadium.
Cincinnati had a plethora of opportunities on corner kicks early on and couldn’t take advantage, and after RSL took the 2-0 lead into halftime, the Orange and Blue grew increasingly more frustrated. Players and coaches alike questioned calls by the officials, and the dagger came on a penalty kick that FCC argued shouldn’t have been awarded.
“Incredibly frustrating, incredibly disappointing evening for our group,” FCC coach Alan Koch said. “I thought there were large chunks particularly in the first half where we played very, very well. And then, moments of the game that we did not manage very well. Our concentration definitely hurt us during the course of the game. An incredibly disappointing night.”
FC Cincinnati falls to 2-4-2 heading into a three-game road trip that begins April 27 at New York Red Bulls.
Here are three takeaways from the match:
1. Snowball effect
FC Cincinnati couldn’t create chances despite a possession advantage in the first half and that was bad enough. But when the defense’s inability to clear the ball led to two goals in the final five minutes of the first half, frustration took over.
Real Salt Lake scored off two rebounds after Spencer Richey punched away the initial shot, the first one of which Albert Rusnak put away in the 42nd minute and the second on which Sam Johnson easily scored in stoppage time just before the half.
To that point, FCC had dominated the game, including holding the possession advantage for the first time in any half this season (58.3 percent). There was still plenty of time to come back but the game appeared lost well before the final whistle.
“I think we played very well the first 40 minutes and then the last five minutes of the first half we lost our way a little bit,” Koch said. “We lost our concentration, and I think too many individual players were trying to win the game by themselves. We conceded a frustrating goal and then the natural reaction is: ‘I'm going to do it.’ You don't respond to the group that we have and think you can go to it. We have to together as a group. So we came in really deflated. I think we saw a reasonable response in the second half. But you can see so many little things, little bounces and things didn't go our way tonight and that's unfortunate. That's part of the game but we have to manage those moments better.”
Shortly before Salt Lake added a third goal on a penalty kick in the 59th minute, RSL goalkeeper Andrew Putna picked up what seemed to be a back pass, but the officials continued play without a call. At the other end, Mathieu Deplagne cut down Jefferson Savarino in the box on a close play for the ball but was charged with a foul to award the visitors the PK.
Captain Kendall Waston took the ball away and tried arguing the call, but was handed his second yellow card in as many games. Rusnak easily pushed the shot past Richey, who guessed wrong and dove in the opposite direction.
2. Scoring drought continues
FC Cincinnati hasn’t scored a goal in the run of play since March 24. The last goal scored was a penalty kick by Darren Mattocks in a 1-1 draw against Sporting Kansas City on April 7, but the expansion club has had several great opportunities the past three games that simply didn’t result in goals.
On Friday, the only real chances came on corners, and although Koch harps on the need to take advantage of set pieces, FCC didn’t do enough with those opportunities.
Cincinnati had nine corner kicks in the first half alone, including five in a row at one point, but the attempts for the most didn’t lead to chances. Many of those were short corners that proved ineffective as Kenny Saief and Leonardo Bertone too often couldn’t get a good cross into the box.
“You’ve got to spice things up at times,” Koch said. “Salt Lake can defend corners in a certain way, and I think everyone knows how we can be successful on corners. We’ve got big bodies. You want to put the ball in the box like we did sometimes, and other times you want to play short to draw players out and then try to put the ball in the box, but it wasn’t successful tonight unfortunately.”
Two of the 14 total corner kick resulted in good opportunities. Midway through the first half, Waston had a header that appeared on its way into the goal but an RSL defender cleared it off the line. In the 48th minute, Nick Hagglund’s header off a corner kissed off the far post.
Those were probably the team’s best chances. FCC finished with just one shot on target.
What’s most disappointing about that is the fact that Real Salt Lake wasn’t even playing its normal goalkeeper. Punta served as Nick Rimando’s replacement, despite playing just two games at the MLS level and seven with Real Monarchs since 2017.
“We’ve been getting ample chances in open play, and on set pieces, if we capitalize on those chances we obviously get something out of the game tonight, but at the end of the we didn’t and that’s a problem and it’s becoming a real challenge the last few games,” Koch said. “We really need to get as many of our attacking options back as quickly as possible. You need to have options.”
3. Ups and downs
FCC has experienced its share of ups and downs the past few games. In the last home game April 7, the Orange and Blue had a somewhat similar type of game, where it appeared they had the upperhand against Sporting Kansas City but ended up settling for a 1-1 draw. This one wasn’t even close, though.
And, the surprising thing was Cincinnati was coming off a much stronger performance at league-leading Los Angeles FC, a match where FCC remained competitive until conceding a last-minute goal in stoppage time at the end of a 2-0 loss.
Waston said FCC never felt out of that game, whereas on Friday, it slipped away quickly.
“When you go forward, you go forward, you go forward, it seems like you’re going to get something out of it – all you want to do is score,” Waston said. “Then all of a sudden, boom, they score and it’s like a slap in the face to be honest. I don't think they created so many chances before they're going after that. Obviously, they score and they feel more comfortable and then it’s 3-0. It felt like worse than that. Now we just have to get a good shower, wake up and try to keep working because that’s the main thing that this team has to show is our character and never give up.”