ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (October 17, 2017) — With an Eastern Conference Quarterfinal matchup against FC Cincinnati looming on Saturday night, it’s time to take a deeper look at how Cincinnati plays and how the Rowdies have matched up against it this season.
Cincinnati finished as the No. 6 seed with a record of 12 wins, 10 draws and 10 losses. The team’s greatest accomplishment this season was advancing to the semifinals of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup on the strength of great goalkeeping by Mitch Hildebrandt, knocking off Major League Soccer’s Columbus Crew SC and Chicago Fire along the way.
While Cincinnati excelled in tournament play, the regular season was more of a struggle for a team that came into 2017 with high expectations under new head coach Alan Koch. FC Cincinnati’s spot in the playoffs was booked only Thursday of last week when the Rowdies beat Orlando City B. Cincinnati moved up to the sixth seed with a nail-biting 4-3 win over cellar dwellers Toronto FC II on Saturday night. FC Cincinnati is 4-4-8 (W-T-L) away from home this season.
Cincinnati opened the season in a 4-2-3-1 formation, just like the Rowdies, before quickly moving to a more attack-heavy 4-3-3 after just three games. That 4-3-3 remained Koch’s formation of choice for two months until the Open Cup tilt against Columbus on June 15.
That match saw the debut of Cincinnati’s three-back formation with a 3-5-2 built primarily to defend with an extra center back on the field. Cincinnati beat Columbus that night and stuck with either a 3-5-2 or a 3-4-3 for just about the remainder of the season, typically opting for a 3-5-2 in high-profile games against more skilled opposition, including Chicago, Miami FC (NASL) and New York Red Bulls (MLS) in the Open Cup.
Twice in the last two months did Koch deploy a 4-4-2, first for a 1-1 draw in Harrisburg on Sept. 12 and again in the season finale on Saturday night, a 4-3 win in Toronto.
The Rowdies and FC Cincinnati have met twice this season, with the first time being all the way back on April 19 in the Rowdies’ fifth match of the season.
That night, Tampa Bay deployed a 4-2-3-1 with Cincinnati lining up in a 4-3-3. The lineups are below.
Two of Tampa Bay's starters from April, Damion Lowe and Deshorn Brown, departed the club in the summer.
Statistically, the Rowdies controlled most of the game. Possession favored the Rowdies with 55.6 percent of the ball. Tampa Bay out-passed Cincinnati by a margin of 408-331, with accuracy and long passing both also in the Rowdies' favor. The Rowdies had more crosses and corner kicks, but where Cincinnati had an advantage was in shooting. FC Cincinnati had 10 shots, compared to seven for Tampa Bay, and had one more shot on target, three to two. More stats are available in the Match Center here.
"It was a good crowd with a good atmosphere and they were a very good side," Rowdies center back Neill Collins said. "We played them last year in the U.S. Open Cup last year and we knew how good they were. I thought it was a good point in Cincinnati, though we always wanted to get a win after they went down to 10 men. A point was probably a fair result that night."
Tampa Bay, which has been one of the best home teams in the USL this season with a record of 11-4-1 (W-T-L) will hope for a similar type of game, one where it decides the tempo and holds the ball. Where the Rowdies will hope to improve from that first meeting is in the cutting edge and converting more chances. Heading into the postseason, the Rowdies have scored at least once in 15 consecutive matches, a streak that began, coincidentally, against Cincinnati on July 6.
The match will be best remembered by Marcel Schäfer's stunning goal, a laser which beat Cincinnati goalkeeper Mitch Hildebrandt from nearly 40 yards and earned the No. 2 spot on SportsCenter's Top 10, but there was much more to it.
The Rowdies conceded a goal off a corner kick late in the first half, something that angers coaches and managers around the world. Cincinnati's Kadeem Dacres was sent off due to a serious foul in the 75th minute, but Tampa Bay was unable to score a game-winner despite the man advantage.