Playing for the first time ever in their hometown, FC Cincinnati ended their maiden preseason on a high note with a 2-0 friendly win over the Xavier University men’s soccer team at the Xavier University Soccer Complex.
The mood was bright from the offset at Xavier, with sunny skies and comfortable 65-degree weather greeting a fanbase eager to watch the Orange & Blue in the flesh. Despite a throng of ongoing March Madness games, a steady stream of supporters began filtering in as early as 90 minutes before kickoff. The crowd received a further boost with the arrival of the club’s supporters groups, who boisterously marched in from nearby pub partner Listermann Brewing a quarter hour before the first kick.
Estimates placed the final crowd gathered for the game north of 500, a sizable number of whom were sporting FCC’s colors. And those supporters were rewarded for turning up to FC Cincinnati’s fifth and final preseason match with a dominant showing from a heavily rotated side.
“The first objective from our perspective was ‘can we get guys more minutes?’ in terms of our depth,” explained coach John Harkes post match. “We split up the team tonight, giving them a little bit of an imbalance. And we created opportunities, which is great.”
Opportunities were indeed created despite the split up, and early on too.
The team lined up in a familiar 4-2-3-1 — the same formation the team started with last weekend in Indianapolis — but there were some different selections populating it. Mitch Hildebrandt returned to goal as Dallas Jaye was on international duty with Guam in Chinese Taipei, while Paul Nicholson and Evan Lee being flanked by Pat McMahon and Tyler Polak on the backline. In midfield, Kenny Walker and Corben Bone again sat behind an attacking trio of Alvaro Anton Ripoll, Antoine Hoppenot and Jimmy McLaughlin. And up top was Luke Spencer, earning the start against his alma mater after tallying three goals in three previous preseason appearances off the bench.
The first of those chances came in the fourth minute, when Hoppenot and Ripoll broke against an outnumbered Xavier backline only to see Xavier’s starting goalkeeper Ciricillo get a hand to the latter’s shot. Fifteen minutes later, Tyler Polak found himself in space on the backside, but again Ciricillo denied the well struck effort.
The opener came just three minutes later, when McLaughlin picked off a loose Xavier pass in the back and stroked home FC Cincinnati’s first goal of the match from just outside the box. The goal was Jimmy’s second of the preseason, having previously tallied against HB Køge at the IMG Suncoast Classic. It also represented the first goal FC Cincinnati had scored during the first half of play this spring.
FCC nearly doubled their lead several times over the ensuing passage of play. First came a curling effort from Spencer that went just left of Xavier’s goal, then Ripoll forcing Ciricillo to tip a dipping effort over the bar.
Xavier were unable to find a decent look of their own until the 37th minute, but Hildebrandt perfectly timed rushing off his line to smother the Musketeers’ break near the top of his box.
Two more chances came FC Cincinnati’s way before the close of the half, the first of which was rattled Xavier’s bar from distance as Corben Bone nearly summoned his goal against KR Reykjavic with a thunderous strike from distance. Walker’s chance trickling just wide of the goal in the closing moments ultimately meant the team would enter the half up 1-0.