FC Cincinnati closes out its Marathon May tonight at New York City FC, dropping the curtain on a seven-match zero-loss (so far) stretch. It’s a month that should be cherished in the hearts and minds of supporters. Cincinnati is five points clear of the rest of MLS with an eyebrow-raising 33 points through 14 matches—the first team since the 2010 L.A. Galaxy to achieve 33 points in 14 or fewer games—and has advanced to the quarterfinal round of the U.S. Open Cup.
Thanks to a 1-0 victory at Colorado over the weekend—a seventh 1-nil triumph in 17 combined league and cup contests—FC Cincinnati enters tonight unbeaten in its past nine matches. Dominique Badji, the team’s fourth-string striker, tallied the lone goal in Denver. It was his first score since November 2021, when he played for Colorado. Because of injuries to Brenner and typical first-man-off-the-bench Sergio Santos, Badji has started three successive matches.
Badji and Brandon Vazquez were head coach Pat Noonan’s preferred striker partnership to begin the 2022 season. Brenner found his form as the summer began, and Santos arrived in early July. Badji started just once over the last 11 matches of 2022, playing more than 14 minutes just once.
Fate has rewarded Badji for his patience. Santos lasted just eight minutes in a substitute appearance on Saturday night, his first match after a three-week injury spell. The oft-injured veteran is seemingly destined for an additional spell on the sidelines. Brenner was originally scheduled to depart Cincinnati for Italy in early July but has reportedly played his last match for FCC. The striker is back in Brazil receiving treatment on his injured ankle, and that injury, plus apparent disagreement between player and club on when Brenner’s final match with FC Cincinnati should have been, contributed to the 23-year-old’s Irish Goodbye from supporters.
Lastly, Arquimides “Quimi” Ordoñez just returned from international duty, having been with the under-20 Guatemalan national team since early May. He isn’t exactly experienced, but 178 MLS minutes are better than zero, and his absence eliminated any chance for the 19-year-old to grab unexpected minutes and forced Noonan to play midfielder/winger Yuya Kubo in a second striker role last week at New York Red Bulls.
I would be surprised if a replacement for Brenner failed to arrive during the Secondary Transfer Window (July 5 through August). The Athletic reported that FC Cincinnati had a bid rejected for Serbian forward Petar Ratkov in April. Cincinnati remains in pursuit of the 19-year-old Ratkov (14 goals and five assists in Serbian top division this season) but faces competition from European clubs.
In the short term, Badji will likely continue as starter. It’s evident that Santos’ minutes need to be managed. Ordoñez will get opportunities, too, once he is fully reintegrated into the team.
As far as tonight’s match, FC Cincinnati has not faced New York City FC in league play in 2023, but they did prevail over the Pigeons 1-0 on May 10 in the U.S. Open Cup. Still adjusting to the departure of many of its stalwarts this past offseason, NYCFC is winless in its past six matches and is just one point off the bottom of the East table.
Remember: NYCFC play home matches at Yankee Stadium, where the pitch is narrower than a typical MLS field. Expect the hosts to control plenty of the ball, but FC Cincinnati should be able to counterattack with aplomb against a defense with only one clean sheet to its name in 2023.
Grant Freking writes FC Cincinnati coverage for Cincinnati Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @GrantFreking.