On a cold windy Sunday afternoon, FC Cincinnati defeated fellow USL expansion team Bethlehem Steel 2-1 at Lehigh University’s Goodman Stadium in front of a crowd of 3,665.
FC Cincinnati set up in a 4-3-3 formation. They featured the exact same personnel that started last week in their defeat to the Charleston Battery. Center back Harrison Delbridge and goalkeeper Mitch Hildebrandt both started the game despite suffering injuries in the prior match.
Bethlehem Steel countered with a 4-5-1 formation. The Steel are a newly-formed “MLS 2” or farm club for the Philadelphia Union. The Union loaned seven players to Bethlehem Steel for the match. Six of the seven started (in bold below).
Goalkeeper: John McCarthy
Defense: Ryan Richter, Joshua Yaro, Michael Daly, Taylor Washington
Midfield: Bolu Akinyode, Derrick Jones, Leo Fernandes, Erik Ayuk, Walter Restrepo
Forwards: Gabe Gissie
The Steel made two changes to the lineup that defeated FC Montreal last week. They replaced James Chambers with Derreck Jones, a highly-touted Ghanaian and Union academy product. They also started Liberian striker Gabe Gissie. Gissie replaced Fabian Herbers who was with the Union for their match in Chicago. Surprisingly absent was Jamaican international Cory Burke who many expected to start at forward.
Bethlehem Steel started the game fast and pinned FC Cincinnati back early. They were encouraged by support from a crowd who had come to see the team’s first ever home match. The Steel’s athletic midfield asserted themselves and created several chances supported by wide play from left midfielder Walter Restrepo and right back Ryan Richter. Their best chance came in the 20th minute when Richter overlapped down the right. He provided a delicious cross for Gissie, who attempted to head the ball into goal from close range but was millimeters short of connecting.
In the 25th minute, FC Cincinnati countered against the run of play. Andrew Wiedeman tangled with Steel defender Taylor Washington deep on the right side of the field. Wiedeman was dispossessed but the ball squirted out to Kenney Walker. Walker returned the ball to Wiedeman who drove horizontally across the box, used a defender as a shield, and struck low to the near post beating Steel goalkeeper McCarthy for 1-0.
FC Cincinnati doubled their lead in the 35th minute in a move that featured stunning combination play between Wiedeman and Okoli at the top of the box. Okoli back-heeled a pass from just outside the box to Wiedeman. The California native took a clever touch and slotted Okoli through on goal. Okoli finished to the right of the keeper from point-blank range. The goal-scoring move was close to offside, but no flag was raised. Savor the USL’s tweet of the goal here.
Despite a shaky start the Cincinnati side went into halftime ahead 2-0 and looked to be cruising to victory.
FC Cincinnati controlled the first 20 minutes of the second half with a possession passing game and quality defense. The frenetic pace of the first half subsided and few chances were created. Bethlehem then made two substitutions that impacted the game. Midfielder James Chambers (62′) replaced Derrick Jones and forward Seku Conneh replaced fellow Liberian Gabe Gissie. The Steel showed renewed energy, grew into the game and started to threaten FC Cincinnati’s goal.
The Steel’s hopes of a comeback were dented in the 80th minute when defensive midfielder Bolu Akinyode was sent off for a second yellow card. A contested ball went out of play for a throw in. FC Cincinnati substitute Antoine Hoppenot picked up the ball, but the throw in was awarded to Bethlehem. Hoppenot threw the ball away to gain a few extra seconds and get back in defense. Akinyode took exception to the tactic, confronted Hoppenot and pushed him in the face. The referee gave a yellow card to both players. Akinyode had already received a card ten minutes prior and was therefore sent off, reducing Bethlehem to 10 men.
Despite being shorthanded, the Steel threw everyone forward in an attempt to get back into the game. The Cincinnati defense held for 10 minutes but in the 90th minute Bethlehem made a breakthrough. After a short corner Walter Restrepo crossed a ball into the box from FC Cincinnati’s right. The ball was contested in the air and fell to midfielder Erik Ayuk who acrobatically looped the ball over GK Hildebrant for Bethlehem’s first goal.
The game ended with a flurry of opportunities for the Steel who pushed for an equalizer. Bethlehem nearly completed the comeback in the 92nd minute when substitute Missimo fired a ball across goal from close range. The ball found the head of Ryan Richter who contorted his body to connect with a ball that was slightly behind him. He redirected it toward goal and past Hildebrandt but the ball hit the top corner of the goalpost and was cleared by Cincinnati.
Despite a nervy finish, the defense held and FC Cincinnati earned its first ever victory on the road against a quality Bethlehem Steel side.
40′ Kenney Walker – yellow
69′ Bolu Akinyode – yellow
80′ Bolu Akinyode – 2nd yellow/red
80′ Antoine Hoppenot – yellow
FC Cincinnati Substitutions:
74′ Antoine Hoppenot (replaced Sean Okoli)
83′ Omar Mohammed (replaced Andrew Wiedeman)
88′ Derek Luke (replaced Pat McMahon)
What does it all mean?
This was a hard-earned but well deserved win for FC Cincinnati. They faced a team heavy with MLS level talent on the road and won. It was a relief to see the FC Cincinnati attack produce results in the first half of a game. In each of their preseason games and against Charleston last week, FC Cincinnati failed to score in the first half. The front three combined well against Bethlehem and are starting to gel. McLaughlin was again full of threatening runs and energy. Okoli did what a number 9 should do and stuck the ball in the back of the net. Andrew Wiedeman had a man-of-the-match worthy performance producing a well taken goal and an assist.
It looks like Harkes has settled on his starting 11 and formation. He certainly will still tinker and make changes based on the opposition and results, but these eleven look like the baseline he will work from.
This game was odd in that it alternated between periods where FC Cincinnati was under extreme pressure and periods where they controlled with their passing game. It should not be totally surprising that they are not yet producing consistent play over a full 90 minute game. This game confirmed an old soccer adage. The most important factor in determining the winner of a game is which team capitalizes on the goal-scoring opportunities they create. While many other factors go into a result, this has been and always will be the most important. The result of this game could have been very different if Bethlehem had scored on one or two of their early chances. Both teams had several good chances to score in this game. FC Cincinnati took their chances when it mattered and therefore got the three points.
Another interesting factor in this game was the field at Goodman Stadium. The natural grass field was cut a bit long and you could see players struggling to correctly weigh passes. Steel coach Brenden Burke actually complained about it in his half time comments. The field definitely slowed FC Cincinnati’s passing game and their lightning-quick front three. It will be interesting to see if they find it easier to get behind the opposition’s defense when they play on Nippert’s fast artificial surface.
The home opener is next on Saturday April 9th at 7pm! The FC Cincinnati squad will return home for their inaugural match at Nippert Stadium against the Charlotte Independence. Charlotte (1-1-0) is coming off of a 2-1 home win against the Harrisburg City Islanders. It is also the first match of the two leg Queen City Cup. Make sure you are there to represent your city and your team at its first home game! Get you tickets at the FC Cincinnati website or by calling 513-977-KICK. There is also a FREE friendly between FC Cincinnati and the University of Dayton Mens Soccer team Tuesday, April 5th at 8pm.
@walkermichaelg for @cincysoccertalk
READ MORE from Cincinnati Soccer Talk:
Tough Loss to Start, FC Cincinnati Preps for Bethlehem Steel
Staff Predictions: Bethlehem Steel vs FC Cincinnati