A crowd of 16,097 fans filed into Nippert Stadium on Saturday evening to help push FC Cincinnati to a 2-0 victory over the Harrisburg City Islanders in a USL regular season match. A strike by Andrew Wiedeman and a converted penalty kick from Sean Okoli provided more than enough offense for the home side. Solid performances by goalkeeper Mitch Hildebrandt and the rest of the FC Cincinnati defense secured a consecutive shutout in league play.
FC Cincinnati Head Coach John Harkes said, “There are so many different variables that can have an impact on the game. When we went on the road [to Harrisburg City Islanders] we only had a five, six hour turn around. It was good, but it was a narrow field, their infield was just laid down that day and it changed the style of play. I’m really happy overall, we are containing and dictating games.”
A string of quick passes created space and put Wiedeman in position to open the scoring in the 19th minute. It was one of several such sequences for FC Cincinnati in the opening half, but the only one to result in a payoff on the scoreboard. Midfielder Corben Bone started the assault from the middle of the pitch when his pass to the right flank rolled into the path of onrushing fullback Pat McMahon. McMahon one-timed the ball to an unmarked Wiedeman, who was waiting just outside the box. After a touch, Weideman ripped a shot that curled inside of the far post.
“I closed my eyes and just swung as hard as I could,” joked Wiedeman after the match.
For much of the first half Harrisburg had a difficult time breaking down an organized Cincinnati defense. Paul Nicholson, who has been filling in for the injured Austin Berry at centerback, foiled more than one promising moment for the visitors. Hildebrandt finished the half with four quality saves as the City Islanders began to find a few cracks in the Cincinnati defense in the closing minutes of the opening period.
FC Cincinnati came out of the locker room after intermission apparently intent on quickly doubling its lead and quashing any momentum achieved by the City Islanders at the end of the first half. The second of those goals was achieved when Aaron Wheeler was sent off with a straight red in the 53rd minute. Cincinnati defender Harrison Delbridge was positioned to play a ball out of the air when Wheeler planted his elbow into Delbridge’s face.
As evidenced by a picture on the FC Cincinnati Instagram account. Delbridge didn’t look to be in much better shape after the match than he was with his blood spilling onto the pitch.
Wheeler, Harrisburg’s leading goal-scorer through one third of the season, exited the match without even recording a single shot. Clearly, the center forward let his frustration get the better of him. He should have plenty of time to cope with his emotions, as a suspension from the USL is surely forthcoming. When considering the length of the suspension, the league will likely take into account this piece of cowardice from Wheeler in the first half of the match.
— fandedos (@fandedos1) May 29, 2016
Having been reduced to 10 men, the City Islanders primarily retreated into a defensive shell, looking for the opportunity to counter. FC Cincinnati continued to dictate play, but spent most of the remainder of the match probing around a Harrisburg defense that did well to stave off offensive threats by the home team.
The City Islanders almost equalized at one point in the second half when a Cincinnati miscue on a long ball allowed Shawn McLaws to get behind the orange and blue back line. Hildebrandt anticipated the play and came of his line to snuff out McLaws’ shot as it came of his foot. It was the only shot that Harrisburg would register in the second half.
Okoli capped off the match for FC Cincinnati by converting from the mark in the 89th minute after Antoine Hoppenot was chopped down in the box. The goal ended a small scoring drought for the forward, who remains Cincinnati’s leading scorer with four goals on the season.
“You can see he wanted it,” said Harkes. “You can see his attitude and his focus has been there.”
The win over Harrisburg on Saturday night also gave FC Cincinnati the victory in the season series with the City Islanders. The teams played to a 1-1 draw earlier in the month and will not face each other again in the regular season.
With the three points, FC Cincinnati moved to third place in the USL Eastern Conference. With a game in hand, the orange and blue are just four points behind conference leading Louisville City FC.
“I’d say we’re doing very well. We still have a long way to go,” said Harkes. “We want to still play our own style but at times we need to fight through things and it shows our character. My players know that they got to push it and they do and that’s the beauty of it.”
Cincinnati travels to face the Tampa Bay Rowdies of the NASL in the third round of the U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday. The next regular season match is back at Nippert Stadium on Saturday, June 4, when FC Cincinnati will face the Richmond Kickers.