Photo courtesy Erik Schelkun/FC Cincinnati
FC Cincinnati maintained its position as one of the highest-profile clubs in the USL in 2017, reaching the USL Cup Playoffs for the second straight season and making a dream run to the Semifinals of the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in front of consistently high crowds at Nippert Stadium. After the high of the cup run, however, the curtain came down on the season in the USL Eastern Conference Quarterfinals for a second consecutive year, leaving FCC still without a postseason victory to its credit despite high expectations when the year began.
The club's victories against Columbus Crew SC and the Chicago Fire in the Open Cup showed what Cincinnati could be at its best, though. More than 30,000 fans filed into Nippert Stadium for all three of the club's meetings with MLS clubs as FCC became the first lower division team since the USL's Richmond Kickers in 2011 to reach the tournament's final four. While there are changes on the horizon, nights like those will bring renewed expectations for Head Coach Alan Koch's second season in charge in 2018.
Record: 12-10-10, 44pts
Place: Sixth in the Eastern Conference
Goals For: 46
Goals Against: 48
USL Cup Playoffs: Eastern Conference Quarterfinals (L 3-0 at Tampa Bay Rowdies)
2017 leaders: Djiby Fall (12 goals), Kenney Walker (7 assists), Mitch Hildebrandt (105 saves)
Keeping 17 players from the 2016 season provided stability for FC Cincinnati, allowing the club to build a strong foundation that required little effort to settle in the early stages of the season. That vast experience together helped during the club's Open Cup run, which saw Cincinnati reel off five consecutive shutouts before it fell in the Semifinals to the New York Red Bulls II. Yet again the fans in Cincinnati continued to support the club, managing an average crowd for USL matches of 21,199, the first time a town had ever averaged more than 20,000 fans per game in USL.
While the Open Cup run proved a great moment in the history of FC Cincinnati, it also appeared to have a major effect on the club's fortune's in the USL season. The club's worst run of the season, a seven-match run that saw the side produce just one win, arrived during the latter stages of the tournament. The club's defensive inconsistency was also troubling, able to earn shutouts against the likes of Columbus and Chicago but seeing its goals conceded total in the regular season rise from 27 in the club's first year to 48 this past season. Mitch Hildebrandt ended up the busiest goalkeeper in the league as a result, and when the season came to an end in a 3-0 defeat on the road against the Tampa Bay Rowdies the team's overall potential seemed to end unfulfilled.
Some sublime skill from Andrew Wiedeman allowed him to keep possession of the ball, beat two defenders, and then shoot across the face of goal, perfectly out of reach of the goalkeeper in a thrilling 2-2 draw with the Charleston Battery at Nippert Stadium.
An errant back pass sent the New York Red Bulls II's Junior Flemmings in through on goal, but Mitch Hildebrandt did well to make a big kick save that kept Cincinnati ahead against the defending USL champion and helped pave the way to a 4-2 victory that ended up being crucial in FCC's push for the postseason.