Resetting FC Cincinnati’s Season at the Gold Cup Break

Nippert Stadium hosts the U.S. men’s national team and familiar USL rival Louisville City FC before the MLS schedule resumes on June 22.

We have six thoughts on FC Cincinnati, which was depantsed yet again in a 5-2 loss to New York City FC on Thursday night. Fortunately for the expansion side, it now embarks on a much-needed two-week-plus break from Major League Soccer competition.


Between injuries and players absent due to Gold Cup and international duties, FC Cincinnati started a hodgepodge lineup against NYCFC. Midfielder Corben Bone was handed his first start since the season opener and appeared in just his fourth game. With center back and captain Kendall Waston away with the Costa Rican national team, Forrest Lasso saw his first action in five games. Nick Hagglund, who had started the first 10 games of the season only to make the starting 11 once over the past five contests, started at center back. Midfielder Kenny Saief, an influential regular through the first half of the season, was absent for the fifth time over the past seven games due to injury. Midfielder Leonardo Bertone, a typical starter, was a second-half substitute after missing three straight games. Midfielder Allan Cruz, striker Darren Mattocks, and defender Alvas Powell—three regulars—were away on international duty. The result was yet another disjointed effort from a side that needs to forget about the playoffs and start planning for 2020.

NYCFC dominated, pure and simple. The hosts were excellent from start to finish, submitting a clinical showing with Manchester City coach Pep Guardiola in attendance at Yankee Stadium. (Both NYCFC and Manchester City are owned by City Football Group.) NYCFC tortured FC Cincinnati’s makeshift back line, firing off nine shots on target and winning the possession battle 60-40. One clear difference between the sides was their passing accuracy in the final third: 75 percent for NYCFC, 53 percent for FC Cincinnati. Even FCC’s two scores came with an asterisk, as each was an own goal by NYCFC.

Things can’t get any worse, right? FC Cincinnati enters the international break as losers of four straight and 10 of 12. When interim coach Yoann Damet took over May 7 from Alan Koch, he shifted FCC’s style of play to a possession-based style, meaning a bad team with a poorly-constructed roster totally changed its playing identity 11 games into its expansion season. Good times! I’ll cut FCC a little slack for last night; the only surefire regulars in the starting lineup were goalkeeper Spencer Richey, defender Mathieu Deplagne, and midfielders Roland Lamah and Victor Ulloa. But, woof, this team is tough to watch. At least they can’t be relegated!

A needed respite from the big leagues is here. Because of the Gold Cup, FC Cincinnati won’t play another MLS match until June 22, when it will welcome Zlatan Ibrahimović—do yourself a favor and google this character if you don’t know him—and LA Galaxy. FCC has 18 league games left. It’s going to be a long, long summer.

A familiar foe and competition could provide an uplifting elixir, though. On Wednesday, FC Cincinnati welcomes former United Soccer League rival Louisville City FC in the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup. FCC is 7-2-2 all-time in U.S. Open play, famously advancing to the tournament’s semifinals in 2017. From 2016 through 2018, FC Cincinnati and Louisville split their 10 USL meetings (two draws, four wins apiece). Louisville supporters were surely smiling last month when Orlando City—headed by ex-Louisville coach James O’Connor—walloped FCC 5-1, the club’s worst defeat of the season. (O’Connor apparently made no bones about his distaste for FC Cincinnati afterwards.) With its initial MLS campaign in shambles, FCC would surely settle for an extended run of success in a familiar tournament to acquire even a few weeks of good vibrations.

The next game played at Nippert Stadium won’t be by FC Cincinnati. On Sunday, the U.S. men’s national team will take on Venezuela on UC’s campus for its final tuneup before the Gold Cup. It’s the first time the American men will play in Cincinnati. The U.S. enters with something to prove, too, after a disappointing 1-0 loss to Jamaica last Wednesday night, the first USMNT setback since former Columbus Crew coach Gregg Berhalter became head coach in December. Powell was in the lineup for that Jamaica side and played well. Mattocks saw 11 minutes of action as a substitute.

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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