Match: Harrisburg City Islanders at FC Cincinnati
Date: Saturday, July 22nd (Originally scheduled for July 26th)
Time: 7:00 p.m. Eastern, 6:00 p.m. Central, 4:00 p.m. Pacific, 11:00 p.m. UTC
Venue: Nippert Stadium (Cincinnati, OH)
Refs: REF: JORGE RAMIREZ AR1: William Gaither III AR2: Nait Hegerty 4TH: Noah Matos VAR: Jonathan Weiner
How Cincinnati will look: Cincinnati comes home after a huge win in the River Cities Cup against Louisville City FC. It felt like a turning point for their season when they managed to visit a packed Louisville Slugger Field and leave with all three points (while leaving behind a streamer or two). But it’s questionable if they will be able to work up as much energy when they return home to face the City Islanders. Especially when they still have to worry about a friendly against La Liga side Valencia CF on Monday.
Cincy’s biggest weapons are at the very front and the very back of their lineup. Striker Djiby Fall has been tearing up defenses all season and he’s showing no signs of slowing down. He’s also remarkably consistent. He has scored a goal in five of their last six matches. Having such a reliable scorer much be reassuring because Cincy also has goalkeeper Mitch Hildebrandt playing lights-out in net. He has gathered five clean sheets so far in 2017, but his biggest asset is the psychological impact when thousands of people remind you that, “Mitch says no!”
How Harrisburg will look: Harrisburg has been on the pitch practically non-stop in the month of July. Saturday’s match will be their fifth this month and their fourth in the last fifteen days. The short turnarounds have started to catch up to the City Islanders, as left back Abass Mohamed and midfielder Mo Dabo both went down with injuries on Tuesday. It’s unlikely that coach Bill Becher will try to put them back in action so soon, so I wouldn’t count on them making an appearance. You also shouldn’t expect to see Aaron Wheeler on the field as he continues to deal with an injury. Pedro Ribeiro has a higher chance of making an appearance, but with Ropapa Mensah playing so well up top for Harrisburg, it’s likely that he’ll be held off as well to allow him more time to recover.
What to expect: Both of these sides have been trending upwards as the season wears on, and both stand to gain some important ground with a win. Harrisburg could potentially jump up to seventh place, making their position above the red line that much more secure. FC Cincinnati, meanwhile, could move as high as third place if they get all three points. Exciting news for a team that was struggling at times in the first half of the season.
FC Cincinnati’s preferred tactic is to start the scoring early when they’re at home. Here’s a bonkers statistic for you, if you look at their last three home games, Cincy has scored in each one within the first seven minutes. So if Harrisburg can weather the storm for the first ten to twenty minutes, it could throw Cincy off of their game just a little bit. Harrisburg goalkeeper Brandon Miller will play a big part in making that happen. Before Charlotte’s goal on Tuesday, he had held Harrisburg’s opponents scoreless for more than 225 minutes.
When Harrisburg gets the chance to control the ball, expect them to focus on maintaining possession to slowly build their attack at first. As things open up they will be looking to get the ball forward to Ropapa Mensah, who has started the last three matches for Harrisburg and scored in the last two. If he can score again in Cincinnati, that’ll be enough to tie him for the team lead in 2017. Not bad for a 19 year old playing his first season in the United States.
PREDICTION: I suspect that this match will play out much like Harrisburg’s last match did. Harrisburg manages to find a goal towards the end of the first half, but Cincy’s talented striker finds a way to equalize in the second half. The City Islanders are happy get a road point after the 1-1 draw.