Despite Another Loss, FC Cincinnati Takes a Step Forward

The Orange and Blue fell to D.C. United on Saturday, but the team is playing with more precision and calm than they have from 2019 to 2021.

Soccer is a unique sport in many ways, but one of its characteristics that differentiates it from other athletic pursuits, especially at the highest level, is that very often much of the post-match discussion revolves around whether the result of the match was “deserved.”

In America, such arguments are typically dismissed with a head shake and a point at the scoreboard. However, arguing whether one team “deserved” a result over another isn’t necessarily meant to take credit away or heap praise on one side over another, but to add a layer of nuance to postgame discussion.

Photograph courtesy FC Cincinnati

Which brings us to FC Cincinnati’s 1-0 setback to D.C. United over the weekend at TQL Stadium. Over the match’s 101 minutes, the hosts racked up more shots on goal (six to four) and were, to the naked eye, the superior side. The showing was eons better than last week’s troubling opener. And yet, the Orange and Blue’s 13-match losing streak was extended to 14 because Geoff Cameron’s handball in the penalty area in the 95th minute yielded a converted United penalty kick.

So, the record book shows that FC Cincinnati is scoreless through nearly 200 minutes in 2021, and is now 1-5-12 (wins-draws-losses) at TQL Stadium. But Saturday evening felt different than the late-game collapses of years past. FC Cincinnati weren’t holding on for dear life trying to squeeze out a draw against D.C. United, which went down to 10 players in the 80th minute after Moses Nyeman’s straight red card. The hosts were pressing the issue and playing with more precision and calm than they have from 2019 to 2021.

There’s no room for moral victories in professional soccer, but considering how early it is in the season, how well FC Cincinnati rebounded from last week, and how they displayed a much better grasp of first-year head coach Pat Noonan’s system and philosophy, there are many positives to be gleaned. Even if Dominique Badji buries his open-net chance just before halftime or Cameron’s 100-minute header isn’t parried away by D.C. goalkeeping legend Bill Hamid, the same postgame discussion points would hold true.

Noonan shook things up after the season-opening debacle, making three changes to his starting XI and ditching his preferred 4-4-2 formation in favor of a 3-4-1-2. Nick Hagglund started at right center back, Alvas Powell got the call at right wing back—pushing Ray Gaddis to left wing back—and Badji started alongside Brandon Vazquez at forward.

Brenner, whose preseason was almost entirely scuttled due to immigration issues, made his season debut as a substitute in the 62nd minute. Noonan is also displaying faith in some of FC Cincinnati’s young players, with 20-year-old midfielder Harrison Robledo making his second straight appearance off the bench. Defender Ian Murphy, the 14th overall selection in the January SuperDraft, made his professional debut in the second half, replacing Hagglund.

FC Cincinnati has made a habit of conceding late equalizers or game-winners, which can be chiefly credited to poor play. But, sometimes, rotten luck lingers around bad teams or teams accustomed to losing en masse. A positive follow-up to last weekend’s near-miss would be to net a result Saturday evening in Orlando. Orlando has four points through two matches, dispatching winless Montreal 2-0 in its home opener but failing to register a shot on target in a 0-0 draw last weekend at Chicago. A draw isn’t out of the question.

We’ll see if the third time’s the charm for FC Cincinnati in attempting to pair “deserved” with points.

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

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