FC Cincinnati introduced our city to its brand of professional soccer in front of a spectacular crowd at Nippert Stadium on Saturday evening. The hometown team defeated the Charlotte Independence 2-1, led by Cincinnati native Austin Berry’s game winning goal.
Both teams featured the exact same starting eleven as their previous match.
Charlotte Starting Eleven
Charlotte’s starting eleven was listed by position as a 4-4-2 but took the formation of a 4-2-3-1 with Brian Brown as the lead forward supported by Calvert, Herrera and Estrada. Davidson and Ekra protected Charlotte’s back line.
Goalkeeper: Cody Mizell
Back Line: Jack Metcalf, Bilal Duckett, Henry Kalungi, Patrick Slogic
Midfielders: Jun Marques Davidson, Yann Ekra, David Estrada, Jorge Herrera
Forwards: Caleb Calvert, Brian Brown
The dream start for FC Cincinnati supporters became reality through Sean Okoli in the 5th minute of play. Harrison Delbridge lobbed a long ball into the right side of Charlotte’s back line. Charlotte left back Jack Metcalf attempted a headed clearance but sent the ball directly to Corben Bone. Bone took the ball cleanly off his chest and dropped a horizontal ball into Okoli. Okoli took an inspired first touch tapping the ball in the air to himself. He then scissor-kicked it past Mizell’s right for a goal. The strike was an incredible piece of skill and even got the attention of ESPN SportsCenter’s Top 10.
The first half was characterized by open play. Both teams had good opportunities in front of goal. There was a flash point in the 39th minute when Harrison Delbridge and Charlotte center back Henry Kalungi tangled following a corner kick. Delbridge toppled over Kalungi while trying to reach the ball with his head. Both players went to ground and Kalungi appeared to kick out at Delbridge. Despite some pushing and shoving the situation was dissolved and no cautions were issued.
FC Cincinnati finished the first half with 8 total shots to Charlotte’s 6. FC Cincinnati had 8 corner kicks in the first half which highlights the attacking pressure they put on the Charlotte goal.
The start of the second half saw both goalkeepers picking the ball out of the back of their net. FC Cincinnati doubled their lead in the 53rd minute through an Austin Berry goal that I’m half-convinced Jeff Berding devised in a dark conference room a week prior to the game (that’s a joke). Cincinnati native Austin Berry started and finished the move. Charlotte midfielder Yann Ekra tried to thread a pass through to the right side of Charlotte’s front line. Berry intercepted the ball at midfield, passed it to Jimmy McLaughlin, and continued his run into Charlotte’s box. McLaughlin took the ball into space on the left and waited for his runners. He then delivered a delicious curled ball over three Charlotte defenders and onto Berry’s head. Berry dove and stretched to connect with the ball, driving it low past Mizell on his right. You couldn’t have scripted it any better. In front of his hometown crowd, his family and friends, Berry delivered a gorgeous goal to give FC Cincinnati the lead and the eventual win.
Austin Berry on his goal:
“Being from here, scoring that goal was very special for me, but more so for the fans. We’ve looked
forward to this game for a while to reward the fans for their patience and support.”
Charlotte struck back almost immediately using their strength and aerial ability. The goal originated from a corner kick. The corner was initially cleared but was recovered by Charlotte’s Jorge Herrera. Herrera crossed the ball back into the box from FC Cincinnati’s left. The ball found the towering left back Slogic who produced a weak header on goal. Hildebrandt batted it away but the ball was contested and won by Bilal Duckett. He knocked it down to the nearby Estrada who volleyed it into goal from point blank range.
The remainder of the game saw each team substitute in its future stars. FC Cincinnati inserted Omar Mohammed in the 68th minute. Charlotte Independence introduced former UC star Emmanuel Appiah in the 81st. Appiah is on loan to Charlotte from the Colorado Rapids.
Charlotte had a glorious chance to equalize in the 88th minute when a ball fell to substitute Christopher Hellman on the right side of FC Cincinnati’s penalty box. Hellman was completely unaccounted for and struck on goal. His attempt was high and left and that was the last good chance Charlotte would see.
The final minutes of the game saw several hard fouls and three yellow cards. FC Cincinnati held on for the win, opening their season at Nippert in style.
FC Cincinnati outshot Charlotte with an impressive 19 shots on goal, 11 were on target. Sean Okoli, Jimmy McLaughlin, and Andrew Wiedeman each had 4 shots on goal.
83′ – CLT, Yann Ekra – Yellow
90′ – CLT, Bilal Duckett – Yellow
90′ – CIN, Mitch Hildebrandt – Yellow
FC Cincinnati Substitutions
89′ – Paul Nicholson (for Bone)
90′ – Derek Luke (for McLaughlin)
What does it all mean?
After losing their first match, FC Cincinnati are now climbing their way up to the top of the USL’s Eastern Conference standings. They sit in 4th place on 6 points, behind Richmond, Charleston and Louisville City (on goal differential).
This match showcased the free-flowing, attacking soccer that John Harkes advertised. Okoli lit up Nippert with his early scissor-kick special. FC Cincinnati produced nearly twenty shots in the game. Berry had no hesitation to make a half-field run from his defensive position to get on the end of McLaughlin’s ball for the game-winner.
With this attacking style, the team will, at times, leave its defense exposed. While they have yet to keep a clean sheet, they have only conceded one goal in each of the 3 games. Harkes was clear in his Thursday comments that while they are not happy to concede goals, they won’t worry too much if they continue to create quality chances and finish enough of them.
There were some great individual performances. Sean Okoli had a breakout game. In addition to his stunning strike he provided tremendous hold-up play over the 90 minutes. Jimmy McLaughlin looked dangerous again. He produced mazy runs, quality crosses and 4 shots on goal. Berry will get the headlines, and deservedly so, but Harrison Delbridge had another strong performance and played a huge role in stunting Charlotte’s physical attack.
This match was a tremendous advertisement for the game of soccer in Cincinnati. People saw the plan of FC Cincinnati’s VP of Operations, Dan McNally, come to life. Nippert confirmed everyone’s hopes that it could be a great soccer venue. The crowd showed up not only in numbers but with major league passion. Coach Harkes addressed the great fan support in the post-match press conference.
“It’s incredible, the number of fans that were here today,..but it’s not just about the number of fans, it’s how loud they were, and how educated they are. They are such a great fan base. They have really gotten behind the guys right from day one….it’s just a great environment. They key about it is that it’s not a manufactured environment, the people have been dying for this to happen here in Cincinnati. And to be fair we delivered at Nippert Stadium.”
Are there some things to work on? Yes, of course. On the field, there are still challenges with game management and inconsistency in performance over 90 minutes. In the stadium, the team saw some issues with long lines for tickets, concessions and merchandise. On the whole though, the positives for the team and the venue far outweighed the problems. It was truly a night to remember for Cincinnati’s soccer community.
Up next is the big derby match against the horse people from down South. Louisville City FC and the Coopers will come to Nippert next week for a 7pm match on Saturday. The banter between the Supporters groups has been going on for weeks so it’s sure to be an energy-filled affair. Louisville City is coming off a convincing 4-1 victory against Orlando City B (lets take a moment here and be grateful that we don’t have a “B” as part of our team name), setting up an early clash at the top end of USL’s Eastern Conference. Look for Cincinnati Soccer Talk’s match preview this week.
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