FCC Classics with Gracin: Mitch Says No!

This is the second piece in a new series from @GracinFCC. The series of articles will involve games that were considered “FC Cincinnati Classic Matches”. While the club is entering it’s 7th season, there have still been many exciting moments, with many more to come. Enjoy the walk through memory lane, and take in some of the greatest moments that will forever be etched in Orange and Blue.

2017 was a year of transition for FC Cincinnati. After the firing of John Harkes, assistant coach Alan Koch took control of the club, and was ready to continue success for the city. After finishing 3rd the previous year, the expectation would be to raise the bar, and introduce the rest of the nation to the club.

One of the key ways to gain success would be through the US Open Cup, as the club would have the opportunity to compete with MLS sides, if they advanced through the early rounds. After a win over Cleveland to start the cup campaign, they continued with a win over Louisville, and a win in the inaugural “Hell is Real” derby over Columbus Crew.

After proceeding through to the round of 16, the limelight was on the Orange and Blue as they would face the Chicago Fire. ESPN was live at Nippert Stadium, and the entire nation would be watching the matchup. It was a chance for FC Cincinnati to climb into the quarterfinals of the biggest soccer tournament in the country.

In the latest article in a new series for Cincy Soccer Talk, we’re continuing through to the second piece in the new series of articles, showcasing games that are key in the club’s history. Previously, the match covered was against the Portland Timbers, and you can find it here.

Lineup (3-4-3):

Mitch Hildebrandt
Austin Berry
Justin Hote
Harrison Delbridge
Matt Bahner
Marco Dominguez
Aodhan Quinn
Kadeem Dacres
Danni Konig
Eric Stevenson

Throughout the cup run at the time, FC Cincinnati was looking more and more confident to impress the nation. The lineup was named, and the quarterfinals of the US Open Cup were underway in Cincinnati, Ohio. History was being made, and so was a golden opportunity to go down in infamy.

The intensity was quite expeditious, as FC Cincinnati were attacking quickly, hoping to capitalize early on. In the 6th minute, Josu ripped a shot from outside of the 18, just flying past Matt Lampson’s goal.

Chicago were looking to respond, and after an early chance, continued to make their way down the field and towards the goal. In the 15th minute, Arturo Alvarez made a pass to Bastian Schweinsteiger, who returned the pass. Just before Michael de Leeuw could pounce on the chance, Matt Bahner cleared the ball away.

Just two minutes later, a corner was played short, and as the ball was crossed in, it deflected around a couple of times. After five deflections around in the box, Matt Polster half-volleyed it towards the goal, before it was deflected away by Matt Bahner.

A couple of chances on both ends were never taken care of, and in the 37th minute, Danni Konig found himself through on goal, before being denied by Matt Lampson. The club continued to push, but the halftime whistle was sounded, and things stood even, 0-0.

Throughout the second half, the Orange and Blue struggled to find themselves in the opposition’s half, and were forced to defend in their own. In the 63rd minute, Alvarez crossed the ball into Solignac, who left it for Nikolic, but his shot was saved by Mitch Hildebrandt, who said no.

The second half continued on, and FC Cincy were able to make some more chances. The best one for the club came in the 91st minute, when Corben Bone was denied by Matt Lampson. The intensity continued, but the referee signaled for full time. Cincinnati and Chicago couldn’t be separated.

Near the end of the first half of extra time, Mitch Hildebrandt came up big again, saving Nikolic’s shot. Just three minutes into the second half of extra time, the floodgates opened. After an efficient exchange of passes, Corben Bone played the ball into Andrew Wiedeman, who slid it past Matt Lampson.

As the Bailey was roaring, the referees decided to intervene, and the goal was called for offsides. To the dismay of the fans and the players, the feeling of glory would still have to wait a little while. The match proceeded to 0-0, and after 120 minutes, it would be time for a penalty shootout. A golden chance would have to be decided in the most thrilling of ways.

Aodhan Quinn was first to walk up to the spot, and as he ran up, he put the ball well over the goal. A deficient way to start the shootout, as things would have to become more difficult.

Nemanja Nikolic now had the chance to take the lead over the Orange and Blue, but his shot was heroically saved by Mitch Hildebrandt. The Bailey was roaring above him, and Nikolic walked away in consternation.

Josu stepped up to the spot, and slotted the ball down the middle of the goal for FC Cincy to take the lead in the shootout. Meanwhile, Alvarez stepped up for Chicago, and Mitch Hildebrandt again said no, saving the shot in the left side of the goal.

Now it was Harrison Delbridge’s turn to take the penalty, the club’s third of the shootout. With tranquility, he placed the ball in the left side of the goal, putting the club up 2-0. Bastian Schweinsteiger stepped up to the goal after him, and slotted it down the middle, shushing the crowd. 2-1 now, but FCC was still leading.

Jimmy McLaughlin stepped up, and slotted the ball down the left side of the goal again, pumping up the crowd as they prepared for a pivotal moment in the match. It was time for Juninho to keep the match going, or end it.

As Mitch Hildebrandt stood at his goal watching, the crowd was singing his signature “Mitch Says No” chant, and awaiting a potentially vital moment. The quick run up, and the shot was blasted towards the bottom right corner of the goal.

With split second movement, Mitch dove towards the right side, making the biggest save of his career. The crowd erupted, and every player and staff member ran towards the end of the field to celebrate the moment. As they all surrounded and piled on the keeper, the crowd was screaming with exhilaration.

Thanks to valiant goalkeeping by Mitch Hildebrandt, FC Cincinnati proceeded to the semifinal of the US Open Cup. The match was forever cemented down in the history of the club, and still gives goosebumps to fans who rewatch it. A huge achievement was earned, and a David vs Goliath moment occurred in the most alluring of ways.

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