After taking to the road last weekend, FC Cincinnati returns to the Queen City this Saturday, July 14, for a 7:30 p.m. regular season match against Tampa Bay Rowdies.
The evening will also have some historical significance, as two major milestones will be celebrated. The match will not only be the Orange & Blue's 50th at historic Nippert Stadium, but the club will also be commemorating the passing of 1,000,000 fans through the gates at FC Cincinnati home matches! Fans wanting to add to that number can still find tickets online at fccincinnati.com or by calling 513-977-5425.
For those who can't attend, the action will be shown live on Star64 (WSTR) and the ESPN+ stream, or they can listen in on ESPN 1530.
Saturday's matchup will be the first meeting of the season for the two USL Eastern Conference foes, and their fifth meeting overall. The visitors hold the advantage in the series so far after notching two wins and a draw against FCC in 2017 -- including a 0-3 playoff loss to close out last season -- and handing the Orange & Blue a 0-2 loss in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in 2016.
That said, the Rowdies have yet to win at Nippert Stadium. Their lone visit to Cincinnati ended in a 1-1 draw in last year's home opener as a 35th-minute header from Harrison Delbridge canceling out a blast from Tampa Bay's Marcel Schäfer in the 7th minute.
But while the visitors hold an advantage in the all-time series, the two clubs' current seasons paint a very different picture.
While FCC enter the match still perched atop the Eastern Conference in first place with a record of 10-3-5 (35 points), Tampa Bay find themselves in a very unfamiliar territory in 11th and a 6-7-4 (22 points) record. The Rowdies' currently sport the league's 19th best defense and 14th best offense, a far cry from 2017 where they boasted the 7th best offense and 5th best defense.
The downturn in form for the Rowdies lead to the dismissal of third-year head coach Stuart Campbell. And his replacement, now-former centerback Neill Collins, hasn't had much luck improving upon the 4-5-0 record that earned Campbell the sack. The Rowdies have gone 2-2-4 since the former Scottish international took the reins on May 18.
Making matters worse, the club lost the services of lynchpin Marcel Schäfer at the end of June. The German midfielder, who scored 7 goals and registered 14 assists in 45 matches wearing the green and gold hoops, is returning to VfL Wolfsburg to become his previous club's technical director.
To help fill the void, Collins has brought in the likes of former MLS standouts Dominic Oduro (#29) and Kwadwo Poku (#88). While the latter has yet to make his Rowdies debut, the former has made an immediate splash with a goal and assist in three matches.
Things won't get any easier for Collins' Rowdies upon their visit to Cincinnati either. They'll be tasked with controlling an FCC side boasting the league's number one offense and reigning USL Player of the Month Emmanuel Ledesma. And with both Ledesma and co-leading scorer Danni König going scoreless on the team's travels to Nashville last weekend, expecting one of the two to find the back of the net against Tampa Bay isn't unrealistic. The Orange & Blue have only once this season gone more than one game without one of the dynamic pair tallying.