Sunday’s 3-2 victory for FC Cincinnati 2 over Sporting Kansas City II at Northern Kentucky University’s Scudamore Field in MLS Next Pro action was noteworthy in more than one way.
With the match falling between the FCC first team defeating Portland on Saturday night and Wednesday’s U.S. Open Cup encounter with Louisville City SC, FCC 2 head coach Tyrone Marshall was forced to shuffle his starting lineup a good bit, with a number of players required to be available midweek. This not only afforded playing opportunities for less experienced individuals but gave the whole group the experiential challenge of working out the dynamics of forging a new team on the fly during a 90-minute match. That aspect of the endeavor was made more acute when FCC fell behind 1-0 in the early going.
Then as the match progressed and FCC 2 found itself leading 3-2, the game became something of a rock fight, with copious amounts of fouling, set pieces and yellow cards as both teams fought for a result. Closing out such a match became a developmental opportunity in itself for Marshall’s team and he spoke to that afterward.
“It develops character. It develops resilience. It develops guys who are going to step up and buckle down and say ‘I’m going to be the guy to block that shot,’” Marshall said. “A lot of guys showed character tonight and I’m going to go to the video and highlight a lot of those points, not necessarily the negative, but points where we dug in and battled to get back, making a 50-75 yard recovery run. We know we have quality and we know we will make some mistakes, but we have to highlight the good things sometimes to grow as a group and be better.”
Marshall didn’t name names when he mentioned that some of his players weren’t available due to the upcoming U.S. Open Cup match. Among the players who featured in the last FCC 2 game vs. Huntsville, but were not involved Sunday, included defenders Isaiah Foster, Ian Murphy and Bret Halsey, goalkeeper Alec Kann and attacker Arquimides Ordonez. Additionally. Joey Akpunonu and Stiven Jimenez split the first half in a defensive midfield role, each getting just 20 to 25 minutes of time on the field.
Marshall was pleased for the players who came into the team as a result.
“We knew we were going to be a little bit light on the pro side of it, but it was also an opportunity for these guys here to showcase what they can do as well,” he said. “We showed some resilience.”
This newness of the lineup also played a direct role in the team’s rough start, where they conceded a goal to Sporting Kansas City forward Pau Vidal in only the 4th minute.
“A lot of these guys haven’t been playing, so it’s going to be a little bit of shell shock when you get out on the pitch,” Marshall said. “Guys have to get a little rhythm. Once we settled down we started finding players in some good spots and started scoring, but it was good to get punched in the gut and for the guys to realize they were in a battle.”
Sporting went ahead 1-0 in the 4th minute. Salim Adams committed a poor turnover in midfield, and Sporting punished the hosts, with Vidal tapping in from inside the 6-yard box.
Sporting continued to carry the play and a close-range shot from Vidal was partially saved by Evan Louro, with Joey Akpunonu clearing the deflection off the goal line to keep the score 1-0. A bit later, however, Akpunonu went into the referee’s book for a rough challenge 35 yards from goal, similar to what his teammate Salim Adams did earlier.
FCC started to get into the match more with Morgan Marshall and Gerado Valenzuela combining down the right. This ultimately led to a tying goal as Benjamin Stitz took a pass from Valenzuela, weaved through the right side of the area and hit a left-footed drive into the back of the net.
The go-ahead goal in the 36th minute was a gift. An SKC defender passed the ball into his own area, straight to Jesus Castellano, who showed good composure in beating the keeper for a 2-1 FCC 2 lead. The gift came about after some sustained pressing by the FCC forwards and midfielders. Another turnover followed shortly afterward and Valenzuela hit in a nice cross, but nobody could get a touch on it.
Although he shared some liability for the opening goal, FCC left back Haroun Conteh put in a solid defensive display in the face of repeated attempts by the visitors to get past him on the wing.
Jordy Govea subbed on for Stiven Jimenez at halftime. Govea made an instant impact, sending in a peach of a corner that Kai Thomas timed his leap exquisitely to meet and head the ball home for a 3-1 FCC 2 lead.
Macielo Tschantret pulled a goal back for SKC II in the 63rd minute, volleying it home from close range after a corner kick eluded a trio of FCC 2 markers.
FCC 2 inserted Ryder Mills and Nick Samways into the match, and Samways came close to scoring with one of his first touches, a 30-yard drive from in front of goal that was pushed just wide.
Fouls and missed chances dominated the final minutes, with eight yellow cards being shown over the course of the match. FCC 2 goalkeeper Evan Louro produced a fine save from a late SKC II free kick and the victory was preserved.
The match was a bit ragged and extremely physical, with some nice passages of play interspersed throughout. Probably the most fluid play for FCC 2 involved Valenzuela. The midfielder has a very good first touch, can place passes accurately and demonstrates the vision to try unlocking defenses.
Defensively, most of the back line did its part, with goal scorer Thomas being strong in central defense. Outside backs Morgan Marshall, Haroun Conteh and center back David Garcia also played well for much of the game.
Sporting Kansas City II Lineup
GK: Carlito Saylon
D: Lucas Rosa, Jahon Rad, Jacob Bartlett (Nassim Mekideche, 67), Nathanel Clarke
M: Macielo Tschantret, Vitor Dias (Michael Lenis, 46), Josh Coan
F: Alenis Vargas (Amadou Traore,81), Pau Vidal (Keny Martinez, 46), Andrew Draper (Yeison Mejia, 72)
Unused Substitutes: Ethan Bandre, Alex Cunningham, Coby Jones,
FC Cincinnati 2 Lineup
GK: Evan Louro
D: Morgan Marshall, David Garcia, Kai Thomas, Haroun Conteh
M: Joseph Akpunonu (Stiven Jimenez, 25; Jordy Govea, 46), Darrell Turcios (Nick Samways, 76), Salim Adams, Gerardo Valenzuela (Ryder Mills, 76)
F: Benjamin Stitz, Jesus Castellano
Unused Substitutes: Nicholas Mchenry, Matt Dreas, Owen Noverr, Hunter Morse, Paul Walters