FC Cincinnati played well enough defensively to beat Los Angeles FC this past Sunday evening. That might sound strange after the Orange and Blue conceded 19 shots, nine shots inside their own penalty area, and eight shots on goal in a 2-1 loss at TQL Stadium.
But consider the context. LAFC entered last weekend tied for the league lead in goals (17), led by longtime standout forward Carlos Vela (four goals). In 2019, he set an MLS record with 34 goals—more than FC Cincinnati scored all season—and tallied 15 assists, resulting in a league MVP trophy and a Supporters Shield for LAFC.
With FC Cincinnati missing five starters and starting rookies at center back and goalkeeper, Vela should have gone wild. And though he tallied the assist on the eventual game-winning goal, he was well-marshaled by makeshift winger Calvin Harris and left back John Nelson—each making his first start of 2022—for much of the evening. Vela’s late-match dime came on a platter following a misplaced back pass by Alvas Powell (who had a terrific game otherwise).
No, FC Cincinnati’s touch in the opponents’ penalty area let it down again, despite chance after chance created by its talisman, Luciano “Lucho” Acosta. After a strong game vs. LAFC, Acsota has now created a league-best 32 chances but has just two assists to show for it. As defined by MLS, “big chances” are when “a player should reasonably be expected to score, usually in a 1-on-1 scenario or from very close range when the ball has a clear path to goal and there is low to moderate pressure on the shooter.” Acosta leads the league (seven) in this category, too.
Many players can deliver an enticing ball into the box from a dead-ball situation. There’s no defender charging at you and the ball is sitting still. The best players manufacture chances from open play. Guess who leads the league in chances created from live-ball situations? Yep, it’s Acosta, with 25—seven more than the player in second place.
FC Cincinnati’s nine goals on the season are the league’s fourth-worst total through eight league matches, with its finishing registering feast (multiple goals in three games) or famine (shut out four times) performances. On Sunday, the Orange and Blue missed the finishing touch of injured forward Brandon Vazquez, whose five goals are tied for second-best in MLS. Starting for the second successive match following a demotion to a bench role to begin 2022, club-record signing Brenner looked improved (one assist, two shots on target) in his 78 minutes but still short of his best self vs. LAFC.
Yes, a bit of goal scoring is devoted to luck. LAFC’s first goal came via a massive deflection on a shot taken from outside the box. FC Cincinnati had a deflected shot headed for the back of the net cleared off the line with inches to spare. But when you’ve been stationed at or near the bottom of the scoring charts in every season of your existence like FCC, your scoring woes are more of a problem of talent and execution than of fortune.
FC Cincinnati will take on Toronto FC in each of its next two matches, with a trip to Toronto this coming weekend followed by a midweek meeting May 4 at TQL Stadium. After finishing 13th in the East in 2021—only FC Cincinnati (20 points) was below them—head coach Bob Bradley has made inroads in his first year, with 11 points from eight matches, tied for third-best in the East.
Toronto entered this past weekend unbeaten over its past four matches, including a victory over East-best Philadelphia on April 16, but it was stopped hard in its tracks by reigning league champion New York City FC in a 5-4 defeat on Sunday, yielding five consecutive goals after jumping out to a 2-0 lead.
FC Cincinnati needs to do a better job of finishing chances created by Acosta, otherwise it faces the prospect of two losses in quick succession against Toronto.
Grant Freking writes FC Cincinnati coverage for Cincinnati Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @GrantFreking.