FC Cincinnati Is Serious About Winning the Chaotic Leagues Cup

A dramatic late surge against K.C. puts FCC in the driver’s seat to advance to the knockout round. Chivas visits TQL Stadium on Thursday.

After FC Cincinnati’s 3-3 draw with Sporting Kansas City in the opening match of Leagues Cup Central 3 group play (which earns FCC an extra point due to its 4-2 win in penalty kicks), I thought of MLS Commissioner Don Garber. I visualized Garber, the only commissioner in league history, stalking around his living room—likely adorned with portraits of Landon Donovan and Bruce Arena—and bellowing “Are you not entertained?!” like Russell Crowe in Gladiator.

The first 15 Leagues Cup group play matches produced seven contests that ended in penalties—tournament matches tied at the end of regulation proceed directly to penalty kicks—including one that needed 38 kicks to determine a victor. Four matches featured a red card, and only one was decided by two or more goals. Oh, and Lionel Messi boomed in a free kick in the 94th minute to win his first match with Inter Miami.

Cincinnati-Kansas City was cut from the same brand of excitement typically reserved for American football tilts between the two cities. One red card. One headbutt. One weather delay. Two own goals. Two handballs in the box that resulted in converted penalty kicks. And that all happened in regulation!

It’s safe to assume FC Cincinnati’s desire for the Leagues Cup crown doesn’t match its zest for MLS Cup glory, but Pat Noonan’s roster management and the team’s effort Sunday reflected a hunger for a victory in any match—rest be damned. Three trophies or bust, basically.

Five days after Lucho Acosta, Alvaro Barreal, Matt Miazga, and the rest of the MLS All-Stars were boat-raced by Arsenal, it would not have been surprising for all three to begin the K.C. match on the bench. Instead, Acosta and Barreal went the distance, with Acosta tallying a goal and an assist and Barreal’s brilliance ensuring that any worthwhile attacking chance was channeled through FCC’s left flank.

Miazga has been crisscrossing the country over the past month, playing in three separate competitions: MLS league play, the MLS All-Star Game, and the Gold Cup. He appeared to be getting the night off, starting Sunday on the bench, but Nick Hagglund’s disastrous first half—one own goal, one lost marker that led to another goal—triggered Miazga’s introduction to commence the second half.

Pre-match comments from Noonan suggested that a cadre of backups would not be taking the field against Kansas City, and I would expect a similar strategy Thursday night against Chivas Guadalajara. Chivas entered the tournament as Liga MX’s No. 8 seed (Cincinnati was MLS’s No. 10) and is scorching hot to begin its 2023-24 league season, taking all nine points available. The two clubs met in Cincinnati last year in the Leagues Cup Showcase, with the Orange and Blue prevailing 3-1 at TQL Stadium.

A FC Cincinnati victory in regulation would secure advancement as the top seed from Central 3, while another triumph via penalty kicks would, at minimum, mean advancement to the knockout round. A loss would turn FC Cincinnati into Chivas fans for its match against Kansas City on Monday.

Despite playing at TQL Stadium, Cincinnati will be the visiting team Thursday evening. Expect an ample number of Chivas fans in attendance, but the Orange and Blue will be the favorites, particularly given their unbeaten run at home (14 wins, 2 draws) in 2023.

Grant Freking writes FC Cincinnati coverage for Cincinnati Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @GrantFreking.

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