Does FC Cincinnati Suddenly Have Depth?

A big opportunity awaits tonight as a tired group of defending MLS champs from New York visit TQL Stadium.
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Tonight, FC Cincinnati will play arguably its most meaningful match since joining Major League Soccer. New York City FC, the defending MLS Cup champions, will face off against the Orange and Blue in a duel with real playoff implications—the No. 2 team in the East against FCC, which occupies the East’s seventh and final playoff slot. After tonight’s tilt at TQL Stadium, FC Cincinnati will be exactly halfway through its 34-game regular season schedule.

Being in playoff position at all is a credit to sudden squad depth, albeit with three and a half months left in the current campaign. FC Cincinnati’s reinforced ranks were on display during its convincing 1-0 victory over Orlando last Friday. Let’s go position by position and examine what’s transpired.

Brenner scores the winning goal against Orlando on June 24.

Photograph courtesy FC Cincinnati

Forward

Brenner started Friday for the second successive match out of the international break, and his strong showing was rewarded with his first goal of the season in the 65th minute. Substitute Lucho Acosta scalded a deflected shot that was parried by Orlando goalkeeper Pedro Gallese. Undeterred, Acosta hurried past a pair of Orlando defenders and slid the ball to Brenner. The Brazilian one-touched the ball past Gallese for a score true to the “fox in the box” reputation he had prior to arriving in Cincinnati.

With Dominique Badji, the typical starter at second striker, out indefinitely with an injury, Brenner will have the chance to shine next to breakout star Brandon Vazquez.

Midfield

Last season, Yuya Kubo switched from winger to midfield to help plug a gaping roster hole. He wound up playing the fourth-most minutes on the team, and the league’s worst team would have been in even more dire shape if he’d been injured for a month—which is what has happened in 2022. The Japanese international returned to the field for a pair of substitute appearances just before the break after missing nearly four weeks.

Junior Moreno started all 14 matches pre-break; he’s now missed both contests since the restart and recently suffered a setback in his return from a leg injury. Acosta, who also started every match pre-break, has been limited to a pair of substitute appearances post-break.

FC Cincinnati is surviving because Obinna Nwobodo is a hoss. One week after filling up the stat sheet and garnering MLS Team of the Week honors against Philadelphia, the Designated Player delivered another strong showing against Orlando, helping limit the visitors to two shots on goal. With Nwobodo covering enough terrain for two people, veteran Haris Medunjanin, a defensive liability but blessed with a wand of a left foot, can focus on delivering line-breaking passes and keeping the attack in motion while Nwobodo covers his six.

Also, young winger Alvaro Barreal has stepped into Acosta’s No. 10 role and done an admirable job.

Center back/wing back

Rookie center back Ian Murphy was unbenchable before the break, starting eight consecutive matches. Against Philly and Orlando, he was a substitute, with head coach Pat Noonan turning back to veterans Tyler Blackett and Geoff Cameron.

At right back, Alvas Powell (11 starts) was the preferred option over Ray Gaddis (four starts) pre-break, but with Powell unavailable of late, Gaddis has started the past two matches.

Goalkeeper

Alec Kann is almost back from a long-term injury, recently seeing action in a FC Cincinnati 2 match. But it’ll be hard for the veteran shot-stopper to usurp rookie Roman Celentano, who notched his third clean sheet of the season vs. Orlando. Either way, two strong goalkeepers is a welcome problem to have for a team that’s struggled mightily at the position since joining MLS.

Again, half of FC Cincinnati’s season remains. The point here is that FC Cincinnati now has depth—which is still different from proclaiming that said depth is proven or can be sustained. For example, FCC can’t expect to draw points for many more matches sans Acosta in the starting XI. John Nelson is the lone true left back on the roster and has already played 167 more minutes this year than he did for Dallas in 2021. Signed as a backup to Ronald Matarrita, who is lost for the season, Nelson—who had offseason back surgery—is eventually going to require rest.

So FC Cincinnati needs to pick up points while they’re relatively healthy. Luckily for the Orange and Blue, the Scheduling Gods have handed them an advantage tonight. FCC will have two more days of rest than NYCFC, which lost a 2-1 decision in Philly Sunday night in arguably the MLS game of the season so far. I mean, Philly’s trainer received a red card! Notably, six Citizens went the full 110 minutes.

Tonight is a prime opportunity in a primetime match for FC Cincinnati to take advantage of a weary NYCFC. After strong results against perennial East contenders Philly and Orlando, FCC needs to prove it can go toe to toe with another conference power.

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

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