FC Cincinnati was defeated in its opening match of the USL season by a heartbreaking 94th minute goal from Charleston Battery’s substitute Jamaican forward Romario Williams. The match kickoff was delayed 45 minutes due to a strong weather system that traveled through the Charleston area Saturday evening.
Before we get to the match report, we must tackle an administrative matter. After much debate between Cincinnati Soccer Talk staff we assembled a marketing panel, three PhDs, and a member of the Vatican to convene and they agreed that all Cincinnati Soccer Talk match reports will display the home team first whether in written or logo format. Now that that’s settled, on to the match.
Starting Lineups and Formations
FC Cincinnati set up in the following formation reported as a 4-3-3:
Goalkeeper: Mitch Hildebrandt
Defense: (R-L): Pat McMahon, Harrison Delbridge, Austin Berry, Tyler Polak
Midfield: Kenney Walker, Corben Bone, Ross Tomaselli
Front 3: Andrew Wiedeman, Sean Okoli, Jimmy McLaughlin
Substitutions: 45′ Paul Nicholson (for Harrison Delbridge), 63′ Antoine Hoppenot (for Andrew Wiedeman), 86′ Luke Spencer (for Sean Okoli), 88 Omar Mohammed (for Jimmy McLaughlin)
NOTE: USL teams are allowed 5 substitutions per match! Really? Yes, really.
Charleston Battery Starting 11: Charleston Battery set up in a 4-4-2, with Cuban Heviel Cordoves serving as the lead striker with Garbanzo dropping back into midfield to pick up the ball and play-make.
Goalkeeper: Alexandros Tambakis
Defense: (R-L): Taylor Mueller, Shawn Ferguson, Forrest Lasso, O’Brian Woodbine
Midfield: Zack Prince, Justin Portillo, Attaullah Guerra, Maikel Chang
Forwards: Ricky Garbanzo, Heviel Cordoves
FC Cincinnati set up in a formation which was reported as a 4-3-3 but looked more like a 4-2-3-1 as the match took shape, with Walker and Tomaselli as the holding midfielders and Wiedeman, Bone and McLaughlin supporting Okoli as the striker.
Disjointed play characterized the first ten minutes of the game as players struggled to cope with the waterlogged conditions. Players often opted to play longer balls in the air because it was difficult to measure the distance of passes played over the water-pooled surface. Charleston started the game brightly, pressed Cincinnati high and looked dangerous on several occasions during the opening twenty minutes.
There were claims for a penalty kick as early as the 4th minute when Charleston striker Heviel Cordoves got his feet tangled with Austin Berry after getting through on goal. Both players went down but no foul was awarded.
A second quality chance came for Charleston in the 11th minute when Cordoves launched a 20+ yard left-footed blast from beyond the right side of the box that hit the inside of the left post. The ball was cleared but either chance could have easily resulted in the opening goal.
The Cincinnati side grew into the match. Tyler Polak, who took most of FC Cincinnati’s set pieces delivered a quality near post corner kick in the 20th minute which found Andrew Wiedeman’s glancing head near the 6 yard box, but the contact was not true and ball looped over the crossbar for a goal kick.
Minutes later Tyler Polak again delivered a free kick. This time it was the result of a foul on Okoli 15 yards outside of the box on the right. Harrison Delbridge went forward into the Charleston box to provide an aerial presence. Delbridge tried to get on the end of the lobbed free kick from Polak, slipping in the box and apparently injuring his back. Play was stopped shortly thereafter and he received treatment for several minutes but was able to continue for the remainder of the half. He was eventually substituted at halftime and replaced by Englishman Paul Nicholson.
In the 37th minute, Charleston showed good passing and combination play through the midfield trio of Guerra, Chang and Prince. Guerra started the move on the left after the ball was turned over by FC Cincinnati on a throw-in. Guerra passed to Chang who overlapped to the left. Chang in-turn slid a ball from the left through traffic to Prince who was stationed at the top of the 18 yard box. Prince dribbled past one defender then tried to tap the ball around Delbridge and through on goal for a 1-on-1 with the keeper, but Delbridge got a piece of it and the chance was gone.
The first half ended scoreless, like each first half in FC Cincinnati’s preseason. Charleston had the better chances but FC Cincinnati finished stronger and demonstrated better passing and possession.
FC Cincinnati continued its good play into the second half.
Kenny Walker nearly scored in the 47th minute from a set piece originating from the right side of the field. He fizzed a low penetrating ball into the box which took a deflection and flashed past the Charleston left post.
In the 61st minute Andrew Wiedeman nearly produced a goal to take the lead, benefitting from an oustanding 50 yard Ross Tomaselli pass from the back. Tomaselli’s long ball found Wiedeman streaking diagonally to the right toward the Charleston goal. Weideman drove on goal with a defender closing and released a low right-footed blast which Charleston goalkeeper Tambakis parried away to the right of the post.
Another great opportunity for FC Cincinnati was missed when a 65th minute corner kick to the back post was headed into the middle by substitute Paul Nicholson. The ball found Jimmy McLaughlin who headed it down just wide of the left post.
FC Cincinnati saw periods of good passing and possession during the second half. The distribution from the back from Walker and Tomaselli was the foundation on which most of the attacks were built.
In the 69th minute, Charleston replaced Heviel Cordoves with Jamaican striker Romario Williams who is on loan to Charleston from MLS side Montreal Impact. The substitution would prove pivotal to the match outcome.
A few good late opportunities fell to the Charleston Battery side. In the 76th minute Okoli lost possession deep on the FC Cincinnati left. Charleston’s #20 Portillo recovered it and lobbed a cross into the penalty area. Paul Nicholson was first to the ball but appeared to handle it while attempting to bring it down. The referee made no call for handball much to the chagrin of the gesturing Charleston players.
Another great opportunity for the Battery presented itself in the 78th minute. Tyler Polak lost possession in an advanced position on FC Cincinnati’s left. Charleston’s deep lying #10 Guerra quickly played a through ball to Romario Williams who showed blazing speed to get through on goal. Mitch Hildebrandt charged out of goal to shut down the opportunity with Nicholson wrestling to pressure Williams’ shot. Nicholson caught Hildebrandt’s head with his knee after the shot was blocked. The keeper was down for several minutes but received treatment and was ok to continue. Charleston again hit the post in 84th minute through a Guerra strike that went through Austin Berry’s legs.
The match concluded dramatically in stoppage time. Charleston broke down the left side of the field on their last attack of the game. Chang played the ball from the left side of midfield out to the left flank for overlapping fullback O’Brian Woodbine. Woodbine slotted a low ball into the left corner of the 6 yard box for Williams. Williams cushioned the entry pass with his right foot setting up his left to slot a low ball past Hildebrandt at the near post from a very acute angle. Charleston 1 – FC Cincinnati 0.
There was no time left to recover, and FC Cincinnati suffered its first ever defeat in its first competitive match in USL to the Charleston Battery.
FC Cincinnati finished the match with 10 total shots, 3 of which were on target. Charleston had 7 shots, 2 on target.
What does it all mean?
Despite the hopeless feelings that come after losing a match in the final seconds of play, FC Cincinnati and their fans can take a lot of positives from the match.
First, Charleston are a quality team and are the best home side in the USL. FC Cincinnati acquitted itself very well given the opposition and the challenging conditions under which the game was played. They created several good chances and could easily have won this game with a little more luck and better finishing.
Second, several players shined. Jimmy McLaughlin was a highlight for the team throughout the match and looked dangerous on the left hand side producing good runs, combination play and a team high 4 shots over the course of the 90 minutes. Walker and Tomaselli protected the back line well and were the foundation from which FC Cincinnati built their attack. Despite the loss of Harrison Delbridge at half time, the back line held for 94 minutes against a very good Charleston team that is almost unbeatable at home.
Finally, the team demonstrated the attractive passing brand of soccer it is trying to play and looked like a team that could not only compete with some of USL’s best competition, but top them.
FC Cincinnati even received plaudits from the Charleston Battery via Twitter for the fine performance they displayed in their opening match.
They’re good. I think everyone here agrees. https://t.co/f7ckbLMP3A
— Charleston Battery (@Chas_Battery) March 27, 2016
The only real concerns that come out of this match are the health of two key defensive players, Harrison Delbridge and Mitch Hildebrandt. Both were injured during the match. Delbridge left after 45 minutes due to an apparent back injury. Hildebrandt’s head injury came late and he endured the rest of the match. Both players appear to be firmly rooted in FC Cincinnati’s first team and will be missed if they are unable to start next week’s match.
On to Bethlehem, PA next week for a matchup with Bethlehem Steel. The match is on Sunday, April 3rd at 3pm. The Philadelphia Union affiliate and first year club won its first match 1-0 away to Montreal Impact II. During that match they demonstrated defensive solidity and showcased a host of talented midfielders. The match can again be watched on the USL Youtube stream.
A special thanks goes to Ross Almers Photography for providing the match images in this post.
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