CINCINNATI – It was a game that had the look and feel of one that should be played in October, when the USL Cup Playoffs arrive, but with a crucial stretch of games coming over the next three weeks for his side FC Cincinnati Head Coach Alan Koch wanted more than anything for his side to put in a strong first-half display against the visiting, and third-place, Charleston Battery.
Thanks to another inspired moment from Emmanuel Ledesma and a sharp overall display that saw the side limit Charleston’s ability to penetrate effectively in the attacking third, the hosts got exactly what they were looking for in a 3-0 victory before a crowd of 27,142 fans at Nippert Stadium that saw FCC stretch its undefeated record to 13 games, a club record.
“If you have a good first 45 minutes, you set yourself up for success in the second 45 minutes,” said Koch. “Basically, if you can come out of the gates and play in a positive manner and impose yourself on the opposition and hopefully capitalize on some chances, you’ll give yourself a positive start.”
Chances were few for both side thanks to some effective defensive work at either end, but a moment of opportunism saw Ledesma strike for his team-leading 11th goal of the season and the sixth such strike to come from outside the penalty area, the most in the USL this season. Pressing into the play as Charleston looked to clear, Ledesma stole possession 30 yards from goal, opened up space as he cut onto his right foot just outside the penalty area and lifted a top-level finish that caromed just off the underside of the crossbar and in for a 21st-minute lead.
FC Cincinnati's Emmanuel Ledesma releases the shot that would open the scoring for the hosts in a 3-0 victory against the Charleston Battery at Nippert Stadium. | Photo courtesy Brett Hansbauer / FC Cincinnati
That finish looked set to be Cincinnati’s only shot on target in the first half until the sequence of action that appeared to decide the contest. As the Battery came into the game more in the final 15 minutes they were almost rewarded with an equalizer in the final minute of the half as leading scorer Ataulla Guerra found space to unleash a shot from 25 yards that rang off the crossbar.
Moments later, Nazmi Albadawi and Corben Bone led a counterattack the other way that saw Albadawi thread a pass through three trailing Battery defenders to find Bone in space on the right side of the penalty area, and the veteran midfielder put home a clean finish to the left corner that gave FCC a two-goal halftime lead.
“When you win the ball that high, it turns into offense pretty quick,” said Bone. “Emery [Welshman] laid it off to me and they started making runs. I found Naz and he found me again – and Emery with the great dummy, which opens the space up for me – thankfully I found the back of the net. Testament to those guys. They worked hard all night, putting pressure on those backs and it paid off.”
“This game is very interesting,” added Koch. “We played very, very well in the first 45 minutes, but if Guerra’s shot goes in with a few minutes before halftime, it’s probably 1-1 when we go in at halftime. You’ve got to manage those moments.”
Cincinnati’s defensive control was evident in the second half as while the Battery began to have more possession in the attacking half, they were unable to produce a shot from inside the penalty area. Leading that defensive effort was FCC center back Forrest Lasso, who came up with a big tackle to deny a chance to Patrick Okonkwo and recorded three clearances as the Battery rained in 23 crosses that included six corner kicks to no avail.
“I think the guys were absolute class from the start until the end,” said Koch. “I think we managed the game very, very well and it’s a thoroughly deserved three points against a very, very good team tonight.”
With results for the leading challengers within the Eastern Conference’s top four allowing FCC to extend its lead at the top of the conference standings to seven points, however, the confidence the hosts showed to close out a six-game homestand with a fifth victory was big as the side heads on the road over the next seven days.
“Anytime your team can get into a rhythm and you’re in-sync and on the same page, it’s always easier to play,” said Bone. “You keep it simple. You find yourself in good places and in that moment, if you have your chances, you give yourself a chance to win the game. And tonight, we found ourselves in good places. We played confident. We found a rhythm. We scored some good goals.”