The Soccer Gods had seemingly smiled upon FC Cincinnati as they prepared to face the Seattle Sounders on Tuesday. The Sounders, hanging off the edge of the proverbial playoff cliff, were down six starters through a combination of international duty and yellow card suspension. The Orange and Blue walked onto the Lumen Field pitch with nearly a full week of rest and trotted out its first-choice starting XI.
To make matters worse for the hosts, they were reduced to 10 men in the 69th minute, gifting FC Cincinnati a man advantage against a rotated side that desperately needed a goal to avoid de facto playoff elimination. Cincinnati bungled a handful of chances in front of goal—the notable offenders being Brandon Vazquez and Sergio Santos—and settled for a disappointing 1-1 draw. FCC extended their unbeaten streak to 11 games, but can only blame themselves for snatching a draw from the jaws of victory.
“Not our best performance but I still think the point is important,” said FCC head coach Pat Noonan afterwards. “Game was just too much back and forth with our decision making on the ball. It was hard to find a rhythm because of just careless turnovers or lacking patience in how we moved the ball and how we played forward. Having said that, we still had a man advantage for a period of time where we had some good opportunities to finish the game off and just couldn’t find the quality in front of goal, the decisiveness, the final pass or touch.”
With a triumph over Seattle, FC Cincinnati could have clinched its first-ever postseason appearance Saturday in its final home match of the regular season vs. Chicago (35 points). Nonetheless, FCC remains in an enviable position in the Eastern Conference standings.
By smashing San Jose and stealing a win at Real Salt Lake in its two pre-Seattle contests—in addition to its MLS-best unbeaten run—FC Cincinnati has put itself in prime playoff position. A victory on Saturday in conjunction with an Inter Miami loss to Toronto Friday night or a Columbus setback to New York Red Bulls Saturday evening secures a postseason berth for FCC and sets off rowdy celebrations across our fair town.
FC Cincinnati would have had a home playoff match firmly in its sights had it put away an undermanned Seattle squad. The foray—rescheduled from April due to Seattle’s advancement in the CONCACAF Champions League—was not exactly a technical masterclass from the Orange and Blue. FCC could not string any passes together in the attacking half, with the beat-up turf (the NFL’s Seahawks had played there just two days earlier) causing the ball to frequently skip and bounce in abnormal ways.
Fortunately for Cincinnati, one of its odds strengths this season has been conjuring goals out of poor stretches of play. In the 24th minute, Lucho Acosta caught the Sounders’ central defenders napping and fired a line-splitting pass that caught the edge of a Seattle cleat and skipped to Brenner, who slotted home his 15th goal. Brenner is now just one behind Vazquez for the team lead.
In the second half, Fredy Montero’s well-taken effort leveled the proceedings in the 58th minute. FC Cincinnati’s play improved after Yuya Kubo and speed merchant Santos entered in the 66th minute. Three minutes later, Seattle defender Kellyn Rowe brought down Santos as the last defender just outside the 18-yard box, eliciting a questionable straight red card.
The Orange and Blue had their chances to kill off the match. A wide-open Vazquez slammed Santos’ redirected header right into Sounders goalkeeper Stephan Frei in the 76th minute. Santos botched another golden opportunity in the 93rd minute.
Among those missing from Seattle were star striker Raúl Ruidíaz (on international duty with Peru), star winger Jordan Morris (with the U.S. men’s national team), and stalwart midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro (yellow card suspension). Unfortunately for the Sounders, the lack of the three points from this match almost ensures that the club will miss the playoffs first time in its 14 seasons in MLS.
As for FC Cincinnati’s match against Chicago, the Fire are offensively challenged—only 35 goals in 32 games—but they do possess one of the league’s better defenses. Expect Noonan’s lads to play with more focus and verve than they did against Seattle in what could be the final home tilt of 2022.
Grant Freking writes FC Cincinnati coverage for Cincinnati Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @GrantFreking.