Matchday US Open Cup Round of 16: FC Cincinnati vs. Chicago Fire
Nippert Stadium – Attendance: 32,287
Build the statue now. Mitch Hildebrandt belongs in bronze outside a future FC Cincinnati stadium! Heroic, doesn’t do the 28-year-old keeper any justice after his performance Wednesday evening. In a match that went a full 120′ plus penalty kicks, the “Fire Extinguisher” made 10 saves, punched 2 balls away and denied 3 stellar penalties to bring home the win for the Orange & Blue.
To the dismay of many fans, the evening started with a message from FC Cincinnati stating that leading goal scorer Djiby would not play in the Open Cup match due to an ankle injury. Many, including myself, started to dread the match ahead when the starting XI’s dropped. FC Cincinnati decided to sit several key players including Corben Bone, Kenney Walker, Andrew Wiedeman and Jimmy McLaughlin while the Fire included 2 of 3 MLS designated players in their lineup.
In what looked like what could have been a disappointing day, turned into a master-class of strategy from first-year FCC coach Alan Koch. To the casual observer, FC Cincinnati’s bunker strategy in the first half that led to a 78%-22% possession disparity could have looked dull. Instead, I would counter that Koch’s tactics were executed brilliantly and were a big reason FCC was able to take it to Chicago in the second half and extra time.
Over the first 35′, the 2nd-place MLS squad peppered Hildebrandt with 7 shots to Cincinnati’s 1. The Fire put in several close chances in the first half that forced Cincinnati defenders to make emergency stops. The back three of Austin Berry, Justin Hoyte and Harrison Delbridge may have played the game of their lives continuously repelling the Fire attack. Overall Chicago created more chances in the first half but exerted a substantial amount of energy doing so.
Things began to change in the 2nd half. Supported by a raucous Nippert Stadium, Coach Koch’s men began to come at the Fire more creating 12 chances on the Fire goal, up from 5 in the first half. The goal for FC Cincinnati looked to have been reaching the 60′ mark unscathed. Koch would bring on Jimmy McLaughlin in the 66′ who would change the match for Cincinnati. McLaughlin began to run at the back line of Chicago creating several quality chances, but more importantly taking pressure off his own back line. Prior to his substitution, most attacking chances had to come from one of the wing backs playing a ball up to Dacres or König.
FC Cincinnati nearly pulled out a regulation win as midfielder and former Fire player Corben Bone found space on a breakaway. This time, Fire keeper Matt Lampson had a hero moment as he raced toward Bone and deflected the shot as regulation expired.
Another FC Cincinnati sub had a chance to send Cincy home as Andrew Wiedeman looked to have scored a potential winner in the 119′. The forward looked to have been onside as the ball was played in from Corben Bone. Wiedeman beat Lampson far post, whipped his shirt off in a bout of glory, but alas the line judge signaled for offside. ESPN commentator Taylor Twellman would comment later on social media that he believed a VAR would have changed the call.
Extra time would expire and one of the best 5 minutes of pro sports history our city has ever seen was about to go down. The stage was set for FC Cincinnati and Chicago to go into penalties in front of the raucous supporters section known as the Bailey.
FCC would lead off the sudden death experience with Aodhan Quinn taking the first of 5 potential chances for the Orange & Blue. His shot would ring high, but keeper Mitch Hildebrandt would show some magic and deny Fire DP Nemanja Nikolic on the ensuing kick.
Newcomer Josu would confidently bury his kick setting the stage for FCC to take a huge penalty advantage. The star, Hildebrandt would dive to his right on the next Fire chance from Arturo Alvarez sending Nippert into a frenzy. Harrison Delbridge sent his chance into the back of the net leading to the Fire’s 3rd taker to finally get one by Mitch. German international and 2014 World Cup Champion Bastian Schweinsteiger sent his chance right up the middle as he would be the only Fire player to reach the back of the net on the evening.
Jimmy McLaughlin, the 4th taker for FCC would step up and slot home his chance to put Cincinnati up 3-1 with Mitch facing Juninho to deny the MLS club.
Hildebrandt would dive correctly to his left parrying the ball wide to send FC Cincinnati onto the Quarterfinals. Mitch would get mobbed by the entire FCC roster in what was a tear-jerking moment for fans in Nippert.
3 Things to Know
Mitch is the Man: I don’t know how to say it any other way. If I could hug him right now, I would. Wednesday’s performance should draw the attention of many clubs in the US if not the globe. Succeeding on the global stage after having a stellar 2016 season should grab Hildebrandt some offers in the upcoming transfer window. Let’s hope FCC can hold onto their goalkeeping star, but let’s also cherish the performances and time he has given to our city. He deserves his success!
I’m sorry Coach Koch: That is what most supporters, including me, who had some doubts over the past few months are saying after Wednesday night’s win. Yes, the season started slow, but I don’t know many coaches who would have trusted his depth on his squad vs. the HOTTEST team in MLS. He set a solid 120-minute gameplan and it was executed to perfection by his squad. You now see why MLS recommended him to FCC and why Berding was smart to pull the trigger on this change. An even better part about this match is that we will have Walker, Nicholson, Polak, Djiby (maybe) among others completely rested for this weekend. This could set up FCC for success in their upcoming road trip.
Nippert Shines: I don’t know about you, but I thought the building was rocking. Yeah, it took parts of the stadium a half to come alive, but with many new fans in attendance, I was impressed. If MLS doesn’t want FC Cincinnati, that is fine. But I’m not sure what else we can do as fans to show we deserve the big time. Last night was incredible and I cannot wait to welcome the boys back in a week and a half as we host Richmond!
FC Cincinnati Starting XI (3-4-3): Hildebrandt (GK), Berry, Hoyte, Delbridge; Bahner, Dominguez (77′), Quinn, Josu; Dacres, König (102′), Stevenson (66′)
Subs: Williams (GK), Bone (77′), McLaughlin (66’+), McMahon, Nicholson, K. Walker, Wiedeman (102’+)
Chicago Fire Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Lampson (GK), Connor (45′), Kappelhof, Campbell, Vincent; Schweinsteiger, Polster; Alvarez, Juninho, DeLeewu (102′); Nikolic’
Subs: Cleveland (GK), Johnson (102’+), Bronico, Harrington, Mihailovic, Solignac (45’+)
(OPEN CUP QUARTERFINALS) Wednesday 7/12: at Miami FC – 7:30 p.m. EST – Florida International University Riccardo Silva Stadium, Miami, FL.
(LEAGUE) Saturday 7/1 – at Orlando City B – 8:30 p.m. EST – Orlando City Stadium, Orlando, FL.