After an undefeated month of June, FC Cincinnati hits the road for their first match of the month at Nashville SC on Saturday, July 7, with an 8:30 p.m. Eastern (7:30 p.m. Central) kickoff.
With anticipation building as the two future Major League Soccer clubs clash for the first time in regular-season action, the match will be played not at Nashville's normal 10,000-seat home of First Tennessee Park, but instead at the 69,143-seat Nissan Stadium. Tickets for away supporters are still available and Nashville has provided detailed visitor information and guidelines to assist supporters making the journey south. Those who make the trip can hang around after the match for postmatch fireworks.
For those not making the trip, the match will be broadcast live on both CW Cincinnati and via stream on ESPN+.
While Saturday's match is the first-ever competitive meeting between FC Cincinnati and Nashville, the two clubs did cross paths in March during preseason. That tune-up match finished in a 2-2 draw with FCC goals from Lance Laing and Emery Welshman sandwiched between Nashville tallies by Matt LaGrassa and Alan Winn.
Since that meeting, both sides have proved themselves as two of the top teams in the USL. While the Orange and Blue are pacing the Eastern Conference in first place on 34 points (10-3-4), Nashville is nipping at their heels in third with 26 points (7-3-5) and two matches in hand.
After posting a promising 2-2-1 in their opening five games, Nashville have lost just once in their last 10 matches. That positive form can, in part, be explained by an impressive record playing in Tennessee, with a 6-1-1 in regular-season matches.
FC Cincinnati's form has also been strong of late. The Orange and Blue finished June with an unbeaten record of 4-0-2 in league play and have the number-one ranked offense in the league. And with a 6-1-2 away record in tow, Cincinnati comes in with confidence playing away from Nippert Stadium.
Head coach Gary Smith's team has taken to the pitch in four different formations in their last four matches -- ranging from a 3-5-2 in their last outing to a traditional 4-4-2 in the match previous to that -- though they almost always utilize two strikers.
One of those strikers could be mid-season acquisition, Brandon Allen (#32). In 2016, the former Bethlehem Steel FC forward finished second in the league in scoring with 15 goals with New York Red Bulls II (??) and added another nine last year before making the switch to Bethlehem ahead of this season. He was acquired by Nashville at the end of May and finds himself tied for team lead in goals with five. He has generally partnered with dynamic attacking midfielder Lebo Moloto (#10), who himself has five goals and three assists so far this campaign.
In the back, Nashville are anchored by veteran goalkeeper Matt Pickens. The former Tampa Bay Rowdies and MLS netminder is second in the league in shutouts with eight, and his backline boasts the second-fewest goals conceded in the league this season with just 10 surrendered in 15 matches.
On Saturday, Nashville will face the USL's most high-powered offense. FCC is the only the side in the USL with three players in the top 20 in goals. Emmanuel Ledesma and Danni König's eight goals-apiece leaves them each trailing the league leader by just one, while Nazmi Albadawi's seven is just two back.
And though Nashville's defense is one of the best in the league, FCC goalkeeper Evan Newton and his defense have posted three shutouts of their own in their last five league outings.