Nippert Stadium – Attendance: 25,735
Result: FC Cincinnati 2, Pittsburgh Riverhounds 1
Fanendo Adi picked the right time for his first FC Cincinnati goal.
Reversing course and splitting defenders, Adi slotted home the game-winner in the 88th minute to cap a comeback and give the Orange and Blue a 2-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Riverhounds on Saturday at Nippert Stadium. The three points give FCC 60 for the season — 13 clear of Louisville City — clinch a playoff spot for the club and extend its unbeaten streak to 16 matches.
“I’m very, very proud of him,” FCC coach Alan Koch said of Adi. “This hasn’t been an easy adjustment for him. He’s fought every single day and set himself and his teammates up for success, and you can see a lot of pressure was released. It was a great goal by a great player.”
Said Adi of the goal: “I saw two defenders back when (Kenney) Walker played the ball into me, If I could make a step to the ball and run behind and the defender doesn’t touch the ball, then I’m on goal. I was lucky enough that came true. I just looked for a very tight angle to get a shot off my leg. The space opened, I got a shot off and luckily it went in.”
Saturday’s match against Pittsburgh had a playoff-type atmosphere, with the Riverhounds in third place. The two teams meet again in Pittsburgh on Oct. 6, a week before the regular season ends.
“Honestly, tonight felt like it had a little something extra, just a different buzz about it,” FCC goalkeeper Spencer Richey said. “(Club president and general manager) Jeff Berding comes in and gives us his ‘I don’t love Pittsburgh’ speech before the game and kind of get us up a little bit more before the game. Honestly, they outplayed us for most of the game tonight, but you don’t go two or three months unbeaten without finding ways to win when teams outplay you, so tonight was one of those games. You got to find ways to win.”
It was a defensive battle in the first half. Pittsburgh coach Bob Lilley kept leading scorer Neco Brett out of the starting lineup in favor of a more defensive approach, and it worked.
The Riverhounds were content to let FCC control possession — which the Orange and Blue did with 67.5 percent of it in the first half — and fire on counter attacks. FCC mustered just three first-half shots.
Pittsburgh peppered Spencer Richey’s goal early and had an opportunity to take the lead when Forrest Lasso was called for a foul in the box for a penalty in the 49th minute. But Kay Banjo sent the penalty kick high over goal.
“There was one in the first half that very well could have been called,” Richey said. “I actually didn’t think the one in the second half was a penalty. I thought Forrest got a signifcant touch on the ball.”
Pittsburgh broke through in the 57th minute on a laser from Romeo Parkes for a 1-0 lead. It marked the first time in 1,161 minutes that FCC trailed in a match — dating all the way back to the 66th minute on June 13 in a 2-2 draw against Bethlehem.
The key to fighting back was players managing moments, Koch said.
“The players — individual moments by the players — it wasn’t easy playing against another team that’s at the top of the table,” Koch said. “They’re a very, very good team, and they showed that. They made it difficult for us.
“They suffered a little bit during the course of the game. It was tough — Pittsburgh’s very, very good. But when you weather that and you have individual moments of class that allow you to win the game, the guys deserve to enjoy it.”
Shortly after Pittsburgh took the lead, Koch made some changes. In the hopes of jumpstarting the offense, he brought on Michael Lahoud in the 66th minute for Pa Konate and switched from a 4-2-3-1 to a 3-5-2.
“Once you’re trailing, especially at home, you’re going to go for it,” Richey said. “If you’re going to lose, you might as well lose 3-0.”
Jimmy McLaughlin came in for Fatai Alashe in the 72nd minute, and Adi entered right behind him, replacing Danni Konig.
FCC’s fireworks came in the final 10 minutes. Dekel Keinan headed home a free kick from Emmanuel Ledesma in the 80th minute, and after an earlier miss, Adi scored as the match neared second-half stoppage time.
Dig down with a deficit
It had been awhile since FCC trailed in a match but that wouldn’t last forever. Switching to a 3-5-2 and bringing on some offensive-minded subs paid instant dividends.
Welcome to Cincinn-Adi
Adi had come so close to a goal in his first few appearances since coming to Cincinnati in the transfer window as an MLS Designated Player. The timing on his first goal was impeccable.
March to the Playoffs
FCC clinched a playoff berth for the third straight season. There’s some business to take care of between now and then, but expectations will be high for a franchise that has been bounced in the first round the prior two seasons.
FC Cincinnati Starting XI: Spencer Richey (GK), Justin Hoyte, Forrest Lasso, Pa Konate, Dekel Keinan (goal 80′), Kenney Walker, Corben Bone, Nazmi Albadawi, Emmanuel Ledesma, Fatai Alashe, Danni König
Subs: Evan Newton, Tyler Gibson, Emery Welshman, Jimmy McLaughlin (72′ Alashe), Michael Lahoud (66′ Konate), Fanendo Adi (75′ König, goal 88′), Sem de Wit
Pittsburgh Riverhounds Starting XI: Michael Kirk (GK), Hugh Roberts, Joseph Greenspan, Tobi Adewole, Jordan Dover, Romeo Parkes (goal 57′), Christiano Francois, Thomas Vancaeyezeele, Mouhamed Dabo, Kenardo Forbes, Kay Banjo
Subs: Benjamin Fitzpatrick, Ben Zemanski (78′ Parkes), Andrew Lubahn, Nathan Ingham, Neco Brett (70′ Francois), Dennis Chin (90′ Greenspan), Todd Pratzner
PIT — Romeo Parkes 57′
CIN — Dekel Keinan 80′
CIN — Fanendo Adi 88′
Next USL Match: Louisville City FC vs. FC Cincinnati – Sat. Sept. 8 – 7:30 PM (EST) – Slugger Field, Louisville, Ky.