How do you like them now? Following a midweek 2-0 shutout over Toronto FC, FC Cincinnati and Brandon Vazquez stunned host Minnesota with a goal in the 93rd minute to seal the club’s third successive victory, a first for the franchise in its three-plus years in Major League Soccer.
The win elevates the Orange and Blue into fifth place in the East with 16 points (five wins, five losses, one draw) though they’ve played at least one more match than most of the conference. They are just three points out of first place. (I almost fainted after typing this paragraph.)
Again, this is FCC’s first three-match winning streak in MLS. The last time the franchise won at least three games in a row was when it won 10 straight from mid-August through late September during its final season in the United Soccer League in 2018.
The triumph over Toronto equaled FC Cincinnati’s win total for the entire 2021 season and the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign. The victory over Minnesota means FCC is a win shy of its 2019 total.
Rookie goalkeeper Roman Celentano and FC Cincinnati’s defense have notched back-to-back shutouts for the first time since registering 1-0 and 2-0 decisions over Chicago and Toronto, respectively, last June.
A fourth MLS victory in a row is certainly within reach Saturday night in the Windy City against East-worst Chicago (10 points). Chicago are stingy defensively (11 goals surrendered in 10 matches) but are the worst offensive team in the East (seven goals). But first up is a trip to New England tonight in a Round of 32 U.S. Open Cup match.
Last week against Toronto, FC Cincinnati enjoyed a dream start. Second-year attacker Calvin Harris tallied his first MLS goal in the second minute off a lovely feed from Vazquez. In the sixth minute, Toronto’s Ralph Priso picked up a red card, meaning the visitors would play a man down for the rest of the way. FCC didn’t exactly take the advantage seriously in the rest of the first half but were much improved in the second.
After Alvaro Barreal was brought down in the box in the 54th minute, captain Lucho Acosta calmly converted the penalty. Maligned striker Brenner seemingly assisted on FCC’s third goal in the 69th minute, deftly feeding a streaking Barreal, but the goal was just offside.
Entering the Minnesota match, I was interested to see how much Noonan would rotate for his side’s third game in eight days. As noted by The Cincinnati Enquirer, six FC Cincinnati players went the full 90-plus minutes during the back-to-back matches over five days against Toronto: Barreal, Celentano, winger/fullback Alvas Powell, midfielder Junior Moreno, and center backs Nick Hagglund and Ian Murphy. It’s no big deal for goalkeepers to play dozens of games in a row (they hardly run), and Murphy and Hagglund haven’t been full-time starters and don’t rack up the mileage other outfield players accumulate.
Complicating matters were the continued absences of a handful of starters/regulars through injury: midfielder Allan Cruz, fullback/winger Ray Gaddis, goalkeeper Alec Kann, and midfielder Yuya Kubo. Center back Tyler Blackett was also unavailable due to yellow card suspension. Noonan, again displaying his formation flexibility, rolled out a 3-4-1-2 against Minnesota, with Celentano in goal; Hagglund, Murphy, and Geoff Cameron at center back; John Nelson and Zico Bailey, making his first start of the season, at wing back; and Acosta sitting behind Vazquez and Dominique Badji in the attack.
Under siege for the first 10 minutes of the match, FC Cincinnati nearly unlocked Minnesota’s stingy defense—the Loons had yielded only eight goals in nine matches—in the 18th minute (Vazquez fed Acosta for a stinging shot that required a tremendous save), 20th minute (Acosta’s incredible pass and Vazquez’s first-time shot hit the right post), and 42nd minute (Acosta split two defenders with a chip pass to Badji, who couldn’t make good enough contact in front of charging Minnesota goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair).
Celentano made a key one-on-one stop in the 28th minute, and Hagglund blocked a shot on the doorstep in the 35th minute. At halftime, Noonan brought on Powell for Bailey, deciding that 45 minutes of rest was enough for the veteran winger/fullback. Minnesota had a golden chance to score in the 75th minute after a Cameron foul right on the edge of the penalty area, but Minnesota talisman Emanuel Reynoso’s shot was straight at Celentano.
Then, in the 93d minute, Acosta—who finished with an unreal six key passes on the night—slotted a well-weighted ball to Harris, who was streaking into the right-hand side of the penalty area. Harris then powered a pass into Vazquez, who lost his marker with well-timed movement and calmly poked Harris’ pass into the net with his weaker left foot.
Noonan was proud but measured in his postgame remarks. “The winning is important for this club to show signs of progress but to also show that the group that we have is as capable of winning games,” he said. “Regardless of who we’re playing, where we’re playing, as long as we have the mentality that we’ve shown, I think certainly over the last week, this can continue.”
Acosta and Celentano were named to MLS’s Team of the Week for their stellar showings vs. Toronto and Minnesota. Noonan received Coach of the Week honors. The good times are rolling, but are they here to stay?
Grant Freking writes FC Cincinnati coverage for Cincinnati Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @GrantFreking.