Will this franchise ever be competitive? That’s the question I posed to myself over and over again as I watched New York City FC score goals on set piece after set piece and overrun FC Cincinnati’s midfield and back line time and time again during the second half of NYCFC’s 5–0 demolition on Saturday afternoon. Last weekend was the latest installment in a one-sided rivalry between the two clubs, with the Citizens’ having now outscored the Orange and Blue 20–5 in their five MLS duels.
FC Cincinnati, down Lucho Ascosta (elbow injury) and Przemysław Tytoń (injured in warm-ups), managed to outplay the hosts in the second half of the first 45 minutes and entered the break down 1–0. The visitors had notched more shots on target (3–1) and looked capable of scraping out a point. But if the first half was defined by a glimmer of hope, the second half was another reminder of the number of hurdles FC Cincinnati must clear to simply sniff mediocrity in Major League Soccer, let alone be competitive on a week-to-week basis.
NYCFC’s second half showing was an extension of the last 80 minutes of FC Cincinnati’s season-opening dumb-luck draw at Nashville. After tallying its opening goal off a set piece in the first half, NYCFC notched four more set piece scores—or goals that came in the next sequence off the set piece—and should have scored more. It wasn’t for a lack of trying, too. The Citizens raged for 17 second-half shots, seven on target. If the Week 1 draw was defined by clinging on for dear life as Nashville relentlessly pushed forward, Saturday was death by the slow knife, as NYCFC was able to force fouls in dangerous areas and collect scores off those dead-ball mistakes by FCC.
FC Cincinnati’s futility was summed up by Brenner, Nick Hagglund, and Tom Pettersson failing to beat NYCFC goalkeeper Sean Johnson in the 70th minute with three point-blank chances. Sure, the sequence was an incredible double save by Johnson, but it was a crystal clear picture of a bad team experiencing a very bad day on the patched-together segment of grass that’s allegedly a soccer pitch in Yankee Stadium’s infield. The performance was bad enough that Jurgen Locadia, who didn’t even start the game but played the last 34 minutes as a substitute, felt compelled to issue an Instagram apology after the game that in part said, “The whole team should feel responsible and not only the players. The whole staff should feel responsible for today’s loss.” On Sunday, left back Ronald Matarrita issued a statement on Twitter, a portion of which read, “We will work everyday to be better and give you, this city, and this club what it truly deserves!”
Accountability is great, but FC Cincinnati have got to find a way to be better and must, must, must obtain some sort of positive progress this weekend at Orlando City (which has two draws in two games). That goal would be difficult enough to reach with a fully healthy squad, but it’s unclear if Acosta or Tytoń will be available this weekend, with the same to be said of injured center back Maikel van der Werff, who hasn’t played yet in 2021.
Acosta’s absence is the omission that truly matters, though. He is far and away the team’s most important player because of his unparalleled creativity, ball skills, and MLS experience. Any time he’s not on the pitch, regardless of the opponent, FC Cincinnati have immediately transitioned from seeking a win to fighting tooth and nail for a draw.
For FCC’s sake, let’s hope Acosta can suit up on Saturday night. At minimum, the club would do well to show its supporters that it can at least be competitive for 90 straight minutes.