A record-breaking crowd of 20,497 packed into Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium on Saturday evening to witness the first match between FC Cincinnati and Louisville City FC. Never before had a larger crowd assembled for a USL regular season contest. While Cincinnati was busy breaking attendance records, Louisville was busy breaking the hearts of many of the fans who had gathered. At the end of the night, the most important numbers were in the scoreline, which was 3-2 in favor of the visitors.
In a repeat of their home opener last week against the Charlotte Independence, FC Cincinnati opened the scoring early in the match. Corben Bone was taken down just outside the right of the penalty box. Tyler Polak’s ensuing free kick found the head of a poorly marked Austin Berry, and Cincinnati had the lead in the sixth minute.
Berry was the first act, but Louisville forward Chandler Hoffman stole the show with a hat trick over 18 minutes before the end of the first half.
The goal that got Hoffman’s night started came from the penalty spot. The chance was correctly awarded after a free kick took an awkward bounce and was handled by a Cincy defender in the box. In front of a raucous pro-Cincinnati supporters section, Hoffman calmly slotted the ball inside the left post. Cincinnati goalkeeper Mitch Hildebrandt appeared to guess correctly, but was not quick enough to react.
“Some players shy away from taking penalties but I’ve always had the confidence that I’m going to score the goal. As soon as we got the PK, I knew that I wanted to take it,” Hoffman said.
The sequence ahead of Hoffman’s second goal found most of Cincinnati’s defenders out of position. A Louisville midfielder scuffed at the ball near the midfield stripe while attempting to make a connecting one-time pass from the back to the front. Austin Berry outraced City midfielder Kadeem Dacres to the 50/50 ball, but sent the ball right back to the trailing Louisville midfield. The ball was then chipped toward Louisville right back Kyle Smith along the right touchline. Smith had plenty of room to operate thanks to a bit of ball watching by the nearest Cincinnati player. After two touches toward the endline, Smith sent the ball into the middle of the box. It rolled between Cincy defender Harrison Delbridge and a Louisville attacker before landing at Hoffman’s feet just outside the six-yard line near the left post. Cincinnati right back Pat McMahon had abandoned Hoffman during the build-up, leaving the Louisville forward an unchallenged shot on an open net.
The third goal was not dissimilar from the second, but it came from the opposite side of the field. This time it was left back Ben Newnam sending a cross from the left touchline to Hoffman in the middle of the box. The Cincinnati defender was late getting to his mark, leaving Hoffman with ample time to whip his left around and beat Hildebrandt at the far post.
The entirety of the first half was a physical contest. It was as if someone forgot to tell the players that rivalries are forged over time, not contrived by branding. A steady flow of fouls and cautions against both teams culminated in a second caution and ejection for Louisville defender Sean Reynolds in the 40th minute.
With a two goal lead and a man disadvantage, Louisville packed defenders behind the ball to weather the storm in the second half. Cincinnati probed and probed, but City did well to stay organized, maintain shape, and turn away most threats. Pat McMahon was finally able to notch another goal for the home team in stoppage time, but it would serve only as consolation for the home side.
“Definitely having a crowd like that, you want to entertain them and get them excited about the game,” McMahon said. “To get three points would be best but we had our chances throughout the game and kept the crowd in it. We just focus on defense and what you can do better and move forward.”
Cincinnati head coach John Harkes was once again thrilled by the support displayed by the city, but was clearly disappointed in the result, if not the effort.
“I was just telling the guys that there are going to be opportunities where there’s a loss and we are going to have to learn from it. I thought we battled. We showed great deal of character and I thought we responded well,” Harkes said.