Quality and character continued the Open Cup run

In a full sprint, Kekuta Manneh smashed his point-blank header to the back post, turned and raced toward the corner flag. He tore his jersey off his chest along the way.

It was the moment that gave FC Cincinnati the win over their rival Wednesday night at Nippert Stadium. But it was more than that.

Yes, Cincinnati beat Louisville City FC in the fourth round of the 2019 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, meaning the club’s Cup run would continue. And yes, the win was the team’s first in more than a month. But how the goal – and the win, in particular – happened spoke to FC Cincinnati’s effort in the present and character moving forward.

By the time Manneh scored, his perfectly-timed run was in the 103rd minute. His effort level then reciprocated runs he made minutes into the match, too. The same could be said for Emmanuel Ledesma’s effort to provide the assist.

Initially, Ledesma himself made a long sprint to receive a through ball from goalkeeper Przemysław Tytoń. Once in possession, he took a few touches, looked up, then pushed the ball to his preferred left foot and sent a driven cross toward Manneh.

“(I tried to) put the ball to the second post because all the players come around (Fanendo) Adi and then I saw the spot behind,” Ledesma said. “Kekuta was close to the second post and then he scored the goal.”

The goal embodied FC Cincinnati’s performance against Louisville: gritty, determined and, ultimately, rewarding.

“We speak about character and I think it shows how badly the guys wanted to get that win and move to the next stage,” Interim Head Coach Yoann Damet said. “It’s a good run in on the second post from Kekuta. Again, he showed he can help us score; he can help us win. That’s also a lot of composure from Manu to wait and to put that ball on the second post and to see that run. Very happy for him.”

Before beating Louisville, Cincinnati’s last win was May 11 against the Montreal Impact at Nippert Stadium. That match was the team’s first under Damet, and the first showing the identity he expected from his players.

Roughly a month later, that identity was seen against the reigning two-time second division champions. The Orange and Blue looked for avenues and corridors to pass to teammates. When the long ball was on, defenders delivered direct balls that challenged Louisville’s backline.

A mistake from Paco Craig directly led to Cincinnati’s first goal, when Adi bodied Craig off the ball in his own box. Adi then took the ball and tucked it below Chris Hubbard to register his first goal in 2019. The goal stemmed directly from effort and capitalizing.

The second did the same.

Once Ledesma controlled Tytoń’s ball, he took the time to carefully produce the perfect cross. With 6-foot-3 Adi blanketed by defenders, 5-foot-9 Kekuta Manneh was left all alone and punished Louisville once more.

When FC Cincinnati had their improbable U.S. Open Cup run to the semifinals in 2017, so many moments along the journey came from small moments – including beating a fourth-tier team in extra time.

Louisville City are not that, obviously. They’re a very good team and reminded Cincinnati of that fact. But it was the little moments – and the extra effort – that sent the Orange and Blue through to the fifth round and their derby rival back home empty-handed.