Koch Postgame

Preseason Breakdown: Carolina Challenge Cup

FC Cincinnati’s second preseason trip began Thursday when the club traveled to Charleston, S.C. for the 2019 Carolina Challenge Cup. Last Saturday, the team returned home after a two-week stint in Florida.

Similar to that trip, the Orange and Blue will play three friendlies. These matches, however, are part of a round-robin tournament.

What is the Carolina Challenge Cup?

The four-team tournament features three matches where all four teams play each other. The team with the best results wins the tournament.

The participants are FC Cincinnati, Charleston Battery (USL Championship), Chicago Fire (MLS) and Columbus Crew SC (MLS). This is the 15th edition of the CCC. The Crew have won the last two.

When does FC Cincinnati play?

Feb. 16 — Charleston Battery vs. FC Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m.

Feb. 20 — FC Cincinnati vs. Chicago Fire, 7:30 p.m.

Feb. 23 — FC Cincinnati vs. Columbus Crew SC, 5 p.m.

All Carolina Challenge Cup matches will be available for streaming here.

Bigger implications for FCC

When FC Cincinnati flew to Florida, the team had only trained together four times. Players were still learning names and the coaches were still implementing the club’s style of play. At the time, Head Coach Alan Koch said there was an information overload.

That changes in Charleston.

By now, players know everyone — other than winger Kekuta Manneh, who joined FCC on Wednesday — and the style of play is known, too.

In FCC’s first preseason game, the club used a 4-3-3 formation. In the three games since, the team deployed a back three defensively. More changes could come, but time is running out for new approaches. The first MLS regular season match is March 2.

The squad is still figuring out how to play together, Koch said before leaving for South Carolina. Good moments come in spurts in games. But when FCC returns to Ohio, the team only has a week until its first match. Koch and the coaching staff have three more opportunities to tinker with the lineup before the regular season.

As a result, time is the biggest difference between the games in Florida versus South Carolina. At IMG Academy, FC Cincinnati gave everyone minutes and rotated players regularly — sometimes using a different lineup each half.

That can’t continue at the CCC. For the players who will feature in the club’s inaugural MLS game in Seattle, they’ll need match fitness to play a full 90 minutes. In essence, this tournament should highlight which players Koch sees as starters and which are substitutes. Minutes played in the CCC should reveal that.

“Minutes are huge in preseason so you’re actually match-ready when the season starts,” Koch said. “(We’re) also making sure we’re all on the same page. …The closer you get to the start of the season, you better be on the same page.”

More reps against MLS competitors

So far, forward Darren Mattocks is pleased with his individual preseason play. In three games, he’s scored twice, including a goal in Tuesday’s 3-2 loss at Indy Eleven. He missed the 1-1 draw with D.C. United after sustaining an injury during a training session.

He said he’s looking forward to playing at the Carolina Challenge Cup, a tournament he’s never participated in.

“The second leg of preseason is going to be vital for us,” Mattocks said. “These are teams you’re going to play against during the season. It gives us a foundation to base off of going into the season. These games against MLS teams will be crucial, so we’ve got to take full advantage of it.”