Postgame Recap: Match Day 2

Steve Haldeman

Sunday, March 10, 2019
Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, GA
Atlanta United (0-1-0)  vs. FC Cincinnati (0-1-0)

Match 2 is in the books and FC Cincinnati wins! Okay, okay, in truth, the Orange and Blue drew 1-1 with Atlanta United on Sunday night, but if you were passing by Molly Malone's in Covington when the score went final, it would have been hard to tell the difference.

The result gave FC Cincinnati its first point ever in Major League Soccer, and almost any FCC fan will tell you that's a win, especially under the circumstances. Heading into the season, most experts agreed that it would take a minor miracle for Cincinnati to come away from their first three matches with any points at all considering the murderer's row they faced.

Seattle were the runners up in the Western Conference last season and heading into 2019 they were healthier and hungrier with sights set at the top of the table. Atlanta, of course, are the reigning MLS Champions with the league's #1 all-time single season goal scorer and the 2018 South American Player of the Year. With those first two fixtures away, most assumed FC Cincinnati's best hope for any points would be to rely on the magic of Nippert to give them an outside shot at a draw against the reigning Western Conference Champion Portland Timbers on March 17. After the 4-1 thrashing at the hands of the Sounders on March 2, even that outside shot seemed fleeting.

Until Sunday. Gaining their first point in the most improbable way--on the road against the champs in front of one of the biggest soccer crowds in the world--means this team is continuing a long tradition of defying (and usually exceeding) expectations.

On the heels of a tough-to-swallow rout to Seattle last week, FC Cincinnati gave up a goal to Atlanta United's Josef Martinez (the aforementioned MLS all-time, single season goal-scoring leader) within the first five minutes. No one at Molly Malone's actually said, Here we go again, but the looks on fans' faces was unmistakable.

Martinez made a blistering run past Cincinnati's back line who were playing well up the pitch, closer to the halfway line than the 10-yard box. Atlanta midfielder Julian Gressel played a perfect pass between the Cincinnati defenders, and the race was on. Cincinnati Captain Kendall Waston turned and ran, but was no match for the speedy Martinez who blasted a shot from the right just out of the reach of FCC goalkeeper Spencer Richey.

Richey, starting in place of keeper Przemyslaw Tyton who is suffering from a strained hamstring, waved at the ball as it flew between the post and his inside left shoulder to no avail, and Waston slapped the ground in clear frustration.

Atlanta's advantage of speed was apparent as FCC retreated little by little back toward their own goal. On their heels, Cincinnati's defense bolstered by a Team-of-the-Week performance by Center Back Nick Hagglund somehow mustered the wherewithal to repel through ball after through ball over the next fifty minutes.

As the pace of the game settled down slightly, the midfield that was so put-upon last week started to string together some encouraging bits of possession. Alan Cruz was especially impressive and looked every bit like Costa Rica's best player during their friendly against the US Men's National Team back in January.

Finally in the 54th minute, with the game still at 1-0 in favor of Atlanta, the Queen City upstarts bared their teeth. Deplagne crossed a bender into the box, where Cincinnati DP striker Fanendo Adi leaned in and headed a ball into the back of Atlanta’s net. The outburst was short-lived as it was determined that Adi was offside by a shoulder.

Someone should have warned us this guy was good

Someone should have warned us this guy was good

Fans took a breath. FCC just very nearly drew even with the champs on the road. Dare we dream? The tension of the home team from that point on was as palpable as the look of determination from the visitors. With blood in the water, Head Coach Alan Koch subbed in Darren Mattocks in the 58th minute, and shifted the formation into a 4-4-2 with Adi and Mattocks at the tip of the spear.

In the 71st minute, Greg Garza made his FC Cincinnati debut in his old home to a rousing ovation from the Atlanta fans. Garza replaced Alvas Powell, who'd had a much-improved performance in this match. Garza moved over to his accustomed spot on the left, allowing DePlagne to move to the right where he is most comfortable.

When Kenny Saief, signed just this week, made his Cincinnati debut two minutes later, his impact was immediate. The entire midfield looked renewed, retaining possession for longer stretches, picking off Atlanta passes, and moving the ball out from the back with greater efficiency.

FC Cincinnati is quickly establishing a rep for scoring blitzkrieg goals conjured out of the ether. Eighty minutes removed from what seemed like the worst kind of deja vu, with less than five minutes of regular time left, they did not disappoint. Mathieu DePlagne redirected a pass from the halfway line to Kenny Saief, who rolled off of his defender to buy enough room to belt a long pass, catching Roland Lamah in stride at the top of Atlanta's box. Lamah barely settled the ball before swinging a low, left-footed screamer past a spread-eagled Greg Guzan into the right side of Atlanta's goal for the equalizer.

And, there was much rejoicing.

If ever there was a photo to be turned into a tifo

If ever there was a photo to be turned into a tifo

After what seemed like the longest three minutes of stoppage time in recent memory, the deed was done. FC Cincinnati had pulled off the minor miracle and earned its first point of 2019.

During long stretches of the game, Atlanta looked for all the world like the better team: faster, more organized, and dangerous. Cincinnati showed noticeable improvement though, (and not just on the scoreboard) with stretches of real promise that extended as the game went on. If this wasn't the kind of game FCC fans were expecting, it was the kind of growth they've hoped for since the march to MLS became a reality last May.

If FC Cincinnati is going to have success--however they define that--they will have to continue to face down adversity, learn from mistakes, build on small victories, scrap and fight, bunker down, and strike like lightning when the opportunity presents itself. So far. So good.

FC Cincinnati Starting Lineup (4-2-3-1 then 4-4-2):
Spencer Richey (G), Mathieu Deplagne (D), Kendall Waston (D), Nick Hagglund (D), Alvas Powell (D), Victor Ulloa (M), Leonardo Bertone (M), Roland Lamah (M), Alan Cruz (M), Kekuta Manneh (F), Fanendo Adi (F) Substitutes: Darren Mattocks 58', Greg Garza 71', Kenny Saief 73'

Atlanta United Starting Lineup (3-4-3):
Brad Guzan (G), Leandro González Pirez (D), Miles Robinson (D), Michael Parkhurst (D), Brek Shea (M), Eric Remedi (M), Jeff Larentowicz (M), Julian Gressel (M), Pity Martinez (F), Josef Martinez (F), Ezequiel Barco (F) Substitutes: Darlington Nagbe  59', Andrew Carleton 74', Kevin Kratz 90'

FC Cincinnati Goals:
Roland Lamah 85'

Atlanta United Goals:
Josef Martinez 4'

Steve Haldeman