With wins over Ft. Wayne and Dayton, Kings Hammer FC (8-2-3) qualified for the USL League Two Playoffs in its first season. The regular season comes to a close today in a match against the South Bend Lions. The previous match at South Bend this season ended in a 0-0 draw.
With at least a third-place finish locked up, there’s a good chance that KHFC rests a few names we are used to seeing in the lineup. While the Great Lakes division is the best division in USL League Two top to bottom, the competition in the playoffs will be fierce and will be on the road for KHFC as well. The playoff format doesn’t offer home matches to higher seeds, so no matter where KHFC place in the top three of the division, it will be heading on the road.
First place is still up for grabs though. Kings Hammer could win the division with a win and a Ft. Wayne victory over Kalamazoo later today. Coach Paul Nicholson has a very interesting situation to handle. A win puts his team in a spot to possibly win the division championship. Resting his players now may help him win the league Championship.
About today’s opponent: South Bend Lions
South Bend is in its first season of USL League Two play. Its record coming into today’s match is 5-5-3, in the middle of the division table. South Bend is a very solid defensive team and will look to keep Kings Hammer from putting goals in off of its dangerous set-pieces.
South Bend gives up a lot of its goals in the second half — 11 of the 15 allowed. Only three teams in the division gave up fewer goals this season than South Bend. All three of those teams are playoff-bound — Flint City, Kalamazoo and Kings Hammer.
Nana Tuffour leads South Bend with five goals on the season. The midfielder hails from Ghana. Tuffour played at Avon Old Farms Prep School in Connecticut. New England Soccer Journal has featured the Prep School multiple times. He will definitely be a player to watch, as he is expected to travel with the team today.
Rain, Rain, Go Away!
There’s rain in the forecast yet again for today’s match, but that shouldn’t keep you from wanting to come out and celebrate with Cincinnati’s USL Two Squad. Kings Hammer FC has done something this season that most teams don’t do, and that is make the playoffs in its first season in existence. Some forecasts show that the sky is going to clear around the 4 p.m. kickoff at Xavier’s Corcoran Field.
Coach of the Year?
There has to be some discussion about Nicholson for USL Two Coach of the Year, right? If not, let’s start it here. If you know Nicholson, you know the gaffer isn’t interested in talking about his own accomplishments. Nothing that happened on the field is a result of his preparation of the team as much as it is its ability to make plays. Yet when the team isn’t playing well, he’s the first one to take the blame. That’s just one of the many things that makes him a candidate for coach of the year.
Looking at the roster at the beginning of the season, there were a few players that were highlighted as key roster pieces to Kings Hammer FC’s success, and those players didn’t even all play this season. Reece Hands isn’t with the team, and Kenney Walker didn’t play nearly as many matches as we would have expected going into the season. While Walker played a solid match against Dayton, he’s been out with a nagging injury. Despite this, Kings Hammer still qualified for the playoffs.
Is there a team MVP?
Danny Barlow: If you took a look at the stats, you could make an argument that Danny Barlow is by far the MVP of this squad this season. Barlow has four goals and five assists. That isn’t what makes him the MVP though. He’s one of the most vocal and versatile players on the field. The 5-foot-8 Barlow is at times the “biggest” man on the field, even with 6-4 teammates standing next to him. He wants the ball, and he’s not afraid to go get it from the opponent. His physical play and determination make him a leading candidate for MVP this season. He’s also played over 1,000 minutes this summer.
Lalas Ayertey: Three words can be used to describe Ayertey: cool, calm and collected. Lalas does a great job as a holding midfielder for this squad, and in 774 minutes his job doesn’t often show on the stat sheet. He has one goal on the season but often times would have the “hockey assist” (the pass that leads to the assist). Quietly doing his job for the squad and making plays has to put Ayertey in this conversation.
Jared Brown: When the season started, there was some expectation that the squad could be seeing more of a goalkeeper-by-committee in 2021. Jared Brown has stepped up and taken charge of the 18-yard box for Kings Hammer FC this season. With 900 minutes in 10 matches, Brown has completed every match that he has started in. While he has given up 13 goals, he’s made 45 saves. The thing that doesn’t show on the stat sheet though is the saves in critical situations. There have been a number of games where Brown has been called upon to make big stops. He had two clean sheets on the season (Toledo and South Bend) and was an extra-time penalty kick away from a third at Flint City.
Kings Hammer FC needs you to come out and be the “12th man” this afternoon. Grab your poncho, grab a drum if you have one and come to Xavier’s Corcoran field for the 4 p.m. match and make some noise. Tickets are still available to watch your Cincinnati Kings Hammer FC take on the Lions from South Bend.
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