CINCINNATI – After holding its nerve in a 6-5 penalty shootout victory over Nashville SC on Saturday, 2018 USL Regular Season champion FC Cincinnati is preparing to face a completely different challenge in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
The East’s No. 1 seed will welcome the high-scoring No. 5-seed New York Red Bulls II to Nippert Stadium on Saturday (4 p.m. ET | Match Center | ESPN+) as FCC aims to extend its USL-record unbeaten run to 25 games and reach its first Eastern Conference Final.
To do that, Cincinnati Head Coach Alan Koch believes that his players will need a different approach against New York’s high press than the one they used to break down a defensive-minded Nashville side, which was often willing to cede possession, sit back and absorb pressure. To prepare his team for an alternative set of tactics, Koch has adjusted his training sessions this week to reduce the amount of time his players have on the ball.
“We can control that through the number of players that are on the pitch for an activity,” said Koch. “You can control it through the size, you can control it through the time that you allow certain things to happen in that activity. So, there’s a lot of different variables that we control to really try to simulate exactly what the game is going to be like on Saturday.”
After maintaining more than 60 percent of possession in its last two matches – both against Nashville – FCC is likely to see a lot less of the ball against New York after averaging just 47.35 percent possession in its two regular-season meetings with the Red Bulls II. New York ranked among the top-five sides in the USL this season at maintaining possession and were statistically better away from home, leading the league with an average of 56.59 percent possession in its road contests.
Cincinnati also had its worst passing displays of the season against New York, completing just 81.27 percent of passes in its own half, 58.7 percent of passes in the opposition half and 68.23 percent of passes overall. Each of those figures was the lowest that FCC posted against any USL opponent this season and fell well short of its season averages of 87.69 percent, 69.82 percent and 77.42 percent respectively.
“They are a lot of young lads that are full of energy, they’re a tough team to play against because of the way they play,” Cincinnati defender Paddy Barrett said of the Red Bulls II. “They high press and in numbers as well, but once we play through that and stay calm under pressure, we can kind of play our own game from there, but we do know from the last two times that they gave us difficult games.”
Cincinnati managed to win both of its regular-season matches against New York by a 2-1 scoreline but had to make the most of limited opportunities to do so. FCC created just seven chances from open play over its two contests against the Red Bulls II, despite averaging 8.4 such chances per game over the campaign.
The side made up for that lack of efficiency between the lines with seven chances created from set piece situations. Cincinnati converted three of those to account for 75 percent of its goal haul against New York this season.
While Cincinnati has found it difficult to play through the Red Bulls II so far this year, Barrett believes that his side has the quality to play at speed and create some more chances this time around.
“Obviously, it’s a lot easier when teams sit off us for us defenders to play out from the back,” Barrett said. “I need to be quicker at the things I do, because I know there are players that are close by me. When teams do sit off, obviously the game is a bit [of a slower] tempo, we need to try to get in behind them because they sit off deep. [New York] is going to high press us and hopefully we can play through that and create more chances than we did on Saturday night and get on the end of one of them.”