7 p.m. Kickoff – Highmark Stadium, Pittsburgh, PA
KEY STORYLINES / WHAT’S AT STAKE
It’s a match-up of two River City franchises going in different directions — one up-and-coming that has taken a league (and U.S. soccer) by storm — and another that has been around since 1999 but have trended downward all season after a promising playoff campaign a season ago.
FC Cincinnati are rolling to the USL playoffs with the firm intention of hosting one or more games before a record-setting fan base that has averaged 16,790 fans per game in 14 games (while the Hounds have barely drawn over 2K per game).
See the chart below to see how impressive FC Cincy’s attendance figures have been.
One the field FC Cincinnati haven’t disappointed either.
They have been right there behind the blazing NY Red Bulls II and fellow River City rivals, Louisville City FC in the race at top of the USL’s Eastern Conference standings.
While the Riverhounds have had a season to forget, they still remain mathematically alive for the 8th and final playoff spot. They didn’t help the cause on Saturday, losing 4-0 at 4th place Charlotte, after a decent run of form (3 wins in five games) against other teams near the bottom of the standings.
Along with the necessity of winning their final three matches this season, the Hounds will have to see Orlando City B (8-12-8 – 8th) drop two matches, Wilmington Hammerheads FC (7-12-9 – 9th) lose or draw twice, and in-state rival, the Harrisburg City Islanders
(7-15-6 – 10th), not win out.
The Hounds have yet to win a match against a playoff-bound team this season (0-12-2) — and lost to FC Cincy before a USL regular season record-breaking crowd of 23,375 in the teams’ first ever meeting on May 14, 1-0, on the strength of a Jimmy McLaughlin goal.
This will be the first of two meetings in 10 days at Highmark Stadium between the two teams.
FC CINCY: WHO TO LOOK OUT FOR
Sean Okoli scored three goals in two games last week and was named to the USL Team of the Week for the fifth time this year for his efforts.
The forward registered his third brace of the year in the 2-1 win against Saint Louis FC, including the game-winning goal after converting a penalty kick opportunity in stoppage time. He also had the eventual game-winner, his sixth, with a goal in the first half in a 2-0 win against Wilmington Hammerheads. The two wins allowed FCC to move back into third place in the Eastern Conference race and are now a point ahead of Charlotte Independence.
With his three-goal burst, Okoli moved into a tie for first in the race for the Golden Boot and tops the USL with Jack McBean of LA Galaxy II. Saint Louis FC’s Irvin Herrera and Louisville City FC’s Jon Chandler Hoffman sit behind Okoli with one goal at 14.
TACTICS & STRATEGIES
Hounds head coach Dave Brandt opted to keep Stephen Okai out of the line-up in the team’s loss at Charlotte on Saturday. Without an experienced holding midfielders, the Hounds seemed to be left a bit vulnerable.
FC Cincy is coached by former U.S. National John Harkes – who will be looking to keep their place in the standings and possibly make a run at overtaking Lousiville City FC for the second spot. Early in the season, they were not afraid to bring numbers forward and into the box. The Riverhounds primary chances in the first meeting came on counter attacks from the flanks.
Look for FC Cincinnati to bring a lot of high pressure on the Hounds early. The Riverhounds have been fortunate to get the first goal in the past two home games en route to wins over Bethlehem Steel FC and Wilmington. If they can do it again, they have a good shot of getting a positive result. The Hounds have not won any game while trailing this year.
Corey Hertzog (team leading 12 goals) and new addition Chevraughn Walsh have started the past two games as the Hounds top scoring threats, and will have to make the most of opportunities against a stingy FC Cincy backline.
With Okoli having been a force all season, the Hounds will have to keep him at distance and deny scoring opportunities — as center back Sergio Campbell and his back line mates will have their work cut out for them.