As an FC Cincinnati fan first and foremost, I want to thank every person, media member, website, news organization, blog or podcast that has covered my favorite club. We are lucky to receive so much coverage and attention nationwide and we should not take it for granted. A big part of our recent recognition has come from this magical US Open Cup run. Wednesday night’s match will receive a variety of story lines, from “Battle for D2” to “Who’s Magic Will Run Out”. Let’s appreciate everything we have experienced so far.
To help cover Wednesday’s US Open Cup Quarterfinal, I wanted to speak to a variety of sources. We chatted with Magic City Soccer on the March to Matchday podcast, but I wanted to give a comprehensive viewpoint from another source. I was lucky to meet Nipun Chopra before the FCC vs. LCFC USOC match. We had spoken through social media many times, but it was great to finally meet the Soc Takes team in person. Nipun, Kevin Johnston, and Aaron Gunyon are the creators of SocTakes.com, a website to covering lower division soccer among other soccer topics in Canada and the United States. Originally Indy Eleven and NASL followers, Soc Takes covers many significant stories in the American soccer landscape that traditional media outlets may overlook.
This group travels the country to watch lower tier soccer including several stops in Cincinnati. I asked Nipun to give his thoughts on this important match and what FC Cincinnati fans may expect. Please check out SocTakes.com, the Soc Takes podcast and their social media to stay up to date with this great outlet. Thank you to Nipun, Kevin and Aaron for taking the time to cover American soccer at all levels and especially Nipun for giving the added insight below. Please enjoy! – Bryan
Guest Take: FC Cincinnati vs. Miami FC – by Nipun Chopra of Soc Takes
Let’s start with the bad news — Miami FC are a (much) better team than FC Cincinnati. But, they are not infallible, and this article will attempt to highlight the strengths of Miami, which FC Cincinnati should be wary of, as well as their weaknesses, which should be the focal point of Alan Koch’s tactical plan.
Koch’s team has shown incredible resilience, bravery, tactical balance and organization to get to the quarterfinal of the US Open Cup. This author has had the privilege of attending every Open Cup game as well as two other games at Nippert Stadium. FC Cincinnati, as an organization, has ownership structure and fan support that is a model for every lower division team in the country. But, this is about on-field stuff.
Let’s start with Miami. Quite simply, Miami FC is the best on-field team in Division II. Why? Well, there are so many reasons.
Whether you’re talking about the fluid 4-3-3 set up by manager Alessandro Nesta – reminiscent of the formation/style of Carlo Ancelotti’s Real Madrid team of three seasons ago. Or, perhaps, you’re referring to the mercurial brilliance of Dylan Mares as the trequartista in midfield. Or, the metronome midfield maestro in regista Richie Ryan. Don’t forget the goal-scoring prowess of French forward Vincenzo Rennella (current NASL player of the month). But, most of all, the free role given to the unstoppable Poku.
Miami FC are capable of hurting opposition teams in multiple ways. They can out-possess you, creating tiny triangles all over the park. They can counter-attack, using the pace of Poku, Rennella or Pinho, with Mares or Lahoud playing laser-like incisive passes. Rennella’s Chicharito-like instincts force defenders to drop deep, while Poku can pick up the ball and run at that same defense, forcing them to push further out. Overlapping wingbacks can whip in crosses, while inverted wingers can cut in and launch 30-yard golazos.
Miami can switch tactical formations in order to counter opposition defenses. Earlier this season, while chasing a lead against Puerto Rico FC, Miami switched to a 2-3-5, and ended up winning the game 3-2. Similarly, they have played 4-4-2, 4-5-1 as well as other systems to mitigate tactical switches by opposition managers.
Oh, and in case you missed it, they beat SF Deltas – their closest challenger in the NASL – by a ridiculous scoreline of 7-0 on Saturday. It was a high-pressure game for them, and they made it look absurdly easy.
I can go on for days about how good this Miami team is. But, I think most of you reading this probably want to know the answer to the following question — “How can FCC beat Miami?” NY Cosmos and North Carolina FC (you know, the-artists-formerly-known-as-Carolina-Railhawks) have taken all three points against Miami, while NCFC and Puerto Rico have managed to steal a point against them. So, obviously, Miami is far from perfect. Here are areas Alan Koch can look to exploit:
- Isolate Dacres against Blake Smith. While Smith – a winger by trade, Smith has done well as an LB largely because of how dominant Miami FC are in possession. But a talented winger like Dacres – who can cut inside as well as stretch the play on the right – may trouble 26-year old Smith.
- Djiby. The talented striker is the sort of player you love having on your team, and hate playing against. Technically gifted, powerful, hungry (cough) and aggressive, Djiby may prove to be a challenge for Miami CBs Rhett Bernstein and Mason Trafford. In particular, if Dacres can drag Blake Smith out of position, it would allow Djiby to exploit the space left behind. The Senegalese striker’s awareness of space behind opposition back lines is a joy to behold, and with Miami consistently playing a high back line to facilitate their possession football, Djiby’s movement could cause problems.
- Start Bahner. During the win against Columbus Crew, Bahner’s cross-field passes to Djiby unlocked Columbus’ defense on four different occasions. That is worth its weight in gold.
- Do not man-mark Miami’s front line. This would be disastrous. As was clear during the loss against Tampa Bay Rowdies, FC Cincinnati’s defensive line can fall apart as soon as forwards interchange their positions. And newsflash, Miami FC’s forward line is far more talented than Rowdies’ (Yes, I know who Joe Cole is, thanks for asking).
- Switch to a back four? Hear me out. Koch’s tactical switch to a back three (truthfully, a back five) against Crew caught everyone off-guard. It completely threw off Crew’s plan and resulted in a game where Crew barely created a chance until the final five minutes. What if Koch does the reverse here? Having played a back five since the Crew game, perhaps a tactical surprise would throw off Miami’s game plan. Additionally, it would allow FC Cincy to throw another player in midfield. Which brings me to my most important point.
- Man-mark Richie Ryan. I cannot stress this enough; if you shut Richie Ryan down, you take away the centerpiece of Nesta’s system. Yes, you might think it is absurd to man-mark a holding midfielder. But, a midfielder/attacker (the one who comes in after switching to a back 4) who can put in a shift – Konig or Wiedemann perhaps – would be tasked with pressuring Ryan whenever the Irish midfielder had the ball. This would force Miami to go direct, and by-pass their talented midfield. Putting pressure on Ryan would also lead to increased chances of turnovers in midfield – which would allow Djiby/Dacres/Konig to capitalize.
- Hildebrandt – because, duh.
So, yes, there are ways to beat Miami. But, having secured the spring title on Saturday, expect Nesta to play a strong squad on Wednesday night; as their trip to SF is a dead rubber at this point. Koch, on the other hand, started a very strong team on Sunday and will be forced to rotate as he looks ahead to playing local rivals Louisville City on Saturday. Three games in six days is a tough turnaround for any team.
In conclusion, this author considers FC Cincinnati severe underdogs against Miami -especially away from home. But, hey, if Cincy has proven one thing in the US Open Cup this season, it’s that every underdog has its day.