Albadawi comes up big against former club, propels FC Cincy to win

FC Cincinnati forward Danni Konig (11) raised his arms as he is congratulated by teammates after scoring against Pittsburgh Riverhounds in the second half at Nippert stadium. FC Cincinnati battled to a 2 all tie game against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. Photo by Joseph Fuqua II for WCPO
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FC Cincinnati forward Danni Konig (11) raised his arms as he is congratulated by teammates after scoring against Pittsburgh Riverhounds in the second half at Nippert stadium. FC Cincinnati battled to a 2 all tie game against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. Photo by Joseph Fuqua II for WCPO

FC Cincinnati midfielder Nazmi Albadawi reveled at the chance to face the North Carolina FC team that he began his professional career with and had followed as a fan since its inception.

Fittingly, he scored the first two goals in the first ever meeting of his former and current teams to propel FCC to a 4-1 win Saturday in front of 22,884 fans at Nippert Stadium.

It was the first two-goal game of his United Soccer League career, following four seasons playing for North Carolina, which previously played in the North American Soccer League as the Carolina Redhawks. A native of the Tarheel State, Albadawi had been a Redhawks fan since the club was founded in 2006.

“I go into every game with the same mindset,” Albadawi said. “I always go in there and try to help the team win, work as hard as I possibly can, and when I work as hard as I possibly can, I think the way I play will show as a result of that. Playing against North Carolina, for me was special. It’s my hometown club, the club I grew up cheering for and that club shares a special place in my heart. I’m happy we beat them. I want to beat them every time we play them, of course, but I wish them the best in their other games. For us, it was a great win tonight. I was just happy to help us win and stay atop the table.”

Albadawi quickly made his mark on the game, splitting a pair of defenders with a blazing shot from 25 yards out to the upper right corner of the goal in the 11th minute to put FCC on the board.

Then, just before halftime, he found the far post netting on a run to the right side of the 18-yard box, taking a feed from Emmanuel Ledesma, who also had set up his first goal.

“With the players we have, when we move the ball quickly, I’m going to find space in the pockets,” Albadawi said. “And if it’s not me, it’s Manu or Corben (Bone) or Danni or Kenney. We have so many talented players, you could list the whole team. As we continue to move the ball quickly, those gaps are going to open because the other team can’t guard everybody. Tonight, it happened to me finding those spots and thankfully I was able to help the team.”

Ledesma took the spotlight from there, as he ended up having a hand in all four of FCC’s goals.

In the 62nd minute, Ledesma stutter-stepped and buried a penalty kick to the right corner to make it 3-0 after he intercepted a backward pass from a North Carolina defender to goalie Alex Tambakis, who ended up tripping Ledesma in an effort to get to the ball.

Ledesma then recorded his third assist of the night in sending a pass to Danni Konig for the team's final goal in the 69th minute, moments before subbing off with apparent rib pain. The left-footed forward had left last weekend's game at Charlotte with a rib injury after taking an early hit that he attempted to play through until the second half. He has tallied four goals and six assists in the last five games, including four straight games with an assist.

“He’s an awesome player,” FCC coach Alan Koch said. “That’s why we recruited him, why we signed him. He’s doing everything we knew he could do. If you can get Manu on the ball, he’s going to be a dangerous player. You’d rather have your dangerous players on the ball, close to the goal, so playing him up front with Danni to start off tonight puts him in a very good position.”

North Carolina prevented the shutout with a goal from Mario Lomis in the 86th minute. FCC has three clean sheets this season but has allowed 10 goals in the last five games across all competition and scored two goals or more in six of its last seven games, including five with three goals or more.

“I think we imposed ourselves on the game and the opposition very, very well from the start,” Koch said. “The hard part, our coaches all just joked, is it’s eating away at us a little bit that we conceded a goal. We wanted to get a clean sheet, but we obviously played against a very, very good Carolina team and to play the way we did tonight and get a very positive result, we’re very happy.”

Cincinnati travels to play the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in a third-round U.S. Open Cup game on Wednesday before returning home May 26 against Louisville City.