USL Regular-Season Champions FC Cincinnati (22-3-6, 72 pts.) will return to Nippert Stadium on Saturday for the final home match of the season on Fan Appreciation Night. The Orange and Blue will take on Indy Eleven (13-9-9, 48 pts.) for the third time this season. The game is set for 7:30 p.m. and will be televised on WSTR 64, carried live on The Project 100.7 FM and also streamed live on ESPN+. Following the match, FC Cincinnati will be presented with the USL Regular-Season Championship in a post-match trophy presentation.
FC Cincinnati comes into Saturday’s match having locked up the best overall regular-season record in the USL by defeating the Richmond Kickers, 4-1, on Wednesday, Sept. 26. The Orange and Blue have secured homefield advantage throughout the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs. While the final three regular-season matches won’t affect FCC’s finish in the USL table, there could be opportunities for some players that have not seen the field as much this season.
“We’ve got three games to fine tune things to get ourselves ready for the postseason,” FC Cincinnati head coach Alan Koch said after Wednesday’s match, “There are a lot of players on our team that have sacrificed a lot, [and have] worked incredibly hard to be part of this group. I’d like to reward everybody through the final few games.”
In addition, the Orange and Blue will look to maintain their current 20-match unbeaten streak (16-0-4), as well as their nine-match winning streak. Should FC Cincinnati defeat Indy Eleven on Saturday, they will set the USL record for longest winning streak in a single-season, topping the mark of nine matches set by Real Monarchs SLC in 2017.
Indy Eleven enters Saturday’s match following a win over the Tampa Bay Rowdies, 2-0, on Wednesday, Sept. 26. The visiting side is currently in fifth place of the Eastern Conference standings and are fighting to earn a home match in the first round of the USL Cup Playoffs.
While tomorrow presents a unique opportunity for FC Cincinnati in that the club will be able to raise the USL Regular-Season Championship trophy after the match, Koch notes that in terms of playoff positioning, the pressure lies solely on the visiting side.
“Well to be honest, tomorrow night, all the pressure is on Indy. There is no pressure on us,” Koch said, “We’ve achieved one of the goals that we set ourselves out to do, and we don’t have to win tomorrow night. We want to win, and we’re going to do everything we can, but there’s a lot more pressure on them from that perspective.”
The two teams have already met twice this season, with both matches being played at Lucas Oil Stadium. FC Cincinnati won the first match on March 31, 1-0, and also won the second match on May 2, 3-2.
MVP FRONTRUNNER LEDESMA SETS USL FIRSTS
FC Cincinnati midfielder Emmanuel Ledesma has had an MVP-caliber first USL season. On Aug. 12 against Penn FC, Ledesma became the second player in USL history to reach double digits in goals and assists in a single-season when he scored on a free kick. Less than two months later, Ledesma has reached 16 goals and 15 assists, and is the only player in league history to record at least 15 goals and 15 assists in a single season.
Following a pair of goals at Richmond, the Argentine became the first player in the USL’s modern era to contribute to 30 goals in a season, surpassing 2014 USL Most Valuable Player Kevin Molino (Orlando City SC) and 2015 USL Most Valuable Player Matt Fondy (Louisville City FC), who had both ended their award winning-years with a combined 29 goals and assists.
Ledesma has been a key contributor for the Orange and Blue during the course of the current nine-match unbeaten streak. In his last eight appearances, Ledesma has scored seven goals and has added five assists.
ORANGE AND BLUE TARGET NINTH SERIES SWEEP OF 2018
Should FC Cincinnati defeat Indy on Saturday, it will mark FC Cincy’s ninth series sweep of the 2018 USL regular season, and the third consecutive match resulting in a series sweep. In addition, it would also be FC Cincinnati’s first three-game series sweep of the year.
The Orange and Blue have completed two-game sweeps against Atlanta United 2, Charleston Battery, New York Red Bulls II, North Carolina FC, Ottawa Fury FC, Penn FC, Richmond Kickers, and Tampa Bay Rowdies.