Breaking Down FC Cincinnati’s Sprint to the Playoffs

FCC has nine games left in the regular season. Here’s who they have to beat to qualify for their first MLS postseason.

Following a 2-2 draw with Atlanta United on Saturday night, FC Cincinnati’s ninth split in 12 matches, the Orange and Blue have nine MLS tilts remaining in their 2022 campaign. (The club also faces Liga MX side Chivas on September 21.)

The stakes are massive, obviously. After a disappointing showing against Atlanta, FC Cincinnati (33 points) is two spots out of the East playoff picture, despite being level on points with sixth- and seventh-place Orlando and Inter Miami, respectively. Total wins, the first playoff tiebreaker in MLS, is presently barring FCC from its inaugural foray into the postseason.

Having dropped ample points of late thanks to a sudden fondness with draws, FC Cincinnati will need to up its level if it’s to reach the postseason for the first time since joining MLS in 2019. Here’s a breakdown of the club’s nine remaining league matches:

August 20 at New York Red Bulls (37 points, 4th in East)

The Red Bulls have hit a rough patch in form, losing three of their past five contests, dropping them five points out of third place. FC Cincinnati and New York faced off in a contentious match on July 9 at TQL Stadium, one that saw the hosts scrape out a 1-1 draw after red cards issued to Allan Cruz and Lucho Acsota forced FCC to finish the match with nine players. Acosta garnered a three-match suspension for his red card.

August 27 vs. Columbus Crew (34 points, 5th in East) 

FC Cincinnati has lost just twice since late May, and one of those setbacks was a 2-0 defeat in the first edition of Hell Is Real on July 17. Sans Acosta and steady midfielder Junior Moreno, FCC struggled to create offense, yet the Orange and Blue were resolute defensively, limiting Columbus to three shots on goal. Crew striker Cucho Hernandez has hit the ground running following his transfer from English second-division side Watford, scoring six times in seven matches, including a first-half goal against FC Cincinnati. FCC will be hell-bent on revenge in this crucial match in the East playoff race.

September 3 vs. Charlotte (29 points, 11th in East)

The expansion side had been firmly in the East playoff bracket for much of the summer but has fallen on hard times recently, losing four of five and six of nine. Charlotte has started to leak goals, yielding 15 goals over its past five matches. A porous defense is a tantalizing prospect for FC Cincinnati’s prolific front three of Ascota, Brenner, and Brandon Vazquez, owners of 30 of the club’s 42 goals.

September 7 at New York City FC (42 points, 3rd in East)

FC Cincinnati’s seventh successive match against squads firmly in the East playoff race will come on a Wednesday night in New York City. The two clubs played to a manic 4-4 draw in late June at TQL Stadium, which featured the home team blowing a 3-0 advantage before the first half ended. NYCFC are without star forward Taty Castellanos, who transferred to Girona, a newly promoted club in Spain’s La Liga, on July 25. The Cityzens have drawn once and lost twice without Castellanos, who did not play in NYCFC and FCC’s first meeting.

September 10 vs. San Jose (24 points, 13th in West)

File this match under “must-win at all costs.” San Jose, tracking for its fifth consecutive finish in the bottom half of the West, has surrendered an MLS-worst 53 goals in 25 games. The Earthquakes, having edged the Orange and Blue 1-0 in the two sides’ lone meeting in 2019, will be crossing three time zones for their first-ever match at TQL Stadium. FC Cincinnati has to win this match.

September 17 at Real Salt Lake (37 points, 5th in West)

FC Cincinnati will travel to Utah for the first time in mid-September, with its lone duel with Real Salt Lake a 3-0 loss in April 2019 at Nippert Stadium. Real has been a stingy side, ranking among the West leaders in goals yielded but near the bottom in goals scored. It will be interesting to see if the Orange and Blue are dead-legged, since this will be their third contest in 11 days.

September 27 at Seattle (32 points, 9th in West)

After an ill-timed midweek clash against Chivas—I predict FC Cincinnati head coach Pat Noonan will rest or barely play his high-minute regulars—FCC will head west for the second time in 10 days. Don’t let Seattle’s modest record fool you; this team is full of players with ample playoff and MLS Cup experience. Also, in early May, the Sounders became the first MLS team to ever win the CONCACAF Champions League.

October 1 vs. Chicago (30 points, 10th in East)

FC Cincinnati’s final 2022 regular-season match at TQL Stadium is opposite surging Chicago. After struggling for goals much of the season—the Fire remain joint-last in the East in goals scored—Chicago has notched two or more scores in four of its past seven contests. FC Cincinnati capitalized on a late Fire mistake for its fourth straight victory in mid-May, vaulting it to just a point out of first place.

October 8 at D.C. United (22 points, 14th in East)

Depending on one’s perspective, this match is either a best-case or worst-case scenario for the Orange and Blue. Their final regular-season title of 2022 will be against (currently) the worst side in MLS. D.C. United have allowed the most goals in the East—FC Cincinnati are second-worst—and are tied for fewest goals scored in the East. The hosts will have nothing to play for, except the motivation to possibly ruin FCC’s season. And the visitors, presuming they’re still in the playoff picture, will have never entered a final day of the regular season with this much pressure and will be facing increased scrutiny because the match will be viewed as a “gimme” by outsiders. A dangerous place to be for FCC, to be sure.

With Dominique Badji re-entering the lineup as a substitute against Atlanta, FC Cincinnati is nearly whole again. If new acquisition Sergio Santos can reach full fitness, even for only the last five or six matches, that would give FCC’s attack a new dimension. And with new center back Matt Miazga logging 66 minutes in his first match, the back line should get steadier.

Nine matches to go. Can’t hold anything back now.

Grant Freking writes FC Cincinnati coverage for Cincinnati Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @GrantFreking.

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