First ever match in Cincinnati for FCC produces win for supporters.
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’ssupporters 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.
The second half saw a bevy of changes for FCC, with Harkes opting to make 9 changes and shift to a 4-4-2. Jamie Dell, Harrison Delbridge, Austin Berry and Derek Luke repopulated the backline, while Bone was joined in a new four man midfield by a deeper Ross Tomaselli and Andrew Wiedeman and Omar Mohomed on the wings. Up top, Sean Okoli partnered with Omar Cummings.
And though the changes were many, the team started the second half just as they had the first: dominant offensively. Just a minute in, Wiedeman was freed over the top and raced in on what appeared to be an open goal, but Xavier somehow managed to recover to make a goal line clearance.
On 50 minutes, Dell broke down the right side before cutting back to serve to the far post where Okoli just stayed level to avoid the offside flag to poke home to make it 2-0. The goal was the first of the spring for Okoli, who had shown well in the previous four games yet was unable to breakthrough.
But even with a two goal cushion, FCC didn’t relent as each player looked to make an impression in their limited time on the pitch. And three minutes after the second, Luke’s chance for a third was blocked after being cleverly laid off in the box by Cummings.
Xavier managed to find some time on the ball in a stretched FCC midfield, but never really challenged the goal. Though they did force Hildebrandt into another fantastic 1-v-1 save in the 68th minute after an unfortunate bounce sent Vasquenza clear in on goal.
To get a further look at his options, Harkes brought on Michael Millay for the first time since the tournament in Florida for Dell in the 77th. Too, Bone — the lone outfield remainder from the first half — was also given a rest in favor of Walker. Millay nearly had an immediate impact two minutes later when he latched onto a deflected chance. Unfortunately, his sizzling effort buzzed past the far post. Wiedeman’s fancy footwork in the closing minutes nearly allowed him to add FC Cincinnati’s third again, but his shot went over the bar after he had ducked past two defenders.
With the win, FCC finish preseason with an undefeated 3-0-2 record. Coach Harkes was pleased with the result, and the preseason overall.
“We see them improving every day. Our training and mentality has been excellent,” he explained. “Xavier gave us a runout, and I thought they were great. It was a good opportunity for us to fine tune some of the things we’re still wanting to work on. Changing the shape a little bit, looking to become a group a bit better [on the field]. It was great.”
As for his thoughts about playing in front of the fans in Cincinnati for the first time?
“Absolutely fantastic! We’re coming out for the warmup and we see the group over there with their flags displayed and the others coming down the hill looking really good. [It was] a little bit of a snapshot of what’s to come, and I’m really looking forward to it.”
FC Cincinnati will next be in action in their first ever regular season USL game, next Saturday, March 26th, at 7:30pm in Charleston against the Battery. As is the case with all USL away games, you’ll be able to follow the action live in the league’s YouTube stream. Or you can follow along live on Twitter at @fccincinnati, as well as halftime and full time updates on Facebook. And don’t forget to get your tickets for the club’s inaugural home opener on April 9th against Charlotte.