I don’t like cliches. I generally avoid them like the plague. But sometimes, the thing that everybody says? That’s the right thing for the moment. So indulge me, people. Or at least forgive me.
“To be the best, you have to beat the best.”
FC Cincinnati is the best team in USL, hands down. On 57 points, they sit astride the Eastern Conference with a gap of 10 points on second-place Louisville. Next year they will be promoted to MLS, and they started preparing for that move by snapping up two of MLS’ most eligible bachelors who had not been receiving roses from their coaches of late. And the rest of the roster is absolutely loaded with talent.
It may be too late for anybody to catch FCC for the top seed in the east, but if Bob Lilley’s boys can put on a good showing in Nippert Stadium and get a draw or a win, it would put Cincinnati on notice that they shouldn’t just pencil themselves in as 2018 USL Champs just yet.
Formation and Tactics
The last time I previewed FC Cincinnati, I wrote that they hadn’t quite found their footing yet. Uh, clearly, they’ve found it.
Their last match was a 2-1 game against Tampa Bay that was marred by fouls. Referee Kevin Broadley drew 12 yellow cards, 2 red cards, and called 2 penalty kicks, one correctly, and one incorrectly. That second one ultimately decided the game in favor of FCC.
Maybe the worst call I've seen this season. TB's Diakité gets the ball cleanly, but the ref gives the penalty and a yellow. It cost the Rowdies a draw. pic.twitter.com/axZ94vmLwN
— Mark Asher Goodman (@soccer_rabbi) September 1, 2018
Cincinnati lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation that could also be called a 4-2-2-2. They played their two defensive midfielders, Fatai Alashe and Michael Lahoud, centrally as traffic director/string-pullers. Each looked to get the ball either wide to a dribbly wing-attacking on their side of the field, who were Jimmy McLaughlin and Nazmi Albedawi on this night, but on another night might be Emery Welshman or Corben Bone. Those two wing-attackers like to play one-two combos to the striker on their side – Fanendo Adi and Emmanuel Ledesma. The big-bodied Adi likes to post up, back to goal, to ping that ball backwards, then pick-and-roll to an attacking position. But he hasn’t scored yet for Cincinnati in 4 matches with the team, so he still hasn’t found the rhythm.
Ledesma and Albedawi would rather run at the defender, get them slightly out of position, shape up and fire. The Riverhounds backline will be tested tonight for sure.
In defense, Alashe and Lahoud really stamped almost anything unless they had been pulled out of position by Tampa Bay. Cincinnati’s centerbacks, Forest Lasso and Paddy Barrett, were less convincing for me.
Because FCC got a red card in the 63rd minute of this one, we got a look at how they play with 10 men. Michael Lahoud swung out to right back and they went to a fairly standard 4-4-1 formation. FYI.
Cincinnati’s starting XI features five players that are MLS-caliber players, in my humble opinion. Fanendo Adi (please don’t call him ‘Fernando’) and Fatai Alashe (it’s pronounced fuh-TIE uh-LAH-shay. I have seen announcers butcher this for the past three years, please make it stop) are top-level talents that fell out of favor with their respective coaches – Alashe in bizarre fashion, as coach Mikael Stahre and Alashe had words on the sideline in a match July 13. He was traded away soon after.
Emmanuel Ledesma, Nazmi Albedawi, and Michael Lahoud round out my list of guys who coach Alan Koch could likely bring with him as Fussball Club Cincinnati ascend to The Big Show next year. Israeli international Dekel Keinan, a centerback, is another high-level player that comes with experience to this club.
That leaves the guys that ‘might not be good enough’. Those two aforementioned centerbacks, Lasso and Barrett, look solid-not-spectacular to me. Although I’m pretty sure Barrett lifts, bro.
I thought both Cincy fullbacks were impressive, but they may not be fast or technical enough to stop MLS attackers. Goalkeeper Evan Newton is fine – he won USL save of the week in Week 3 – but with possibly the best team in the league in front of him, he’s only seventh in clean sheets with 8. Against the Rowdies, he gave up a goal to Kwadwo Poku that might have been save-able on another night.
FCC are also a very deep team. Against Tampa Bay, they sat Corben Bone, Emery Welshman, and Danni Konig. All of those guys are normally first-team caliber players; Konig is second in goals for the blue-and-orange, with 9.
Simply put, if Thomas Vancaeyezeele and the other starting defenders can be flawless on the night, they give Neco Brett the chance to exploit an imperfect Cincinnati defense. Anything short of that, though, and Cincinnati will emerge with a W.
FC Cincinnati have won 4 matches in a row, and are unbeaten in 15 matches stretching back to May 26. In 26 matches this season, Cincinnati have lost just 3 times.