Drowning in a tidal wave of blue, No. 1 FC Cincinnati (FCC) shot its way past No. 8 Nashville SC on a sixth penalty kick for an opening victory in the United Soccer League (USL) playoffs at Nippert Stadium.
History seemed to repeat itself for a fourth time during Saturday’s quarterfinal game, leaving the teams tied 0-0 at 90 minutes and 1-1 at 120 minutes. FCC played for the second week in a row after tying three times earlier in the season, and it was no surprise that the two teams needed penalty kicks to decide a winner.
“[Nashville] changed the way they played a little bit, and we changed the way we played a little bit, too,” said head coach Alan Koch. “I think every time you play teams, it is a bit of a chess match.”
Despite a low attendance of 20,217 (roughly 5,000 fewer than the season average), spirits never quelled as the teams battled back and forth. With every corner kick, fans began to hoot and holler.
FCC kept possession for 67.3 percent of the match and took 22 shots on goal. Nashville was held to 16.
“We’re a team,” Koch said. “People speak about original players. People speak about potential MVPs and individual awards, and all that kind of jazz. But it doesn’t mean a single thing. We’re a team. We win as a team.”
Each team made the first five penalty kicks effortlessly. Tides turned when Justin Davis, Nashville’s sixth kicker, overshot the net in his attempt.
FCC goalkeeper Spencer Richey stopped his team from rushing the field in celebration before the final shot, which was taken by midfielder Kenney Walker.
Walker hadn’t taken a penalty kick since the U.S. Open Cup in June, which he missed against Minnesota United FC. But Saturday was a different story.
“There’s a little added pressure,” Walker said. “At the same time, you just have to go out there and score. Either pick your spot and put it there and he saves it, or you beat him there. That’s as simple as I can put it.”
The Orange and Blue came close succumbing to the dreaded Cincinnati curse of being knocked out in the first playoff game.
Both teams are formidable opponents to one another. Looking at game stats alone, it’s a wonder how FCC didn’t defeat Nashville in regulation. Their combination plays were spot-on, with 79.3 percent accuracy on passing both with crossing the ball and tight plays.
Many plays led FCC the corners, causing most of the team’s shots to miss the target.
Predictable plays weren’t the only thing to hinder FCC’s play, as wind was also a major factor. Napkins and confetti snowed, stopped balls rolled and kicks never seemed to go where they were intended. Nonetheless, both teams pushed through.
FCC stayed on Nashville’s side of the field for much of the first half. Midfielder Corben Bone scored in the first five minutes of overtime, growing the fans’ momentum.
But Nashville came back in the 113th minute. While it led to penalty kicks, it also led to FCC’s win.
FCC will host No. 5 seed New York Red Bulls II in Saturday’s USL Eastern Conference Semifinal at Nippert Stadium.