After 34 games of regular-season play, FC Cincinnati (23-3-8, 77 pts.) will begin the USL Cup Playoffs with an Eastern Conference Quarterfinal at Nippert Stadium on Saturday. The top-seeded Orange and Blue will host eighth-seeded Nashville SC (12-9-13, 49 pts.) in a rematch of the regular-season finale. The game is set for 4 p.m. and will be televised on WSTR 64, carried live on WSAI 1360 AM and also streamed live on ESPN+.
FC Cincinnati enters the postseason on a historic run. The Orange and Blue concluded the USL regular season with a 23-match unbeaten streak (17-0-6), the longest unbeaten run in USL history, surpassing the mark of 22-matches set by the Richmond Kickers in 2013.
Nashville, on the other hand, went into the final week of the regular season without having a USL Cup Playoffs spot clinched. While the two sides represent the extremes of the Eastern Conference’s postseason picture, FC Cincinnati Head Coach Alan Koch notes that seeding doesn’t mean much when it comes to a single-elimination tournament.
“It didn’t really matter who we were going to play, there’s so much parity in this league,” Koch said. “Everybody who has made the playoffs is pretty much the exact same sort of level.”
FC Cincinnati and Nashville SC played to three draws in the regular season, and even drew when they met in the preseason. While the final result has been the same in each contest to date, the type of match has varied significantly from one meeting to the next.
“It’s interesting that we’ve tied them four times, it shows they’re a good team, but it shows we’re a good team too,” Koch said. “We’ve had games where we’ve scored on them, they’ve had games where they’ve scored on us, too. We had a game where we had a clean sheet against them, and they had a game where they had a clean sheet against us, too. Whoever comes out and makes sure they take care of both sides of the ball, whoever defends collectively and defends very, very well together will set themselves up for success.”
FCC defender Blake Smith has played in all 270 minutes of competition against Nashville this season. From the defender’s perspective, it will take every player on the field defending as a unit for FCC to advance to the next round.
“We are just going to have to be on defensively, switched on,” Smith said. “From the striker all the way back to the goalkeeper, it’s going to take all 11 guys defensively on our A-game that day. But, we’ve definitely been working on situations this week that are hopefully going to limit their chances.”
Perhaps the key matchup to focus on will be the Orange and Blue’s high-powered attack against Nashville’s resolute defense. FC Cincinnati led the USL with 72 goals over the course of the regular season, while Nashville SC conceded the second-fewest goals on the year, allowing just 31 goals through 34 matches. After FC Cincinnati netted three goals in last weekend’s matchup, Koch feels confident that his side will create chances.
“We’ve shown all season long that we can create opportunities. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing against,” Koch said. “We’ve done it against them, we scored against them the other night. So, we feel very, very confident that if we create those opportunities, we’ll take some of them during the course of the game.”
Should FC Cincinnati advance, it would host an Eastern Conference Semifinal against the winner of the matchup between the fourth-seeded Charleston Battery and the fifth-seeded New York Red Bulls II. That match would be scheduled for 4 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 27 at Nippert Stadium.
For up-to-the-minute information about FC Cincinnati, visit the team’s official website at fccincinnati.com, or follow the team on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook at @FCCincinnati. For more information about FC Cincinnati tickets, call 513-977-KICK (5425) or visit fccincinnati.com/tickets.