In its maiden journey across the US soccer landscape, FC Cincinnati has continued to check off one landmark accomplishment after another. Wednesday night’s 2-1 triumph over Indy Eleven NPSL was among those significant achievements. It was the team’s first victory in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, the 103-year-old soccer knockout style soccer tournament into which any club sanctioned by the USSF can gain entry.
“Happy to get the result and to advance on, certainly in this competition,” said Cincinnati Head Coach John Harkes, who won the US Open Cup twice during his playing career.
Both FC Cincinnati and Indy Eleven NPSL qualified to play in the US Open Cup for the first time in 2016. Cincinnati’s berth was the fruits of membership in the USL, one of the top 3 tiers of professional soccer in the United States. A total of 17 USL teams, including FC Cincinnati, entered this year’s Open Cup in the second round.
Indy earned its qualification by virtue of reaching the national semifinals in the 2015 NPSL championship playoffs. The amateur side defeated Cincinnati Dutch Lions FC 1-0 last Wednesday in a first round match that featured a lengthy weather delay. Indy’s victory prevented a Queen City Derby between the Dutch Lions and FC Cincinnati.
Harkes used the match against a lower-division opponent to provide minutes for the depth of his roster, featuring a heavily rotated starting eleven. Only Paul Nicholson was among the regular starters to begin the game against Indy, and Nicholson had only become a mainstay in the lineup after an injury to Austin Berry a few weeks ago.
Nevertheless, Cincinnati was able to dominate possession for most of the first half, aided by Indy Eleven’s willingness to sit back and drop nine players behind the ball. This resulted in Cincinnati working the ball to the flanks and crossing into the box on several trips into the attacking third of the pitch.
Indy Eleven’s defense stood resolute through much of the opening period, but Cincinnati was able to generate several scoring opportunities. Indy goalkeeper Cody Schweitzer managed to stop nearly every shot that was not sprayed wide or high of the frame.
Cincinnati finally broke the scoreless deadlock in the 36th minute. Indy was called for a handball in the box, and Cincinnati was awarded a try from the mark. Veteran forward Omar Cummings calmly stepped up and deposited the penalty kick into the net.
When asked how it felt to score the first goal for FC Cincinnati in the US Open Cup, Cummings responded, “It feels great. It was a great atmosphere. I just wanted to get that one in and get us started.”
It did not take long for the Indy Eleven to respond. Vincent Mitchell and Cristian Soto executed a lovely give-and-go that sprung Mitchell through the Cincinnati back line. Mitchell easily beat FCC goalkeeper Dallas Jaye for the equalizer.
The teams went to the locker rooms at halftime knotted at one goal apiece. The underdog Indy Eleven had managed to hang with the professional side for 45 minutes, which instilled hope and fueled confidence.
“The message at halftime was that we need to be better,” said Harkes. “You’ve got to move the speed of the ball. The ball has to go first and not drop the balls in and play 50/50 soccer.”
The teams came out of the break and played evenly for several minutes. Indy moved the ball across midfield several times, which it struggled to do for most of the first half. FC Cincinnati continued to probe in and around the Indy Eleven defense, creating chances but converting none.
In the 56th minute, Jimmy McLaughlin came into the match for Cincinnati. Four minutes later he scored the game-winning goal. Schweitzer could not control a headed attempt by Cummings, and McLaughlin pounced on the rebound.
“I think I have always been taught to never give up on the play. I put myself in a decent spot that if there was a rebound or something to put the ball away,” McLaughlin said. “I knew we didn’t want to let them hang around. We were definitely pushing for the game and the goal.”
It was McLaughlin’s third goal in as many games for FC Cincinnati, including USL league play, and was the second game winning goal. It was also his third goal in the US Open Cup, having scored twice in previous tournaments while playing with the Harrisburg City Islanders.
McLaughlin said, “For most of the open cups I have played, there has not been the same attendance in the games. It was a little different scoring in front of 8,000 people. The numbers were great.”
The win gives a Cincinnati the opportunity to travel to Florida to face the Tampa Bay Rowdies of the NASL in the third round of the US Open Cup. A date for that match has not been set yet.
In the mean time, FC Cincinnati will focus on the USL regular season. The Charlotte Independence will play host to Cincinnati this Saturday in a Queen City competition that crosses state lines. FCC won the first battle at Nippert Stadium, but the two teams are currently tied for second place in the USL Eastern Conference.