CINCINNATI — FC Cincinnati’s inaugural Major League Soccer season continues to get worse, but coach Ron Jans is looking to the future and assures it is going to get better.
It surely can’t get much worse.
The Orange and Blue are on track to go into the record books as the worst defensive team in league history after bleeding goals once again in a 5-1 loss to Toronto FC on Saturday in front of 25,339 fans at Nippert Stadium.
They have given up 72 goals, just two off from Orlando City’s record-setting allowance of 74 last year. FCC (5-21-3, 18 points) was eliminated from the playoffs last week. FCC trailed 5-0 before Emmanuel Ledesma scored a penalty kick in stoppage time at the end of the game.
“That's what we are fighting every week is we are positioned 12 (of 12 teams) and we will stay there, but when you play you want to play well and you want to win,” Jans said. “... I hate losing but I will be there for the boys and keep their head up. We have to stick together and have a game plan.”
Here are three key points from the loss, including more on that one bright spot for Ledesma:
1. Evaluating the roster
Jans has said he was going to give some different players a chance to show what they can do, as the focus has turned toward evaluating the roster for next year and he followed through on that promise. The experiment wasn’t expected to necessarily yield results but Jans was hoping some fresh blood would provide some new energy.
His lineup featured eight changes and certainly had some intrigue, most notably with three rookies starting and left back Greg Garza playing out of position at center back. Players are auditioning for their future with the club and others.
“You have to be capable of dealing with insecurity,” Jans said. “It's not only an audition for FC Cincinnati. At the end of the season, it's all over the world, is a new club coming for me, will a club renew my contract. You have to deal with that. That's professionalism.”
Jans was a little more limited in his options Saturday because of new injuries to center back Maikel van der Werff (hamstring) and Victor Ulloa (groin), a red card suspension for Kekuta Manneh and international duties for Kendall Waston, Allan Cruz, Derrick Etienne Jr. and Alvas Powell.
However, not all lineup decisions were forced by lack of options. Jans chose to play Garza out of position rather than use Justin Hoyte at center back – a position he played for FCC during the Gold Cup when Waston was gone. Nick Hagglund played the other center back position, appearing for the first time since July 21 and getting the start against his former team.
Jans said with just five players available on the back line, if he chose to play everyone at their natural position, Andrew Gutman would have been on the bench; however, he felt Gutman deserved to play and having Gutman and Garza would help his goal of improving the build-up from the back.
Rookie forward Rashawn Dally once again started ahead of Darren Mattocks, who subbed off at halftime against Columbus on Aug. 25 and didn’t even make the trip to Dallas last week. Mattocks replaced him to start the second half Saturday. Rookie Tommy McCabe made his first start at defensive midfield and top draft pick Frankie Amaya came back from a groin injury for his first action since July 21.
Winger Joe Gyau also made his starting debut for FCC. Caleb Stanko and McCabe replaced Leo Bertone and Victor Ulloa at defensive midfield.
FCC’s lineup had an average age of 25.4 (or 22.5 for the field players).
2. Defensive struggles
Cincinnati looked strong coming out of the gate, as the Orange and Blue immediately began moving the ball down the field, but one quick counter attack changed that 10 minutes in and FCC never recovered. Toronto took advantage of the makeshift lineup on the back end to take a 3-0 lead in the first 28 minutes.
The Reds got on the board in the 10th minute when Marco Delgado intercepted a pass from Stanko in the defensive third and one-touched it Patrick Mullins, who sent his shot far post from just outside the penalty box.
In the 21st minute, Gyau’s attempt to clear a corner kick went awry and Toronto’s Nick DeLeon cleaned up on a banger of a volley to double the lead. Seven minutes later, Delgado got behind Hagglund and Deplagne for a wide open goal off Alejandro Pozuelo’s assist.
That score held until halftime, but Toronto added a fourth tally in the 63rd minute when Garza’s clearance was intercepted and Gutman got sucked out of position on the quick ball back into the box as Pozuelo was open far post for a layoff to Bradley. Nico Benezet scored in the 85th minute after another failed clearance.
“You just have to stay mentally strong,” Garza said. “It's very easy to lose some confidence, especially with results like this, but we have to stick together and build each other up and stay humble each and every day. The sky is the limit, there's no going deeper in the bottom from where we are now.”
3. One bright spot
Ledesma’s penalty kick might have seemed meaningless that late in a game that was already decided; however, it most certainly mattered to him. He dedicated the goal to his father who passed away Thursday in Argentina.
Ledesma said he decided to play instead of return home to Argentina but knew he would be on the bench to start the game. He told Jans if there was a chance to put him in, he would appreciate the opportunity to do something special in honor of his father. That goal was his chance to “respect him from far away.”
“He never watched me play football, even when I was a kid because of life, but I think tonight he watched me,” Ledesma said. “I dedicate that goal (to him). I know it's a bad loss but I wanted to dedicate that goal to my father who passed away.”
The penalty kick took some arguing to get. Gyau had been taken down outside of the box, and when Ledesma’s free kick was blocked, it deflected out of bounds for a corner kick. Ledesma asked the official to check with the Video Assistant Referee (VAR), and replay revealed the ball hit the defender’s hand.
FCC finished with nine shots for the game after taking just one in the first half.