BRADENTON, FL -- Playing their second preseason match in just four days, FC Cincinnati earned a 1-0 win over USL rivals Tampa Bay Rowdies at IMG Academy.
On short rest and facing high heat and strong winds, Coach Alan Koch once again opted for a split-squad -- with different sides in each match -- similarly to the strategy deployed in his team's 1-1 draw with MLS outfit New England Revolution on Tuesday. However, as he detailed in his pre-match comments, Koch took a slightly different approach with today's match.
A strong first half line-up was fielded against the Rowdies, one Koch said "[would] play together and start to work on some concepts". Meanwhile, his second-half group would "include a lot of trialists" so that those players could "showcase themselves, but also [provide] an opportunity for our [current] players to manage new relationships and deal with adversity in their minutes."
Despite the strength in the FCC starting eleven, it was the Rowdies who were on the offensive for most of the first half with a strong squad of their own. Six players new to their team in 2018 joined the likes of former English international Joe Cole and several players with MLS experience, dictating much of the early play.
Luckily, the Orange & Blue were up to the task. Tampa Bay's best look of the half saw starting FCC goalkeeper Spencer Spencer Richey deny Cole with a fine save.
FC Cincinnati wasn't toothless though, building in confidence and aggressiveness -- including yellows shown to Nazmi Albadawi and Paddy Barrett -- as the half wore on. On 43-minutes, the Orange & Blue saw a long cross headed back across the box was volleyed towards goal by defender Justin Hoyte. Unfortunately, a Rowdies player stepped in the way at the last second to spurn the chance and the teams entered the half scoreless.
Koch's second half eleven was both completely different and heavy with trialists -- three in total -- as promised. Rowdies' coach Stuart Campbell also employed an entirely new team too.
But it was FC Cincinnati's changes that had the biggest impact.
Fresh on the field, Russell Cicerone swung in a sizzling low cross that was just inches away from finding at surging Gareth Halfhill at the back post.
And just minutes later, it was Halfhill again in an unusually advanced position -- though being utilized as a holding midfielder for the second straight match instead of his normal centerback role -- that would break the deadlock.
An FC Cincinnati movement up the left wing saw one of three second half trialists smartly find Halfhill at the top of the box. Halfhill collected, then beat the Rowdies' keeper Fitzgerald with a low driven shot to his right to make it 1-0 to FCC.
The goal was the first for the Xavier graduate in any competition since signing with the club a third of the way into the 2017 campaign.
The goal seemed to increase Tampa Bay's intensity, and they soon turned up the heat on second half goalkeeper Evan Newton's goal. Twice Netwon denied headers from Hristov, both of which were delivered by Marcel Schäfer crosses from the Rowdies' left.
Soon, the increased intensity ramped up the fouling from the side as they chased an equalizer. Cards were shown to both Morrell and Hristov as FCC tried to hold on to their lead.
The Orange & Blue nearly doubled their lead late on, though defender Dekel Keinan's header from a Lance Laing delivery never really troubled the keeper.
Two additional Rowdies' chances went just wide of Netown's far post in the closing minutes of the match, but FC Cincinnati were able to hold on to the win.
It was the first victory in any competition for FCC against the Rowdies, who had previously managed just a single draw and two losses in league and cup action against the Tampa Bay outfit.
FC Cincinnati will return to preseason action on Wednesday, February 14th, at 10:30am when they face a squad of reserves from Major League Soccer's Chicago Fire. Any streaming availability will be made public as soon as that information becomes available.
First Half Line Ups:
FCC: Albadawi (YC), Bone, Barrett, Haber, Hoyte, König, Lasso, Ledesma, Richey, Smith, Walker
TBR: Mizell, Najem, Mkandawire, Magalhães, Lachowecki, Nanchoff, Vingaard, Flemmings, Cole, Fernandes, Graf
Second Half Line Ups:
FCC: Bahner, Cicerone, De Wit, Halfhill (1G), Keinan, Laing
Newton, Trialist #1 (78' McLaughlin), Trialist #2 (78' Seymore), Trialist #3, Trialist #4
TBR: Fitzgerald, Curinga, Gorskie (YC), Collins, Portillos, Blake, Schäfer, Morrell (YC), Hristov (YC), Guenzatti, Kellum