FC Cincinnati celebrate their 1-0 win over Miami FC in the US Open Cup Quarterfinals. Photo: FC Cincinnati
FC Cincinnati has broken both individual and team records on their 2017 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup run, and the Quarterfinals were no different. Striker Djiby Fall scored yet again to down Miami FC, 1-0. The goal gives him four game winning goals in a single tournament, a new Modern Era (1995-present) record, and ties him for the golden boot race with Stefano Pinho (Miami FC).
Fall’s hot streak and history-making goal that sent FC Cincinnati into the Semifinals earned him TheCup.us Player of the Round honors.
He is the second straight FC Cincinnati player to win the award after goalie Mitch Hildebrandt’s shutout streak won him the award last round. Hildebrandt was a near-unanimous selection by the staff at TheCup.us and a select panel from the North American Soccer Reporters. The voting results for the Quarterfinals was nowhere near as overwhelming.
Fall won the award by the narrowist of margins, finishing tied with Sporting Kansas City’s Latif Blessing, who scored two goals in Sporting’s 3-0 win over title holders FC Dallas. Fall won the award based on the first tiebreaker: first place votes. Hildebrandt was just a few votes short of repeating as Player of the Round, and San Jose Earthquakes’ two-goal scorer Chris Wondolowski finishing not far behind in fourth place.
“My expectation was not to set the record, my expectation was to help the team to win,” Fall said. “For a striker the only way I can help my team is to score goals and I am happy to have helped us get to this point.”
More impressive perhaps than setting the record with four game-winners in a single tournament is the fact that the record for most game-winners in a career is five, jointly held by Osvaldo Alonso (Charleston Battery, Seattle Sounders FC), Dwayne De Rosario (Richmond Kickers, San Jose Earthquakes, D.C. United), Matthew Delicate (Rochester Rhinos, Richmond Kickers), and Sebastien Le Toux (Seattle Sounders FC, Philadelphia Union).
Like many FC Cincinnati players, Fall did not have an easy path to play professional soccer in the United States. Born in Senegal, Fall moved to France when he was 18 to begin his career and bounced around from team to team. He played for five clubs from 2006-09, ending with Lokomotiv Moscow of the Russian Premier League. He only made 15 appearances for the club, as was frequently loaned out to other teams, including Molde in 2010 where he became the top scorer in the Tippeligaen, Norway’s top division. His success there translated into a loan to Odense Boldklub, who were playing in the Europa League, where he scored an equalizing goal in the 93rd minute against Fulham that knocked them out of the tournament. Fall’s penchant for scoring, though inconsistent, had him moving around Europe and Asia before finally ending with FC Cincinnati this year. The atmosphere in the Queen City has impressed him.
Djiby Fall of FC Cincinnati scored the game-winner in the 115th minute against AFC Cleveland in the Second Round of the 2017 US Open Cup. Photo: FC Cincinnati
“When you take every single game at home you see the same atmosphere,” Fall said. “When I played in other countries, it depended on the context of the game. If we played a top team or a derby you can have a big atmosphere. Here every single game is the same. It’s very good for the players here because that’s all we need as footballers.”
Fall found immediate success, scoring four goals for Cincinnati in their 2017 home opener. He has seven goals on the season in 15 games, but he has come with controversy. He has received two red cards in league play, including a massive six-game ban from the USL earlier in the year after biting Louisville City FC midfielder Niall McCabe.
Fall is developing a reputation for his hard style of play, which will be keeping him out of his club’s upcoming semifinal match against the New York Red Bulls. He received a 90th minute yellow card against Miami FC in the Quarterfinals, his third of the tournament, which earned him a one-game suspension.
Fall is the only FC Cincinnati player to score a goal this tournament, so his absence will be critical. He also missed the Round of 16 game against the Chicago Fire, where his teammates held the high powered MLS squad to a 0-0 draw after 120 minutes and triumphed on penalty kicks.
“As a football player I would like to play this kind of game. I trust my team,” said Fall, who is the first Senegalese player to win the award. “When we played against the Fire, I didn’t play and the guys did everything to help us get through to the next round. Why not this round again?”
The match against the Red Bulls will be at Nippert Stadium on Tuesday, Aug. 15 at 8 p.m. A record crowd is expected once again.
2017 TheCup.us Player of the Round winners
Round 1: Pete Caringi III (Christos FC, USASA)
Round 2: Phil Saunders (Christos FC, USASA)
Round 3: Fabian Cerda (Tulsa Roughnecks, USL)
Round 4: Stefano Pinho (Miami FC, NASL)
Round 5: Mitch Hildebrandt (FC Cincinnati, USL)
Quarterfinals: Djiby Fall (FC Cincinnati, USL)