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Preview: 7/28 Vs RCD Espanyol

For the third summer in a row, FC Cincinnati will welcome an international opponent from one of the top leagues in the world when La Liga's RCD Espanyol visits Nippert Stadium on Saturday, July 28, at 7:30 p.m. The club’s annual summer friendly is presented by Cincinnati Bell.

In addition to the international flair on the pitch, the Orange and Blue will also be celebrating the club's successful Major League Soccer expansion bid on Saturday evening. Supporters in attendance can expect special halftime programming, a commemorative posters giveaway, an MLS-themed photo booth and post-match activities on the Nippert Stadium pitch. Read more about the planned activities here.

Tickets for the match against the Spanish side are still available at all price levels, including in The Bailey, and start at $15. They can be purchased online at fccincinnati.com/tickets or by calling 513-977-5425.

For those that can't make it to Nippert for the friendly, the match will be shown live locally on Star64 WSTR as well as via a YouTube Live stream.

A LITTLE BACKGROUND
 
As has been the case in each of the last two international opponents that have come to town, Saturday's match will be the first-ever meeting between FC Cincinnati and Espanyol. The visitors do, however, hail from the same league as last year's friendly opponents, Valencia CF.

FCC is looking for its first win in an international friendly, falling to the Premier League's Crystal Palace in 2016  and Valencia in 2017 by the same 2-0 score line in each game. Luckily, the Orange and Blue look as primed as ever to do so. They enter the match riding a 10-game unbeaten run and sitting first in the overall USL league table. They've posted a 7-0-3 record during that run, including wins in each of their last three outings.

Standing in the way of that first friendly win, though, is a very talented Espanyol outfit.

The Spaniards just kicked off their preseason and have only played two matches under their newly appointed manager, Rubi. The first of those came on Thursday, July 19, in Catalonia, where they downed Spanish third-division side UE Olot, 2-1. They then headed across the Atlantic for a wild midweek match against USL rivals Richmond Kickers on Wednesday. Despite falling behind to the Kickers twice, Espanyol wound up 4-2 winners on the evening.

As for their last league campaign, an up and down season saw Los Periquitos finish 11th in La Liga. However, marquee wins over crosstown neighbors and eventual league champions Barcelona, UEFA Champions League winners Real Madrid, and perennial Spanish power Atlético Madrid in the second half of their season demonstrate the club’s talent and class may belie its finish.

WHAT TO EXPECT
 
Predicting how a summer friendly will unfold is tricky. For the foreign side just stepping into a new season, friendly matches provide an opportunity for teams to evaluate their roster as the players begin to find their collective footing. That's especially true for teams with new managers, as Rubi will have been looking to quickly gain an understanding of the Espanyol squad at his disposal.

One Espanyol player likely to make an appearance is new signing, Borja Iglesias. The 6-foot-2 striker, known as "el Panda," made an immediate impact with Espanyol's opening goal in the win at Richmond on Wednesday.

The Barcelona-based club has fallen behind early in both of its preseason matches this year. If FCC gets its first friendly win, a quick start – as they’ve had of late – may be a reason why.

That said, the match also presents coach Alan Koch with an opportunity to  give valuable minutes to players up and down his squad. And since the match won't be bound by the standard three-substitution limit as regular-season matches, watch for quite a few faces to see some playing time on Saturday.

One player that could see action for the first time since FC Cincinnati's own preseason is Tyler Gibson. The midfielder suffered a broken leg while training with the team in Florida in February, and has steadily been working towards a return. Earlier this week, Koch confirmed the plan for Gibson to see limited minutes Saturday night.

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