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Preview: Open Cup FC Cincinnati is a real opportunity for the Hounds

The Pittsburgh Riverhounds will never get another shot, another opportunity (there’s vomit on our sweater already, mom’s spaghetti) as glorious as the one they get tonight in Cincinnati in the third round of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, the 107th edition of our nation’s oldest soccer competition. FC Cincinnati, since promotion to Major League Soccer, have been awful. To call them a dumpster fire is an insult to the positive aspects of dumpster fires. They dispose of garbage effectively! They can warm you on a cold night! FC Cincinnati do not have beneficial aspects so far. They are bad.

Now, to be fair, much of their badness is based on 2021 results, when head coach Jaap Stam and crew turned in a 4-8-22 (WTL) record that included just one measly home win and a sixteen game streak from week 16 to 34 that included 15 losses and just 1 win. This season, there are a few signs of life in the Skyline Chili City under their new coach Pat Noonan. Cincy have two wins thus far; yes, they are over woeful Inter Miami and shaky Orlando, but nonetheless that counts as legitimate wins.

Overall, though, this is an FCC side that hasn’t been good; that lack depth; and that, aside from a few very good star players – who are unlikely to play tonight – have the roster talent of a middlin’ USL side. The Hounds, if they want it, can have this game.

A final note – the MLS FCC  side have played just one US Open Cup match, in 2019. They faced USL side Saint Louis FC, and lost 1-0. That team started two players you might be familiar with – Albert Dikwa and Russell Ciccerone. (Insert Purple Devilish Grin Emoji)

Tactics and Personnel

FC Cincinnati line up in a 3-4-1-2, but it looks different than most teams that play this formation. In their last match against Atlanta United, when pressed into their own defensive zone, they never actually spread all five defenders across the back as is typical, but rather let one wing back float into midfield. Usually this was Dominique Badji, and he seemed more interested in occupying space to cut a passing lane and to be prepared to get upfield when the team won possession than he was interested in actually, you know, defending. Badji was getting his first reps ever at LWB – he’s actually a striker – but was pressed into service due to a spate of injuries to FCC fullbacks – Ronald Matarrita will be out 4-6 months with a torn foot ligament suffered in a match with Costa Rica during Concacaf World Cup qualifying, and Alvas Powell was out last week with an undisclosed injury. Pretty sure Bob Lilley took note of the fullback chaos, and thus I would bet he will be telling the Hounds to attack around the corners and in behind the fullbacks.

As I mentioned, this team has four modestly talented players, all of whom are likely to be on the bench in an early-round Open Cup match. They are Brazilian striker Brenner, attacking mid Luciano Acosta, holding mid Yuya Kubo, and defender and former USMNT mainstay Geoff Cameron.

Brenner is a very slick dribbler that, according to American Soccer Analysis’ advanced numbers, is actually pretty harmful to the team. According to the Goals Added (G+) stat, a metric that takes into account every offensive and defensive action a player makes in terms of what it may have contributed to scoring a goal, Brenner had a -3.87 G+ in 2022, worst in all of MLS. His Receiving was an outrageous -3.13. ASA has the data on hand to break down G+ in MLS all the way back to 2013, and Brenner’s -3.13 is the second worst in recorded MLS history – only 2013 Federico Higuain was worse. Higuain’s stone feet that year were offset by his stellar +4.35 Passing G+ and +1.69 Dribbling G+. Brenner’s passing is a -0.01 G+, and dribbling was -0.45. Why do they play him, you might ask? He’s a DP on $1.76 million salary. They need to let him try and prove he’s worth it. Which, at some point, is nuts. Go google ‘the sunk cost fallacy’. Nevertheless, odds are good he won’t play in this USOC match.

Acosta is a very capable passer and threat creator – he just needs a finisher to help him contribute, like he had when he was with DC United in 2018 with Wayne Rooney and they did fantastic things. He doesn’t have that in Cincy. But also – he certainly won’t start tonight, so don’t worry.

Who will start, you ask? Well, it’ll likely be Ray Gaddis at right wing back and Dominique Badji at left wing back. Gaddis was with Philadelphia Union until recently. He was going to be non-tendered offseason, so he retired. But apparently Cincinnati was keen on him, so he unretired. He’s ok – lotta speed still, good positioning, but he’s never been a very stalwart defender or a plus-passer. They also have John Nelson and Zico Bailey at fullback if they want, but they are very untested – Bailey’s been in MLS three years but has yet to cross the threshold of 1000 total minutes. Along the backline Cincinnati have Nick Hagglund and youngster Ian Murray, who are both fine.

FCC will likely let some younger players get a shot in this match. If they bench Yuya Kubo and Junior Moreno and Luciano Acosta, as I would expect, the midfield will be comprised of Allan Cruz, Haris Medujanin, and/or former NYCFC homegrown Harrison Robledo (I say and/or because this formation might look 3-4-3 or more like a 5-3-2). Former Philadelphia Union midfielder Medujanin was cooked two seasons ago – he’s as mobile as a potted plant. Cruz is also a DP, and, like Brenner, also disappointing! He had 1 goal, 0 assists in 1647 minutes last year. Although he was in postgame interviews at the Rapids match which I covered last year, and he was really really nice – he was very frank about being disappointed in both his own play and the team’s play on that night – so it’s hard for me to dislike him. Robledo is an unknown – he’s played just 46 career minutes in pro soccer at any level.

Up top, they’ll likely start Calvin Harris, Nick Markanich, and/or Brandon Vazquez. Harris was the second overall pick in the 2021 MLS draft out of Wake Forest. Last year, he played just shy of 500 minutes, but had no goals or assists. Markanich was a 2022 pick from Northern Illinois – his brother was also drafted, as a midfielder, by Colorado Rapids. He’s already made four appearances, so they think highly of him. Vasquez has a lot of ability, but it’s never been realized fully. In Cincy’s 3-1 win against Inter Miami earlier this month, he had two goals and an assist – he’s probably the most talented and most in-form player Cincinnati have. Do not let him get loose.

It’s never all come together for Cincinnati. If they aren’t starting their regulars; if they have a newish coach in his first US Open Cup; if they can’t get these young new guys to gel quickly in this midweek clash; if they can’t get up for facing a lower league side; then FCC are ripe for the taking.

On the other hand (he said, hedging his bets in case the Hounds come out flat) if the Hounds play as poorly as they did in Vegas, or if they are tired and lethargic after a weekend battle, well, Cincinnati have more than enough pieces to get past Pittsburgh and end our Open Cup hopes.

Expected Starting XI

Kenneth Vermeer;

Zico Bailey, Nick Hagglund, Geoff Cameron, Ian Murray, Dom Badji;

Allan Cruz, Haris Medujanin, Harrison Robledo;

Nick Markanich, Brandon Vazquez

Match Info

Riverhounds vs. FC Cincinnati
Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Third Round
Date: Tuesday, April 19
Time: 7 p.m.
Location: TQL Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio
Odds: Hounds +370 / Draw +280 / Cincinnati -160 (FanDuel)
Streaming: ESPN+
Live updates:, @RiverhoundsSC on Twitter
Match hashtag: #CINvPIT and #USOC2022


image care of Pittsburgh Riverhounds

Mark Asher Goodman is a writer for Pittsburgh Soccer Now, covering the Riverhounds, the Pitt Men's and Women's teams, and youth soccer. He also co-hosts a podcast on the Colorado Rapids called 'Holding the High Line with Rabbi and Red.' He has written in the past for the Washington Post, Denver Post, The Athletic, and American Soccer Analysis. When he's not reading, writing, watching, or coaching soccer, he is an actual rabbi. No, really. You can find him on twitter at @soccer_rabbi

Riverhounds MF Danny Griffin

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