FC Cincinnati Seizes Its First Road Victory Thanks to Four New Starters

The replacements’ unexpected win in New England likely makes FCC the favorite at Nippert Stadium Saturday night.
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The Replacements is one of those bad, but not that bad, sports comedies that flourished at the turn of the century. They didn’t rope in viewers because of the acting or the music or the cinematography—they appealed to your heart. That’s why thirtysomethings across this country can quote lines from Happy Gilmore (“You’re pretty sick, Chubbs”) or DodgeBall (“Nobody makes me bleed my own blood!”) verbatim.

 

For the uninitiated, here’s a quick rundown of The Replacements: Keanu Reeves (Shane Falco) basically becomes the Tim Tebow of the Washington Sentinels, a fictional football team decimated by a players strike. Falco winds up marshaling his underdog outfit to a few improbable victories. And yet, the most lasting scene in The Replacements is Reeves, Orlando Jones, Roy from The Office, and their teammates jiving and crooning to “I Will Survive” from a holding cell after a bar brawl with the real Sentinels.

So what does Shane Falco have to do with FC Cincinnati? Well, Major League Soccer’s expansion underdogs enjoyed another star turn last weekend, dispatching the New England Revolution 2-0 despite the loss of four rotation players to international duty (starters Allan Cruz, Alvas Powell, and Kendall Waston and backup Darren Mattocks) and another starter to injury (Fanendo Adi).

In response, Kenny Saief, Emmanuel Ledesma, and Forrest Lasso made their first MLS starts ever and led FCC to its inaugural road triumph. How did Cincinnati’s Replacements perform?

Saief: After a goal and an assist vs. New England, Saief—who joined FCC on loan three weeks ago from the Belgian first division—looks like one of the league’s top imports through four weeks, registering a goal and two assists in just 94 minutes. The U.S. international’s ability to both pass and dribble through tight spaces has been exactly what head coach Alan Koch’s defense-first squad needed in order to properly release pacey wingers Roland Lamah and Kekuta Manneh into attacking advantages.

Ledesma: He wasn’t afforded the same freedom he had in his United Soccer League MVP campaign in 2018, either by Koch (Ledesma played a different position Sunday than he did last season) or by the opposition (who, naturally, closed him down quicker than the lesser USL opponents). Last year, Ledesma played in a central or attacking role behind the striker and was able to run at defenses. With Adi and Mattocks unavailable, he played the role of a false nine, or deep-lying center forward. Ledesma wasn’t exactly charged with holdup play like Adi is, but the Argentine did spend plenty of time linking up with the top half of FCC’s midfield. He played well, and it will be interesting to see whether he can see consistent playing time despite playing a similar position as Saief.

Lasso: Starting in Waston’s stead, Lasso played to his strengths as a 6-foot-4 center back who dominates in the air. Six of his 11 clearances came with his noggin, and he won six aerial duels, contributing to FC Cincinnati’s second consecutive clean sheet. The former USL Defender of the Year was a little fortunate to not concede a penalty in the second half, but on the whole Lasso looked the part of a backup MLS center back—which is his job description in 2019.

Additionally, Greg Garza, perhaps the club’s highest-profile signing over the winter, was also handed his initial start of the season. I thought Garza was OK; the Audi Index player ratings weren’t impressed. He showed inspiration going forward but was also caught out of position up the field multiple times. And after missing most of the preseason with an injury, Garza needs more game time to develop a better feel with his teammates.

Up next is a home date Saturday night with Philadelphia Union, who are fresh off a 3-0 throttling of Columbus Crew. FC Cincinnati should be favored to win, particularly with their (misleading statement alert!) reported new addition from Manchester United.

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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