Before moving on to the second leg of Hell is Real, FC Cincinnati must first face a quality opponent in New York City FC at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday. This fixture at Nippert Stadium begins a stretch where FC Cincinnati plays six of its last nine matches at home to finish out its inaugural MLS campaign. FCC faced NYCFC earlier this season in June at Yankee Stadium, falling 5-2. While FC Cincinnati technically scored two goals in this match, they were both own goals scored by NYCFC.
FC Cincinnati enters this match with a 5-17-3 record, still in 12th place in the Eastern Conference standings. Even though the club still has the least amount of points so far this season, there are certain key aspects that have the club trending up.
First, FC Cincinnati appeared to have a true identify and style of play during the first leg of the Hell is Real Derby on Saturday under new coach Ron Jans. Despite the inability to keep the intensity all the way up for 90 minutes, it was a refreshing change of pace from what fans have seen so far this season. Next, the players FC Cincinnati acquired during the summer transfer window have shown their value. Maikel van der Werff and Andrew Gutman have helped anchor a dismal back line that has allowed a league-worst 57 goals, and late additions Joseph-Claude Gyau and Derrick Etienne Jr. showed their explosiveness on the wings late in the match against Columbus. Combine these two factors with the fact that six of its last nine matches are at Nippert to close out the season, and it is not impossible to see how FC Cincinnati can pick up some much-needed points down the stretch.
Going into the second match of the Jans era, it is possible to see some changes in the starting XI and 18. Defender Greg Garza and midfielder Fatai Alashe have practiced with the team this week, giving the indication that both are closer to returning to game action sooner rather than later. While seeing these two practicing with the full squad is encouraging, it still seems unlikely that either player would start on Saturday against NYCFC. However, there is a possibility that Garza and/or Alashe could find themselves in the 18.
Striker Fanendo Adi is still performing side drills during practice, meaning that he still has a little bit to go before he returns to the field on match day. Expect Darren Mattocks to once again fill the No. 9 role against NYCFC on Saturday. It is possible that new additions Gyau or Etienne Jr could see their role upgraded from the bench into the starting lineup for FC Cincinnati. The speed and athleticism that both players exhibit on the pitch are valuable in the system that Jans orchestrates on the pitch.
New York City FC enters this match in fourth place in the Eastern Conference Standings with a record of 10-5-8. Over the course of its last five matches, NYCFC has gone 3-2-0. More specifically, NYCFC has not performed as well as expected on the road, only posting a road record of 4-4-4 in 12 matches. Despite the fact that NYCFC is sitting right in the middle of the playoff race, fans should not expect complacency from the Bronx Blues, as they are fighting to host a first-round playoff match.
NYCFC has several players on its team that can produce goals. Forwards Herber, Valentin Castellanos and Alexandru Mitrita have paved the road for NYCFC this season, with Herber scoring 10 goals, Castellanos tallying seven goals, and Mitrita knocking home six goals. Maximiliano Moralez has distributed the ball spectacularly this season, leading NYCFC with 14 assists, third-most in MLS. Starting goalkeeper Sean Johnson has six clean sheets for NYCFC so far this season but has not recorded a shutout since May 11 against the LA Galaxy.
This match against NYCFC gives the Orange and Blue the chance to continue to build upon the success that they experienced during their first match under Jans. If FC Cincinnati can press well and distribute the ball consistently for 90 minutes, there is a good chance that it could leave Nippert on Saturday with three points for the first time under Ron Jans.