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REVIEW: FC Cincinnati Inaugural MLS Season 2019

This season has been a special one. The inaugural season in Major League Soccer for FC Cincinnati will certainly be remembered for a variety of reasons. Despite the inconsistency on the field, the stability to create a club that could reach the highest level of soccer in America in such a short time is important. The Orange and Blue have brought cheers to Nippert Stadium and a new stadium is soon on the way. The only way for FC Cincinnati to go is up, so brighter futures are certainly on slate as FCC gains its bearings in this new realm.

This will be a relatively brief recap on FC Cincinnati’s inaugural season. I apologize that this hasn’t come out sooner, but I have been busy the last few months. Between a long-term teaching gig at Springboro, to broadcasting high school football, to covering Lakota West’s spectacular state championship season in women’s soccer, I’ve been a bit preoccupied, to say the least. But alas, the time has come to wrap up this season and begin preparing for the future.

A Stunning Opener

SEA 4-1 CIN

Think all the way back to March 2nd of this year. I know this may be difficult to do, as some of us forget what we did last week. But my wife and I were up late to watch FC Cincy open up the season in a brutal environment: CenturyLink Field, home to the Seattle Sounders FC. Now little did we know it at the time, but that same stadium would host the MLS Cup at the end of the season, with Seattle thrashing Toronto 3-1 to win it all.

But at this point in time, it was a newly put together FC Cincinnati squad, wearing rather boring white jerseys, attempting to gel the soccer chemistry together. It was a bit dysfunctional, but then the moment happened.

A richoshetted ball flew wildly in the air and came down. Out of nowhere, newcomer Leo Bertone hit it off the half volley and the ball soared through the sky and smashed into the net to give FCC the 1-0 lead.

What a goal! An absolute beauty to see, let alone for it to be the first goal of the season. But this goal was even more monumental…it was the first ever goal in the MLS for the Orange and Blue. 

The rest of the match was a bummer, as Seattle settled in and picked apart the newly uniformed FCC en route to a 4-1 win. But to have such a goal be on record as the opener in MLS play. That was a dazzling moment for FCC.

Lameh Silences Atlanta

ATL 1-1 CIN

The next game was in an environment just as hostile to Seattle…Atlanta. The 65,000 plus fans at Mercedes-Benz Stadium were celebrating the banner presentation of winning the MLS Cup the season before. Things looked bleak from the start as Josef Martinez beat Spencer Richey near post to score in the 5th minute. However, the Orange and Blue battled back and eventually the newly added Kenny Saief picked out a brilliant through ball to Roland Lameh who powered the ball into the goal to silence the crowd and earn the visitors their first point in MLS.

Home Opener & Chopping Down the Timbers

CIN 3-0 POR

Next up was the home opener, the first ever MLS game at Nippert Stadium. A powerful header from captain Kendall Waston put the home side in front in just fifteen minutes, before brilliant play allowed FC Cincy to find two in the second half. Allan Cruz had a beautiful heel flick goal and Mathieu Deplagne added another. The 3-0 victory gave hope for an amazing season.

First Road Win

NE 0-2 CIN

The Orange and Blue then went on the road and soundly defeated the then hapless New England Revolution. Goals by Kekuta Manneh and Saief gave FCC a total of 7 points on the young season.

Snakebite

CIN 0-2 PHI

Another home match after winning two in a row gave some promise for FCC, but Philadelphia proved to be too sound defensively and FCC lost.

Sporting a Draw

CIN 1-1 SKC

The Orange and Blue had another home match against a depleted Sporting Kansas City, but FCC was unable to find a way to muster out all three points, settling for a draw. Darren Mattocks scored on a penalty to initially take the lead.

Unable to Find It Out West

LA 2-0 CIN

FC Cincinnati went out to Banc of California where the league’s favorite club Los Angeles FC plays. FC Cincinnati had a barrel of opportunities to score, but just could not find the back of the net. Despite the scoreline, FCC arguably played better than the hosts throughout the match.

A Bad Omen

CIN 0-3 RSL

A quality side in Real Salt Lake came to town and thoroughly destroyed FC Cincy in nearly every element of the game. The hosts were unable to find a goal for a second consecutive week and silly goals by RSL fueled frustration by the players and fans alike.

Unlucky in Jersey

NYRB 1-0 CIN

This one burns the most and ultimately precluded how FC Cincy’s season would go. The Orange and Blue actually outplayed Red Bulls and deserved a win, but the ball was just unwilling to go into the goal. Mattocks played ridiculously good, but was unfortunate to not ever score. He had his shots hit off the post twice and the crossbar once in the loss.

Snakebit (Again)

PHI 2-0 CIN

FC Cincinnati once again simply had no answer for Philadelphia.

Quaked

SJ 1-0 CIN

Another unfortunate match, as FCC played fairly well, but couldn’t find the back of the net out west. San Jose won the game on a late first half goal, as defender Nick Lima scored from distance on a low shot that should have probably had some touch on it to guide it away.

An earthquake also hit Cincinnati after the match. After just 11 matches at the helm for the club in MLS, Alan Koch was sacked. Yoann Damet was placed as interim manager. It was evident that the club had limited direction and poor decisions both on and off the field put this in action.

A Welcome Return Home

CIN 2-1 MTL

Cruz broke the scoreless streak within seven minutes after the hard work of Mattocks. Fatai Alashe was rewarded in his first game back by scoring what would prove to be the winner.

Lame Lion Fight

ORL 5-1 CIN

It started off well for FCC, who found the opener through Mattocks. But then it fell apart quickly, as Orlando City scored five straight goals and made basically anyone that tried to defend for the Orange and Blue look silly.

This match was like the live action…not as good as anticipated

Red Bull Crash

CIN 0-2 NYRB

Yet another scoreless loss to New York Red Bulls frustrated home fans.

Rapid Bottom

COL 3-1 CIN

In a battle of the two worst teams in either conference, Colorado Rapids made FC Cincinnati look even more lowly. After Manneh equalized in the 72nd minute, Colorado scored just one minute later, once again proving the inadequacy of the Orange and Blue defense to preserve game moments.

New York Confusion

NYC 5-2 CIN

This game featured seven goals and not one of them were scored by FC Cincy. An early 3-0 lead saw the New York City score an own goal to pull one back for FCC. Then after a 5-1 lead, another own goal gave a generous gift to FCC.

A Galaxy Far, Far Away

CIN 0-2 LA

Just a few defensive breakdowns in a quick span gave the visitors the ability to carve up FC Cincy for a 2-0 lead. However, the Orange and Blue settled down and had some solid chances through Rashawn Dally. His header that just missed the goal to start the match may have changed the fate of this one. However, Zlatan didn’t score, so I guess that was good, though his theatrics were hilarious.

Loons Embarrass FCC

MIN 7-1 CIN

After FC Cincy’s social media called out the Loons starting lineup as “A Bunch of Becky’s” Minnesota United handed FCC their worst loss of the season. It was of monumental proportions, as it tied the MLS record for largest margin of victory. The Loons were considered to be a slow rise of an expansion club, joining just a few seasons ago, but they showed the distance FCC has yet to climb to be a regular contender.

Emmanuel Ledesma pulled one back for the Orange and Blue in the second half, though they were already trailing 4-0 at the half. Everyone looked lost on the field and it looked like some of the best Cincinnati area high schools could have found a way to score on FCC. 

Dynamic Hope

CIN 3-2 HOU

After the loss to Minnesota United, my wife and I left with her family to go on a Caribbean cruise. The tickets were given to my parents, brother, and his girlfriend. Things got odd when we returned from dinner in San Juan, Puerto Rico, to find texts from them saying FCC had scored. Not once, not twice, but three times! Unbelievable return to life after the bamboozlement that was unloaded on them in Saint Paul. 

Now, things did get dicey later in the match and FC Cincy had to hold on for dear life to preserve the three points, but a win is a win. The first victory for FCC since May 11th, nearly two months. Goals by Manneh, Dally, and Victor Ulloa enabled the result.

Caribbean Waters Put Out the Fire (Allegedly)

CHI 1-2 CIN

Myself, my wife, and her side of the family returned from the Caribbean cruise after a week. We had no contact with the States, so when we got to the San Juan airport we needed to catch up on our social media. I nearly collapsed to the floor when I saw FC Cincy won a second straight match, defeating Chicago Fire on the road. That’s why I published the article that FC Cincinnati should pay for my family to live in the Caribbean. The club was getting results while we were there! Puerto Rico, Sint Maarten, Saint Kitts, Antigua, Saint Lucia, or Barbados, it doesn’t matter! Well probably Antigua since that was where we were on the day FC Cincy won. 

Nonetheless, an impressive week saw FCC gather six points with the victory over Chicago. Cruz scored in the first minute to get it started and then Manneh gave Fanendo Adi a ball he could not mess up to score to win.

District of Calamity

CIN 1-4 DC

Once my family returned to the matches was when FCC decided to not contend anymore. Despite a Ledesma goal from the spot, Wayne Rooney and the gang from the nation’s capital turned it up to get the victory.

A Tale of Two Halves of a Season

CIN 0-2 NE

New England was rejuvenated midseason when they fired their head coach. They had began to get results and now were much better than when FCC beat them earlier in the season. The result was different…the Revolution won handedly.

Tough Night in Canada

TOR 2-1 CIN

Ledesma’s late goal was not enough to spark the full comeback, though the match got kind of crazy towards the end.

White Capped Heartbreak

CIN 1-2 VAN

Despite Cruz opening the scoring on a beauty in the sixth minute, FC Cincy’s defensive woes continued and they allowed Vancouver to rally. The White Caps winner came in the 84th minute.

Hell is Real: Rivalry Lives Up to the Hype

CLB 2-2 CIN

FC Cincy put together their best match in over a month and burst out to a two goal lead over new rival Columbus Crew. Mattocks scored a header in the 16th, while Ledesma doubled the lead in the 23rd. However, a penalty opened the door for Columbus just before the half, to which Gyasi Zardes pulled one back for the home side.

The second half saw Columbus dominate and the hosts equalized in the 62nd when Pedro Santos scored a magnificent goal from distance. In the end, FC Cincy survived, as they were destroyed by a counter, but Zardes skied the winner from inside the six. Then Przemyslav Tyton saved the day with a heroic save on an ensuing header to keep the point.

Lead Destroyed

CIN 1-4 NYC

Cruz scored in the 30th to give FCC the lead, but once again the defense couldn’t manage preserving it as NYC scored in the 32nd. That was en route to another big when for NYC over FC Cincy.

Hell is Real: Crew Assert Dominance

CIN 1-3 CLB

Zardes’ failure to win the game late in Columbus must have weighed heavy on him. Because in Cincinnati his brace secured victory for the Crew. Zardes scored twice on brilliantly placed passes to him to give Columbus the advantage. Another goal by Luis Diaz put the game out of reach by halftime, displaying what the Charter Member #01 could do on the newest edition to MLS. Manneh did pull one back late, but the damage was already done.

Salt levels were high for fans of the Orange and Blue, who did not take well to the large numbers of Columbus fans who sang and chanted all the way the Crew dealt with FCC.

Treachery in Texas

DAL 3-1 CIN

Another rough outing for FC Cincy, this time on the road in Dallas (area). Down 3-0, Ledesma did get on the score sheet for the Orange and Blue through a spot kick, but Manneh was ejected in another defeat.

Toronto Terrors

CIN 1-5 TOR

Another harrowing defeat at home, this time another lopsided loss to Toronto FC. Ledesma scored another penalty in stoppage time to salvage something for FCC.

Montreal Menace

MTL 0-1 CIN

Cruz proved to be the hero again for FC Cincy, scoring in the first minute in route to three points. The fact that his first minute goal withstood the entire game meant the defense finally stepped up to withstand Montreal pressure. A small bright spot towards the end of the season.

Atlanta Redemption

CIN 0-2 ATL

Atlanta United got their redemption with a victory over FC Cincy.

Squandering the Fire

CIN 0-0 CHI

Although it was a scoreless affair, FC Cincinnati managed the Fire to gather a point.

A Better Lion Fight

CIN 1-1 ORL

After their abysmal defeat in Orlando, there was hope to provide more life in Cincinnati. That happened, as Cruz again scored for the Orange and Blue. The unfortunate result was that Orlando City scored in stoppage time to salvage a point, but the squad rotation seemed to be showing signs of improvement for the future.

This match was much better, like the original Lion King

A Draw to End it All

DC 0-0 CIN

In the final match of the season, FC Cincy played well and earned a draw against playoff bound DC United. It was a decent way to end the season. 

The Beginning

It was a wild beginning, as once clubs started to figure out FC Cincinnati then the ambush was over. Alan Koch didn’t ever seem to understand what sort of identity he wanted, playing different personnel and formations each match. Couple this with the poor decisions he made in the expansion draft (like way to many midfielders that play the same position and you passed on Kei Kamara) the foundation was laid for ugly beginnings. 

Jeff Berding doesn’t have any true soccer knowledge, so it was difficult to truly give a structure that would built progress immediately. The decisions made to start the MLS season were suspect all across the board and it proved to be truthful in how it unfolded. 

Adi a Bust

The biggest signing in club history in Fanendo Adi might be the biggest bust of all time. Adi is a lackluster player, flopping more than being strong in hold up play. He argues with players, barks orders, acts with a Ronaldo like ego despite only scoring one goal all season in MLS play. The fact that he is one of the highest paid players in the league is a joke, considering he has brought relatively nothing to the club.

His DUI early in the season when he was injured and working towards rehab displayed his true character. He was travelling 102 mph on I-75 near Union Centre Boulevard when he was pulled over. He blew a .124, well above the legal limit and had a suspended Ukrainian drivers license. It certainly wasn’t a good look for him nor the club. People make mistakes and this isn’t supposed to necessarily fault him on being human, but what it did was show a lack of care for the club. He had played poorly, got hurt, and then seemed to have more time to do reckless actions as opposed to work on rehab. All of this while swimming deep in the club’s pocket books. He is still on the roster, though it would be best if FC Cincy could part ways with him. The problem is with his poor season, no one really wants him. 

Young Blood: Allan Cruz & Frankie Amaya 

Two of the biggest pluses for this season has been Cruz and Amaya, both of which proved themselves to be hard workers. Both were exciting to watch on the field and both displayed high character and morale. I’m excited to see what they can do in the future.

Keeper Challenge

Unpopular Opinion: Tyton is a better goalkeeper than Richey. I know Richey is the fan favorite since he was with the club last season, but I think overall Tyton is the better keeper. Richey has come up big and I think it is a slim margin, but Tyton has made some ridiculously amazing game saving saves. A lot of goals scored on Tyton have come from defensive lapses which are not his fault. To be fair, Richey has been plagued by the same issues, but every once and a while Richey has a head scratcher of a mistake. Needless to say, both are quality and both should be kept on the squad, unless another quality keeper is to come on the market. Then decisions can be made. 

Defense Must Get Better

FC Cincinnati’s backline gave up the most amount of goals in the history of MLS. I joked and said FC Cincy should give out a jersey to a season ticket holder for each goal conceded the entire season. It was painful to watch. Especially after a goal was scored for the Orange and Blue. Too many times did FCC concede after taking a lead or equalizing. A decision on who should be the starting back four needs to be made and then stuck with unless something drastic happens. This will provide consistency and communication for the back line. 

The Dutch Influence

It will be interesting to see both general manager Gerard Nijkamp and head coach Ron Jans operate in the offseason to build the team to their standard. It is always difficult to be put into a position midseason and make the most of it. Now that the offseason is here, Nijkamp and Jans can begin to build the roster to how they wish and that will set them up better for the next season in MLS. 

Final Thought

Overall it was an interesting season for FC Cincinnati. There were struggles and frustration along the way, but there was much pride to be placed upon rising to MLS in just the club’s fourth season. However, the challenge gets harder for next season. The club will no longer be the rookies as both Inter Miami and Nashville join up. Next season will be the final season at Nippert Stadium before moving to the disappointing location of the West End with what looks like an approving stadium design. Hopefully decisions will be made that will steer FC Cincy to more success rather than failures. It’s been an awesome journey so far for the Orange and Blue, and I believe it’s just getting started. As Bilbo said at the end of the first Hobbit movie, “I do believe the worst is behind us.” Although they did have to a dragon, they did end up with the wealth of the Lonely Mountain. 

If you forget about Smaug, then Bilbo was kinda right…sorta…

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