FC Cincinnati’s first match at Nippert Stadium in the 2017 USL season is tonight against Saint Louis FC. It kicks off a three game home stand over the next week. A slate of games in front of friendly fans should be a reprieve after opening the season with three games on the road and winning just one. Each of the upcoming games, though, is against one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. By the end of this stretch, we should have a sense of where the club is headed this season.
“To start the season with three games on the road is obviously difficult. To be quite frank, I was hoping to get four points out of the nine. I think that’s a very realistic goal to have with three difficult games. We got three out of four, so we’re not quite where we need to be, but it’s certainly not the end of the world by any means,” said first-year FC Cincinnati Head Coach Alan Koch.
He continued, “Now we’re at home. We’re excited to play at home. We know the three games at home in the next week are against three of the toughest teams in the league. It’s a very difficult start for us, but I think we’ll know by the end of next week. We’ll have a very good assessment of what’s working, what’s not working, who’s doing well, and who we really need to work with.”
Who Cincinnati has available to do the work is something of a question mark heading into tonight’s contest, especially on the back line. Paul Nicholson had been filling in for an injured Austin Berry, but Nicholson is suspended for the match against Saint Louis after being sent off in the last contest. The good news is Berry was a full participant at practice on Thursday.
Harrison Delbridge spent the majority of Thursday’s training session on a stationary bike, while Justin Hoyte lingered about the sidelines in street clothes. Delbridge should be ready for action against Saint Louis. Officially, the club is evaluating Hoyte on a week-by-week basis. Expect the former Arsenal player to be out for bit to give his experienced muscles and sinews a full chance to recover from the injury sustained at Bethlehem.
If the Thursday training session is an indicator, the focus for tonight’s match will be maintaining possession and moving the ball. Every drill appeared to emphasize those aspects of the game.
Koch said, “I just said to the guys ‘technique is everything. Everything you can try to work on as a player and we can try to work on as a group, if we don’t take care of the ball, it means absolutely nothing. We can have the best plan in the world, but if we don’t take care of the details and take care of the ball, there is no point in even having a plan.’ The whole session today was based on intensity, but also taking care of the ball within those intense moments.”
Of course taking care of the ball does little unless the team can do something meaningful with it. With two goals in its first three matches, the FC Cincinnati attack is not yet living up to some of the hype that built up during the offseason. The club needs to find more quality in the final third, and a goal scoring option other than Djiby Fall needs to emerge. At this point in the season, though, Koch is not overly concerned.
“If we can go and play and win 1-0 in every game, we’re going to be satisfied with that. It is about scoring goals, but you’ve got to manage each individual game,” Koch said. “We went on the road for three games, and we scored in two of the games. To go on the road and score in two of the games is a positive. Now coming home, we expect to score more goals. We’ll work on creating opportunities, and then obviously guys have to capitalize on those moments.”
Now that Cincinnati has returned home, Koch has a different set of expectations for his team than he did for the recent road trip.
“We go game by game. Obviously, the whole incentive is to win. That’s it. Saint Louis are very good team. They won [Wednesday] night. They’re atop of the league. What better way to test yourself in your first home game of the season than against a team that’s right at the top. We expect to win. That’s going to be the goal in every single game. Hopefully we can go out and execute.”