FC Cincinnati’s Surprise Win Is Rewarded With a Tough Schedule

Tonight’s game against Philadelphia kicks off a brutal stretch of top-notch opponents.

According to FIFA, the first instance of an “Olympic Goal” happened in 1924, after a rule change earlier the same year allowed goals to be scored directly from corner kicks. Here’s the description of the first “olímpico”: “Argentinian attacker Cesareo Onzari sent in a corner from the left with so much spin that it fooled Uruguay keeper Antonio Mazzali and crept in at the near post. The local sporting press at the time, delighted at the audacity of the strike and the victory over their lauded rivals, thus dubbed Onzari’s effort the first gol olímpico in reference to their opponents’ Olympic crown.”

Scoring an olímpico is a difficult proposition. On corner kicks, there is typically a double-digit amassing of bodies in or on the outskirts of the 6-yard box. So the ball is bound to hit a part of someone’s body or be touched by the keeper (via a catch, a punch, etc.) Even though players taking corners are capable of creating wicked spin or serious velocity with their kicks, the amount of distance the ball has to travel still provides the goalkeeper and other players—all of whom are highly-trained, quick-twitch athletes—ample to time to make a move on the ball.

I began watching soccer at a serious level—regularly viewing the English Premier League, the Champions League, the U.S. men’s and women’s national teams, as well as occasional Bundesliga and Major League Soccer (pre-FC Cincinnati) matches—around seven years ago. I’ve witnessed just a handful of olímpicos from live viewing and have only viewed a few more on replay.

That history lesson brings us to the defining moment of FC Cincinnati’s match at New York Red Bulls this past Saturday night: Haris Medunjanin’s 85th-minute olímpico. His strike justly rewarded the visitors with a 1-0 victory, FCC’s first win in nearly two months. In that previous triumph—which also came against the Red Bulls—a Medunjanin corner kick caused an own goal.

Last week’s column wondered if Jaap Stam’s late-match formation switch that nearly salvaged a point against New York City FC would result in a move to a 3-4-3, particularly with starting right back Mathieu Deplagne suspended for the Red Bulls match via yellow card accumulation. Well, FC Cincinnati didn’t line up in a 3-4-3, but the configuration was something similar: a 3-4-1-2.

Striker Jurgen Locadia and his backup, Brandon Vazquez, started up top ahead of Yuya Kubo, who played an attacking midfield role, which definitely suits his game more than playing as a deep-lying midfielder in Stam’s preferred 3-5-2 setup. Andrew Gutman, Frankie Amaya (back from yellow card suspension), Medunjanin, and Joe Gyau were the four midfielders, with Tom Pettersson, Kendall Waston, and Nick Hagglund (his first start of the year) operating as three center backs. Spencer Richey started in goal for the first time since the second game of the season for Przemysław Tytoń, who traveled back to Poland for personal reasons after the NYCFC game. Tytoń, who had started the past nine games, has since returned to the U.S. and is quarantining. It’s unclear if he will make the squad for tonight’s home match vs. the surging Philadelphia Union.

FC Cincinnati outshot New York 14-10 (4-2 on target). A week after he tallied six shots, Locadia fired off five vs. the Red Bulls. Vazquez, earning his second start of the season (the first came in the season opener at the Red Bulls), showed well, drawing an early yellow card on star Red Bulls center back Aaron Long. Perhaps some of Locadia’s bad finishing juju rubbed off on Vazquez, though, because he absolutely should have thwarted Red Bulls keeper David Jensen after a lovely through ball by Kubo in the 72nd minute. Locadia nearly scored in the 20th minute (a cracking save by Jensen was required) and the 41st minute (the big forward should’ve bagged it after he stepped first to deflection). Locadia’s finishing remains lacking, but that discussion can be postponed to another week.

The win pushed FC Cincinnati (12 points; 3 wins, 6 losses, 3 draws) into the Eastern Conference’s 10th and final playoff spot. It’s the first time the club has scored in back-to-back games since July 22 vs. the Red Bulls and July 28 vs. Portland. Stam’s lads have still scored the fewest goals (eight in 12 matches) in MLS, but Saturday night was a step in the right direction offensively.

Up next is the aforementioned match vs. Philadelphia (24 points, 2nd in the East). An MLS Is Back semifinalist, the Union have won five of their past six games, with the lone setback a 1-0 defeat to Columbus, owners of the most points in MLS. On Saturday, FC Cincinnati ventures to Red Bull Arena for the third time in 15 days to face New York City FC (17 points, 5th in the East), unbeaten in its past six matches.

Given the rest of FCC’s regular season schedule, which was released earlier this week, the club might as well familiarize itself with some of the league’s best. The final phase of FC Cincinnati’s 2020 regular slate begins with road games at Minnesota (fourth in the West) and at Philadelphia. The club will then be at home for five consecutive matches from Oct. 11-28 vs. Toronto (4th in the East), Columbus (for the fourth time in 2020), D.C. United (13th in East), Minnesota, and Sporting Kansas City (2nd in the West). If FC Cincinnati is still in playoff contention at that point, its final forays are winnable: at Atlanta (12th in East) and at Inter Miami (11th in East). The Orange and Blue will face six teams that sit in the top four of their respective conferences over their final nine matches.

With its overdue win in the bag, we’ll see how FC Cincinnati responds to playing two of the East’s hottest teams in four days. And then the going gets real tough.

Grant Freking writes FC Cincinnati coverage for Cincinnati Magazine. Off the pitch, he is the associate editor for Signs of the Times magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @GrantFreking.

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