Pat Noonan knew the danger that lay ahead. In the lead-up to Saturday night’s match at the Chicago Fire, FC Cincinnati’s head coach outlined why “unpredictability” was the theme of the week: Chicago already had a bye week, so there were only two matches to analyze; between multiple injuries and red cards to a pair of starters in Chicago’s last match, Noonan was unsure of who’d start for the Fire and how the team would line up; and the weather was forecasted to be in the low 20s with the typical bone-chilling Lake Michigan breeze awaiting at Soldier Field.
The skipper turned out to be a prophet. FC Cincinnati rallied from an early 3-1 second half deficit to snatch a 3-3 draw in Siberian conditions. Junior Moreno notched a brace for the visitors, who played the coldest game (22 degrees) in club history and remained unbeaten through four matches in the 2023 season.
Cincinnati started off hot, though, with a pair of smart passes by Marco Angulo—starting at the No. 10 position for the hampered Lucho Acosta—and Brandon Vazquez leading to Moreno’s first goal, a strike deflected in by Chicago from 18 yards out. Vazquez missed a golden chance to open his 2023 account 10 minutes later, kissing the post following a Chicago giveaway.
The Fire dominated the rest of the first half, forcing FCC to chase shadows. Cincinnati was complicit in its own meltdown, too, devoid of any tactical or positional discipline through the midfield and on its wide flanks, which led to Kacper Przybyłko’s well-taken corner pocket shot in the 32nd minute.
Just before halftime, FCC defender Yerson Mosquera, who failed to cover himself in glory with both his needless faux injury claims and his poor play, gave away a penalty in the 44th minute. Mosquera was filling in for the suspended Nick Hagglund on the right side of Cincinnati’s back three and endured his first subpar showing with the Orange and Blue.
The halftime statistics reflected Cincinnati’s embarrassing first 45 minutes, with the FCC trailing badly in shots on goal (3-1), expected goals (1.86-0.50), and passing accuracy (81 percent to a dismal 64 percent).
Count me as one of the observers who thought Cincinnati would match the Fire’s fire (sorry) after Rafael Czichos’ penalty beat Roman Celentano just before intermission. [Narrator: they did not.] Chris Mueller doubled the hosts’ advantage just 16 seconds (!!!) into the second half.
After Moreno had his first second goal of the night correctly disallowed by Video Assistant Review and Santiago Arias and Sergio Santos entered in the 61st minute, Cincinnati flipped the match script. Vazquez’s strong header forced a needed parry by Chicago’s Chris Brady in the 67th minute. After Ascota entered in the 80th minute, Santos connected with the crossbar seconds later.
Acosta, battling a minor injury, showed his class in the 84th minute with a 40-yard lofted pass that landed at the feet of Santos, who rifled past Brady. Funny what can happen with your best player on the pitch, right? Brady somehow denied Santos on the doorstep two minutes later. By this point, Chicago had been overrun by Cincinnati’s attacking talent.
Moreno had his brace on the ensuing corner, happily accepting a friendly hit off the right post to level the match at 3-3. Brenner notched Cincinnati’s last chance in the 93rd minute, with Brady flicking the Brazilian’s effort from 20 yards out over the crossbar.
The final statistics flattered FC Cincinnati, which finished with nine shots on goal compared to Chicago’s four, and forced Brady into six saves after the Fire parked the bus and were disinterested in possession while holding a two-score lead. Thus, Cincinnati was fortunate to escape with a draw. Noonan termed the showing “erratic” but was pleased with his side’s fight to manage a draw.
“Credit to the group for finding a way to get two goals and really create enough chances where maybe we could’ve even walked off the field with three points,” the manager said afterwards. “But I think, based on the way we played that game, a point is probably more than fair.”
A stiff defense awaits this Saturday evening in Nashville, which is back in the Eastern Conference after spending 2022 in the West. After conceding the fewest goals in 2021, Nashville surrendered the third-fewest goals in the West in 2022. They’ve allowed just one solitary goal so far in 2023.
Grant Freking writes FC Cincinnati coverage for Cincinnati Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @GrantFreking.