When Toronto FC’s Jesus Jimenez halved FC Cincinnati’s 2-0 advantage this past Saturday in the 65th minute, I certainly thought Here we go again for the Orange and Blue. In two of its three previous matches, FC Cincinnati had not only ceded second-half leads but wound up losing.
Last week against Los Angeles FC, FCC led 1-0 until Kellyn Acosta’s deflected shot found the back of the net in the 59th minute. LAFC’s winning goal arrived in the 79th minute. On April 2 vs. visiting Montreal, FC Cincinnati was ahead 1-0 and 2-1, only to lose 4-3.
On Saturday against the then-third-place team in the East, FC Cincinnati exhibited a bit more backbone and was on the right side of Lady Luck to secure a 2-1 triumph, the club’s first since a 3-1 decision over Inter Miami on March 19. FCC has now taken 10 points through nine matches, exactly half its points total in 34 matches last season. Toronto and FC Cincinnati will tangle once again tonight at TQL Stadium.
For the second straight week, FC Cincinnati was missing nearly half of its normal starters. Unavailable for selection were center back Tyler Blackett, defender/wing back Ray Gaddis, goalkeeper Alec Kann, midfielder Yuya Kubo (through injury), and center back Geoff Cameron (vaccination status). Starting forward Brandon Vazquez, recovering from a malady, was only fit enough to start on the bench.
Those absences ensured that a pair of rookies would start for the second straight week. Roman Celentano, the second overall pick in the offseason SuperDraft, started in goal once again. Ian Murphy, the 14th overall pick in the SuperDraft, started at center back and wound up giving FC Cincinnati the lead in the 44th minute.
After a misplaced back pass by Toronto led to a corner kick for the visitors, FCC chose a different approach for the corner kick, booting the ball backwards to Junior Moreno, who lofted a perfect ball across the pitch to Nick Hagglund. He headed the ball down to Murphy, who settled it with his chest before slicing a kick across his body with his weaker left foot, sending the ball into the back right corner of the net for his first MLS goal. It was the second straight week the Orange and Blue were able to take advantage of a mistake to score right before halftime.
Chance-creator extraordinaire Lucho Acosta doubled the advantage in the 52nd minute, as Alvas Powell’s long throw-in somehow found its way to the FC Cincinnati captain’s feet in the penalty box. Acosta ripped the shot into the far corner of the goal for his third score of 2022. Thirteen minutes later, hoeever, Jimenez’s lovely lunging finish meant FC Cincinnati would have to scrape its way to the finish to seal the win or, at the very least, a draw.
The introduction of new Designated Player Obinna Nwobodo in the 67th minute was a welcome sight, especially since the midfielder logged just two training sessions with his new club before boarding a plane to Canada. FC Cincinnati could have closed the book on the match in the 91st minute, but Alvaro Barreal blew a one-on-one against Toronto keeper Alex Bono. The visitors would hold on though, and despite Toronto controlling the ball (66 percent possession) the two sides finished with an equal number of shots on target (three) and a nearly equal expected goals total (1 to 0.8 in favor of Toronto).
The return leg against Toronto is the first of five matches in 25 days this month for FC Cincinnati. Cameron is expected to return to the starting XI tonight, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few other injured players either return to the bench or start tonight, though head coach Pat Noonan will likely rotate a bit given the quick turnaround.
The Orange and Blue haven’t achieved hope-for results at home thus far in 2022—one win and three loses in four matches—but they’ve been in every game, with all three defeats coming by a single goal. Toronto will likely deliver an improved performance following Saturday’s lackluster showing, but tonight is another opportunity for FC Cincinnati to start an elusive unbeaten and/or winning streak.
Grant Freking writes FC Cincinnati coverage for Cincinnati Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @GrantFreking.