With the home opener now in the rearview mirror, FC Cincinnati went back to work this week with a return to the road. The destination? The Lehigh Valley off Pennsylvania, where they'll take on Bethlehem Steel FC for the first time in 2018.
In this weekend's match, the Orange & Blue will not only look to make a return to their winning ways but also get the upper hand on a side that gave us troubles throughout 2017.
The one thing majorly different about this weekend's match: for the first time this season, we're taking Saturday evening off in exchange for a 3pm Sunday afternoon kickoff. With only a handful of supporters expected to make the trip, you'll most likely want to take in the action on Star 64 (WSTR) or by streaming for the first time on ESPN+. The new standalone streaming service launched today, and you can sign up for a free 30-day trial by clicking here.
As mentioned above, Steel FC were a tricky ticket for FCC in 2017... particularly at Goodman Stadium, where we'll playing this weekend. We twice lost to the Philadelphia Union reserve side in Bethlehem last year -- 0-2 in April and 0-1 in May -- before finally getting the better of them on their travels to Nippert with a 2-1 victory.
The all-time series between FCC and BSFC, however, tilts in our favor following two wins against them during the 2016 campaign.
But, this is a new season. And with both sides featuring an influx of new talent, it's unlikely the past will have too much to say about the outcome on Sunday.
As things currently stand, Bethlehem currently find themselves three places behind us in the table, sitting in at 10th with a record of 1-1-2. Their last time out, this past Sunday, saw them rescue a point at home against Charleston Battery thanks to a first-half injury time goal from forward Corey Burke. That draw ended a two-match skid for them after they opening the season with a strong 4-1 win at Goodman over Richmond to open up their season.
Following the team's first loss of the season last Saturday against Louisville, there will be a temptation to light things on fire and change things up. But with the team making strides forward, even in spite of the loss, don't expect to see anything radically different this weekend.
What changes might you expect then?
Unlike Louisville who played extremely narrow, sat in and looked to hit us on the break, Bethlehem will play far more similarly to Indy Eleven. In each match of their four matches this season, Steel FC have trotted out a 4-2-3-1. That formation matches up well with our own, and it's wider stance means we're likely to see less crossing than what we saw out of the Orange & Blue in our own last match.
One area where the matchup's history could have an impact on things: Danni König. The Danish striker has seen time as a substitute in each of FCC's last two matches, often providing a needed spark. Given that he notched two goals against Bethlehem in the teams' last meeting, might Koch opt to throw an extra forward into the mix from the start?
One area the team will have to be on alert is when Bethlehem are on the attack. An adept midfield featuring experienced string-pullers like captain James Chambers (#45) and Adam Najem (#24), and pacy width in players like Santi Moar (#38) and Marcus Epps (#20). But the player to really watch is forward Brandon Allen (#40), who previously lit up the league for the New York Red Bulls II with 24 goals in 44 matches. And given that he's already netted twice in 2018, he'll keep our central defenders plenty busy this weekend.