CINCINNATI – Kenney Walker scored the decisive goal in the sixth round of a penalty shootout to lift No. 1 seed FC Cincinnati past No. 8-seed Nashville SC in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs with a 6-5 shootout victory after the teams had played to a 1-1 draw through regulation and extra time, handing FCC its first postseason victory in club history before a crowd of 20,211 at Nippert Stadium.
Both teams scored in the opening five rounds of the shootout, with Nashville’s Kris Trypak putting the pressure on with the first shot of the fifth round as he found the top-right corner of the net past diving FCC goalkeeper Spencer Richey. Cincinnati center back Forrest Lasso kept his cool from the spot, however, with a ripped finish down the middle to send the shootout to a sixth round, and after NSC’s Justin Davis shot high over the crossbar to open the round, Walker finished low to the right corner as Nashville goalkeeper Matt Pickens went the opposite way to send the hosts through.
It was a victory that Cincinnati appeared to have in its hand when after a scoreless 90 minutes the hosts took the lead five minutes into the first period of extra time. Walker had a role to play in the goal as he took a pass from the right side by Jimmy McLaughlin and quickly shifted play inside to Corben Bone at the top of the semicircle of the penalty area to allow an opening. One short move to Bone’s right to elude an onrushing defender set up the strike from 20 yards that was low and true to the left corner of the net.
The hosts almost added a second in the 103rd minute when a slid pass found Blake Smith running into the left side of the penalty area only for the fullback sent his first-time finish high, while a headed finish by defender Lasso was saved by Pickens off an angled cross from the left by Walker early in the second period.
But then with five minutes to go Nashville found a response after a corner from the left was kept alive by Ish Jome and quickly recycled to the right side for a first-time cross by Davis. The ball span into the penalty area and fell to Bradley Bourgeois, whose off-balance effort deflected off a defender and looped over FCC goalkeeper Spencer Richey and into the right corner of the net.
The drama wasn’t over in extra time as Nashville had a chance to go ahead with three minutes to go as Alan Winn sent through Brandon Allen into the left side of the penalty area, only for Richey to make a tremendous save as he closed on the forward and used his left arm to parry the shot over the crossbar and send the game to a shootout.
The action in extra time mirrored that of the opening 90 minutes, which saw Cincinnati come out the more aggressive side but Nashville edge the hosts in chances. The first good chance of the game came for Nashville via a set piece in the 24th minute when a good header back across goal by Bourgeois from the right eventually came to Ropapa Mensah, whose header was tipped over by FCC goalkeeper Spencer Richey.
The chance seemed to pick up the visitors after the pressurized start, and while Fanendo Adi might have done better with a flicked header that went over the crossbar from 12 yards for the hosts, Nashville also found a moment of uncertainty on the ball by the hosts that offered Mensah a chance to fire on goal from 20 yard that Richey saved.
Cincinnati’s best chance of the first half came three minutes before the break when Emmanuel Ledesma got into space at the top of the penalty area after a header on by Adi and sent a shot that went just wide of the right post, but just after halftime Richey came up with a huge save on the doorstep as a well-worked move to the right saw Ropapa Mensah provide a near-post flick to Winn, who couldn’t quite lift his finish from just inside the six-yard area past Richey with the goal at his mercy.
Cincinnati subsequently regained control and began to build pressure again. Bone produced the first shot on goal for the hosts in the 57th minute with a bouncing effort from 25 yards that Pickens comfortably gathered, and Bone again menaced soon after as his shot off a through-ball by Adi was blocked behind for a corner kick. Cincinnati reeled off seven consecutive shots in a 12-minute span, and Bourgeois again produced an almost-fatal error on a miscommunication with Pickens as the defender tried to chest the ball back to his goalkeeper that Pickens was just able to hold onto with Adi lurking.
Nashville went even closer than Winn's earlier chance in the half with 17 minutes to go, however, as Mensah found a pocket of space on the top-left side of the penalty area that allowed space to curl a shot to the opposite corner that beat Richey but came back off the crossbar and was cleared to safety. Richey came up big again with nine minutes to go when he turned over Mensah’s first-time shot from the penalty spot after a weaving run by Winn into the left side of the penalty are found the Ghanaian.
Walker, on as a second-half-substitute, then almost decided the contest in second-half stoppage time with a long-range blast to the left corner that was turned around the post by Pickens. After playing provider for FCC’s goal in extra time, however, Walker wrote his own chapter in Cincinnati’s book of penalty shootout heroics at Nippert Stadium with a calm finish that sent the hosts into the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
95’ – CIN – Corben Bone (Kenney Walker)
115’ – NSH – Bradley Bourgeois (Kris Tyrpak)
CIN – 9-Fanendo Adi, Goal; 20-Jimmy McLaughlin, Goal; 23-Blake Smith, Goal; 32-Justin Hoyte, Goal; 3-Forrest Lasso, Goal; 6-Kenney Walker, Goal
NSH – 5-Liam Doyle, Goal; 32-Brandon Allen, Goal; 19-Alan Winn, Goal; 20-Matt LaGrassa, Goal; 26-Kris Tyrpak, Goal; 2-Justin Davis, Missed
#CINvNSH: Highlights and Opta Box Score
1. For all of FC Cincinnati’s additions this season – including the high-profile signings of Fanendo Adi and Fatai Alashe – there was something poetic about the club’s original trio being at the center of the club’s first postseason victory. There was both the initial goal, where second-half substitutes Jimmy McLaughlin and Kenney Walker played set-up for Corben Bone’s perfectly-struck finish from 20 yards to provide another memorable moment for the three players who have seen it all over FCC’s history. Then, as the game went to a shootout, both McLaughlin in the second round and Walker in the sixth were decisive from the spot to continue the club’s bid for a USL Cup.
2. Walker may have provided the final moment of the shootout, but if not for the stellar display by FCC goalkeeper Spencer Richey the game may not even have reach extra time. Richey – preferred in goal over USL Golden Glove-winner Evan Newton by Head Coach Alan Koch – made two outstanding saves in the second half to keep the game scoreless on Alan Winn and Ropapa Mensah, and then after getting desperately unlucky when Bradley Bourgeois’ deflected shot left him little chance to recover he still recovered to produce another outstanding dave on Brandon Allen’s one-on-one chance to send the game to a shootout where his teammates came through from the penalty spot.
3. Nashville’s final night of its inaugural professional season will be left with a series of ‘what if?’ questions as the visitors were unable to take their chances that would have sealed a famous road victory. Richey’s heroics in net for Cincinnati were a factor in that, but the misfortune suffered by Ropapa Mensah with 17 minutes to go when his shot had the FCC goalkeeper beaten only for the crossbar to deny his effort is a memory that will linger long into the offseason. Nashville did everything it set out to do, and was strong throughout defensively, but couldn’t manufacture the moment it needed to walk away with a win.
USLSoccer.com Man of the Match
Kenney Walker, FC Cincinnati – The second-half substitute first played a role in setting up Corben Bone’s opening goal for the hosts in extra time, and then held his nerve from the penalty spot to send FCC through.
Eastern Conference Semifinals – FC Cincinnati vs. New York Red Bulls II, Saturday, October 27, 4 p.m. ET
Nashville SC – End of Season