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Magical Cup Run Helps Buoy Cincinnati

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 07/12/17, 11:07AM EDT


FCC has chance to become first USL club since 2011 to reach semifinals

Photo courtesy Erik Schelkun / FC Cincinnati

The first USL club to reach the Quarterfinals of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup since 2013, FC Cincinnati is hoping its magical run can continue when it meets Miami FC on Wednesday night with the chance to become only the second USL club to reach the tournament’s Semifinals this decade.

“I think it’s awesome,” said FCC Head Coach Alan Koch. “To be a second-tier team and to be in the Quarterfinals of a national competition is fantastic. It’s awesome for our club, it’s awesome for our fans, it’s awesome for the USL. It’s been thoroughly enjoyable to go on this run.”

Cincinnati’s Round of 16 victory against the Chicago Fire in a penalty shootout, aired live on ESPN with a crowd of 32,287 on hand at Nippert Stadium also provided a big moment for FCC’s season. Currently in sixth place in the USL Eastern Conference after an up-and-down first half of the season, the side has rallied around the idea of the Open Cup run, which has also see the side defeat USL rival Louisville City FC, and fellow Ohio club Columbus Crew SC.

“It’s really galvanized our group, but it’s also really galvanized the fan-base too,” said Koch. “I think they’ve all jumped on board with it too, and as a second-year club, you’re not used to this, so a lot of the things we go through are new things, and obviously this is a nice, positive experience for us all to be going through.”

The hero against Chicago was goalkeeper Mitch Hildebrandt, whose three saves in the shootout provided the platform for the side to advance past its second MLS opponent in the tournament. The one-and-done nature of the tournament made up for the strength in both Chicago and Columbus’ lineups, as FCC made its chance count on the night.

“Both of those clubs are fantastic clubs,” said Hildebrandt. “Obviously Chicago’s firing on all cylinders right now, and for them to put out their starting lineup – everybody except Dax [McCarty] and [David] Accam – to go and beat a squad like that, and then doing the same with Columbus, it was quite the achievement. Obviously, we showed anybody in this league can beat anybody, and it’s just any given day.”

Now heading out on the road for the first time in the tournament, FCC is looking to emulate the 2011 Richmond Kickers, who advanced past Crew SC and Sporting Kansas City to reach the Semifinals. A win against Miami, and suddenly the Charleston Battery’s feat of being the last lower-division club to reach the final in 2008 is in view.

“We feel like there’s no pressure on us, we’re just going to try and keep riding the wave as far as we can and see what happens,” said FCC midfielder Jimmy McLaughlin. “That’s been our philosophy the past two games and it’s worked out well. It would be something pretty special to be in that company with those historic clubs in the league, putting yourself in that type of situation, you’re going to be remembered forever in terms of U.S. soccer if you can go that far in the tournament, and even win it.”

And, as an added bonus, Koch believes the success the side has seen in the Open Cup could have a very beneficial effect should the side reach the USL Cup Playoffs at the end of this season.

“The beauty of our cup run is it’s almost like a pre-playoff-type competition for us,” said Koch. “It’s do-or-die in those games, so you learn a lot about your players and a lot about your group when you go through those types of situations. I think the biggest advantage for us of going through this cup-run is we’ve obviously got to get ourselves in the USL Cup Playoffs, but if we do get ourselves there we’ve been through do-or-die-type situations multiple times now, which I think will set us up for success at the end of the year.”

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