For FC Cincinnati and its fans, the least interesting thing that is happening this week is their soccer match against Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC. On Tuesday the MLS Board of Governors met to discuss the latest round of MLS expansion, and issued a statement regarding progress. Their statement specifically noted the progress on a stadium in the city’s West End that pleased the group of MLS owners.
MLS re-gained control of its expansion narrative by issuing a statement after its owners' meeting stating that while Cincinnati's bid took a huge step forward, it continues to be weighed with the Sacramento & Detroit expansion bids, and there was no plan for a formal vote there. pic.twitter.com/gVMVE3rHlM
— Detroit Soccer Central (@DSoccerCentral) April 18, 2018
On Wednesday it was revealed by perusing documents related to the club and the stadium that FC Cincinnati had taken preliminary steps to change its name: the ‘F’ in ‘FC’ was now going to stand for ‘Fussball’ as a nod to the city’s many German immigrants.
— Miriti Murungi (@NutmegRadio) April 18, 2018
And then journalist Dave Zirin wrote a piece in ‘The Nation’ critical of the city of Cincinnati for pledging nearly $35 million towards a new soccer stadium in a city where 53% of the children live in poverty.
Zirin strikes at the core idea in his piece on Cincinnati’s MLS stadium. Governments have significant responsibilities and stadiums likely have the lowest ROI to the community of the projects they can undertake. https://t.co/7ZA12VldPY
— Patrick Guldan (@GuldanMR) April 19, 2018
If you were an FCC fan, you’d be dying to get to Saturday so that you could get a break from reading City Council proceedings, PR statements, and think-pieces related to your team, and instead just watch eleven men kick a synthetic leather ball around a field.
To this point, Fussball Club Cincinnati (Can I call it that? I’m gonna call it that) have been a little uneven. The club got two 1-0 results on the road to start the season, then lost at home against Louisville City FC before getting a draw against Bethlehem Steel FC. They have only 3 goals in 4 games this year, so certainly their lack of offense is a bit of a concern.
FC Cincinnati fans will certainly be clamoring for their first home win of the season at Nippert Stadium. Lord knows they’ll have plenty of other things to discuss at the pre-game tailgate, though.
Formation and Tactics
FC Cincinnati are a capable team that haven’t seemed to find their footing yet in 2018. In 2017 they were clearly one of USL’s better teams, finishing sixth in the Eastern Conference at the end of the regular season. They also made a memorable run to the semi-finals of the US Open Cup, upsetting Columbus Crew SC and Chicago Fire on the way and barely losing to the New York Red Bulls in the semi-finals, 3-2 in Extra Time.
Against Bethlehem Steel, FCC played in a 4-2-3-1 that stretched out and played wider as the game went on, relying on long passes and over-the-top long balls and runs in order to create attacks. Cincinnati was consistently comfortable playing out of the back, while in turn did not let Bethlehem to play out of the back by pressing in twos high up the field. Their press, especially in the first half, looked eager to score off a high turnover rather than on a counter-attack or through build-up play.
Overall, Cincinnati mostly looked the weaker of the two teams on the day. Bethlehem missed several golden chances in side the box that would have given them a two goal lead.
Cincinnati created most of their chances by getting the ball wide. They liked to use the wings for combination play between their midfielders, and they liked to send in crosses using players Daniel Haber and Emmanuel Ledesma. Cincy scored their one goal in this match off of exactly those two things: a combination play that created an open cross which created a goal for Nazmi Albedawi.
Defensively they made it difficult to play through the middle, although I thought their back line got bent out of shape on a few occasions. Bethlehem also worked their way into the box with close dribbles – Cincinnati let individual markers stick to their responsibilities rather than pull away helping defenders. FCC did not want a dribble to pull their defenders off of players in front of goal, but might be susceptible to one attacker making a briliant run in a one-on-one or one-on-two matchup.
Israeli international Dekel Keinan joined the team as a CB from Maccabi Haifa to start the year. He’s very comfortable with the ball at his feet and the Cincinnati attack often starts from him.
Their creative fulcrum is Nazmi Albadawi, a 26 year-old North Carolina native who has played his fullcareer in the USL. Albadawi came to FCC this year from Carolina Railhawks. He’s clever on runs and good in tight spaces, but I saw not so sure about his passing touch. He had a 69.8% completion percentage on this day, with only 1 key pass. I think either he’s weak on the pass, or the team just prefers to look to the wings for it’s offense.
Striker Emery Welshman started on this day. He has speed and one-on-one ability, but the Guyanese international is not really a proven goalscorer , with an ‘ok but not great’ 11 goals in 45 games in NASL and USL. FC Cincy has other options up top: 31 year-old Danish striker Danni König came on late in this one, and he is a proven goal scorer, with 37 goals in matches from 2015 to 2017 in USL. Cincinnati also has young striker Jimmy McLaughlin as an option, either to start up top or on the wing, or coming off of the bench.
Cincinnati also just signed experienced midfielder Michael Lahoud, who had over 100 matches for Chivas USA and Philadelphia Union from 2012 to 2016 in a distinguished first division career before spending a few years in the NASL. Whether he’ll be fit and ready this week to play is a good question: I think he’d likely be an option coming off the bench, at best.
As mentioned, Cincinnati are 1-1-2 in USL this year and seem to have trouble scoring in the early goings. They likely will have a lot of motivation coming into this match to start putting the ball in the back of the net. Of course, with Bob Lilley‘s Riverhounds pitching shutout after shutout to start the year, Cincinnati will have a hard time trying to put on a multiple-goal performance this week.