FC Cincinnati hosted Saint Louis FC in an inter-conference match at Nippert Stadium on Monday afternoon with playoff implications for both teams. Saint Louis hoped to play its way back into the USL West playoff race, but a pair of goals by Cincinnati’s Sean Okoli was too much for the visitors to overcome. Okoli’s brace included a converted penalty kick in stoppage time that lifted FC Cincinnati to a 2-1 victory.
“Overall the group effort is fantastic,” said FC Cincinnati Head Coach John Harkes. “It was a great response from the road trip. The group as a team never gave up on anything.”
Cincinnati commanded much of the first half, maintaining most of the meaningful possession and creating several more scoring opportunities than Saint Louis. A bit of a lack of quality in the final third – misplayed crosses and shots off target – kept the score deadlocked at zero.
Saint Louis displayed a bit more aggression in the second half, but never wrested control of the match away from Cincinnati. An apparent lack of commitment by Saint Louis to push numbers forward in the attack belied the club’s desire to earn all three points, which it needed to regain relevance in the USL West playoff pursuit.
Meanwhile, Cincinnati continued to fail to capitalize on its chances. As the contest wore on, it appeared a scoreless draw was inevitable.
“You are worried when you are not creating those chances,” Harkes responded when asked if the missed opportunities were a cause for concern.
Everything changed in the 84th minute. Cincinnati’s Anton Alvaro Ripoll lofted a cross into the box. Andrew Wiedeman got on the end of it and headed the ball toward goal. Saint Louis goalkeeper Mark Pais reacted to the headed attempt, but Sean Okoli’s outstretched boot got just enough of the ball to redirect it into the net.
Saint Louis drew level quickly after the restart. The visitors advanced into the attacking third and put the ball on frame. Cincinnati goalkeeper Mitch Hildebrandt punched it away, but Patrick Doody was waiting for it at the top of the box. Doody executed a half volley that Hildebrandt had little hope of stopping.
The late back-and-forth exchange of goals set the stage for a dramatic finish in stoppage time. Saint Louis defender James Musa was called for handling the ball as he dove to clear it from the box. Okoli was called upon to take the ensuing chance from the mark. He converted the penalty kick and preserved Cincincinnati’s hopes of hosting a playoff game at Nippert.
Okoli said, “I know my teammates were counting on me to step up. It happens where the ball sometimes goes in on the fourth and fifth [chance].”
Big players step up in big moments, and Okoli has risen to the occasion more than once this season.
Other Notables and Quotables
- Both teams entered the match after struggling through the month of August. The victory of Saint Louis ended a streak of 4 games without a win for Cincinnati. The loss extended the Saint Louis winless streak to 7.
- Saint Louis FC played without leading scorer, Irvin Herrera (11G, 3A), who was out for international duty with the El Salvador national team.
- Alvaro Anton Ripoll made his first start for FC Cincinnati in a USL match, and he made an impact.
“I felt really comfortable from the beginning,” said Ripoll. “It was amazing to play in front of this crowd.
- The Saint Louis back line defended well for much of the contest, repeatedly turning away Cincinnati’s attempts to find players in the box. The Saint Louis back line also misplayed several balls, repeatedly turning over possession in dangerous areas.
- Okoli, Cincinnati’s leading scorer (14 G) has moved into a tie for second place with Louisville’s Chandler Hoffman in the USL’s Golden Boot competition. Both players are 1 goal behind LA Galaxy II’s Jack McBean, who has been sent on loan overseas.
- Cincinnati is now 10-0-2 against teams currently out of playoff position, but is only 3-6-5 against teams in playoff position.
- The announced attendance was 17,415, and FC Cincinnati has already announced ticket sales greater than 10k for the final regular season home game against Orlando City B.
“It doesn’t matter about the quantity but the quality of the fans,” said Harkes. “It drives the guys. It is fantastic. It really is.”
Rest of the Roll
All of the photographs in this article are credited to Joe Craven. Here are some of the best shots he captured.