A miserable first half gave way to a gutty second half showing for FC Cincinnati last Saturday night in Charlotte, securing the club’s first-ever result after losing by two or more goals at intermission. In front of a rowdy crowd of 43,613 and playing on a bouncy artificial turf surface that amplified the 86-degree heat, the Orange and Blue not only rallied from two goals down but saw out the final 20 minutes with 10 players after center back Ian Murphy was sent off.
Entering the final week of MLS matches prior to the month-long Leagues Cup break, FC Cincinnati bolstered its lead atop the East standings to seven points, with second-place Nashville and third-place New England both tripping in weekend road contests.
The way that FC Cincinnati fell behind 2-0 wasn’t too concerning. Charlotte striker Karol Świderski smartly and fortunately (as announced by Mickey Mouse, apparently) redirected a pair of crosses into the goal with his lanky left leg. No, the Orange and Blue’s reaction to falling behind 2-0 was the concern. Shaky back passes. Losing seemingly every 50-50 ball. Frustration-fueled fouls and yellow cards from a team very used to dictating matches on its terms and playing with a lead.
Even the in-form Lucho Acosta—a goal and/or an assist in six of his last seven matches in all competitions—was cordoned off from build-up play by Charlotte. Acosta’s delivery was poor on free kick opportunities. If FC Cincinnati had brought a parakeet, it would have been beheaded.
FCC was lent a lifeline in the 52nd minute after Alvaro Barreal was chopped down in the penalty area. Acosta converted the penalty kick, then egged on the seething Charlotte supporters, who felt a soft penalty was given. (They were wrong.) Charlotte then reverted back to its typical inconsistent and foul-prone form; the hosts entered winless in their past six matches—including four successive draws—and had garnered a league-high 57 yellow cards.
Two minutes after Roman Celentano stifled Świderski—kept onside by Murphy—on a breakaway attempt, Acosta and Barreal made magic to level the match. After Acosta nutmegged a Charlotte player on a line-breaking through ball, Barreal sent a Charlotte sliding with a crossover, then nutmegged the last defender between him and the goal.
Hopes and dreams of a comeback victory dimmed when Murphy picked up his second yellow for a rash challenge and was sent off. It was his second red card in as many appearances, and with Matt Miazga on Gold Cup duty it’s likely that Alves Powell or Ray Gaddis will have to deputize at center back again tonight at New York Red Bulls.
On a positive note, Saturday marked the return of midfielder Junior Moreno, who hadn’t played since June 10. Moreno, a starter in 15 of the team’s first 16 league matches, injured himself over the last international break. A concerning development was the absence of Dominique Badji, playing well (three goals in three matches) as the team’s lone available striker in recent weeks due to the absence of Brandon Vazquez (Gold Cup duty), Brenner (transfer to Italy), and Sergio Santos (injury).
Speaking of strikers, new Designated Player Aaron Boupendza was introduced to the media a few days ago after training with FC Cincinnati for the first time in a group setting. After reading comments from head coach Pat Noonan and Chris Albright, I’d be surprised if Boupendza plays tonight, and I put 50-50 odds on him playing on Saturday night vs. second-place Nashville. That game, by the way, is another TQL Stadium sell-out.
Vazquez, Miazga spur U.S. to victory at TQL Stadium
With the U.S. men’s national team slogging its way through a 0-0 draw against Canada in a Gold Cup quarterfinal match last Sunday night at TQL Stadium, the FC Cincinnati fans in attendance had seen enough of the toothless, Vazquez-less attack. Multiple second-half “We want Vazquez!” chants echoed around the stadium before both Vazquez and Miazga entered the match in the 73rd minute.
After nearly breaking the deadlock in the 75th minute, Vazquez headed in a pinpoint cross from DeJuan Jones in the 88th minute to provide the only goal the Americans would need—or so those of us in attendance thought. Canada, however, converted a handball-induced penalty kick in the dying minutes of regulation. Both teams scored in extra time—Miazga almost landed on the scoresheet with a flying extra time header that required a flying punch stop from Canadian keeper Dayne St. Clair—to set up penalty kicks.
After U.S. goalkeeper Matt Turner saved Canada’s first penalty, Vazquez shanked the Americans’ first penalty into the south stands. His teammates picked him up, though, and the U.S. won the penalty round 3-2. Miazga didn’t score, but he provided needed antagonism in a match that featured the Canadians going unconfronted far too often for time wasting and hard fouls.
If the Americans prevail tonight against Panama, Miazga and Vazquez will head to Los Angeles for Sunday night’s final, ensuring the duo will have missed six consecutive FCC matches. The next time the two could play for Cincinnati would be in the initial Leagues Cup group stage tilt against Sporting Kansas City on July 23.
Grant Freking writes FC Cincinnati coverage for Cincinnati Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @GrantFreking.