FC Cincinnati Returns to Action, but the City Falls Short in Its World Cup Quest

The Orange and Blue show a strong effort in Philly after a three-week layoff.

Did you miss them? FC Cincinnati returned to the field this past Saturday evening in Philadelphia following a three-week break. And despite playing most of the match sans its leader, Lucho Acosta, the Orange and Blue walked out with a well-earned 1-1 draw against a side that’s still lost just once in 2022.

“1-1 I think is fair,” said FC Cincinnati head coach Pat Noonan, who came to FCC following three seasons as a Union assistant coach. “They did have a couple of good chances with guys back there towards the end where we could do a better job of marking in the box. But I’m pleased with the group coming out of the break and how they performed.”

Philadelphia isn’t a strong offensive team, but they’re stout defensively and are damn difficult to beat at home. The Union entered the match leading the league in goals against average (0.71), having surrendered just 10 goals in 14 contests. Unsurprisingly, goalkeeper Andre Blake, one of MLS’s top netminders for many years now, was tops in the league in save percentage (80.8). Additionally, with the draw, Philly is unbeaten in its past 13 home matches.

Alejandro Bedoya, a former regular with the U.S. national team, got the scoring started in the 17th minute with a peachy curling effort. Then Brandon Vazquez’s diving (and dangerous) header in the 39th minute leveled the proceedings. The two clubs would log the same amount of shots on goal (five), saves (four) and were close in possession (55% for FCC) and fouls (12-10 for FCC). The Orange and Blue showed well without Acosta, who entered in the 77th minute after failing to record much practice time leading up to Saturday night following a stint in health and safety protocols.

Next up is a return to TQL Stadium against Orlando City (25 points; fourth in East) on Friday night. Acosta should be back in the starting XI, though it’s a bit too early to say if midfielder Junior Moreno—along with Acosta, the only player to start every match before Saturday—will return to at least the bench. Obinna Nwobodo picked up the slack sans Moreno, earning MLS Team of the Week honors after leading the club in seemingly every passing, dribbling, and tackling statistic vs. Philly.

Cincinnati’s summer of positive soccer vibes could have reached another height last week when FIFA revealed the host cities for the 2026 men’s World Cup, which will take place in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Alas, local soccer fans will have to settle for a resurgent FC Cincinnati.

Here were the cities and stadium up for consideration, with the winners bolded:

United States (11)

Atlanta: Mercedes-Benz Stadium
Boston: Gillette Stadium
Cincinnati: Paul Brown Stadium
Dallas: AT&T Stadium
Denver: Empower Field at Mile High
Houston: NRG Stadium
Kansas City: Arrowhead Stadium
Los Angeles: SoFi Stadium and Rose Bowl
Miami: Hard Rock Stadium
Nashville: Nissan Stadium
New York/New Jersey: MetLife Stadium
Orlando: Camping World Stadium
Philadelphia: Lincoln Financial Field
San Francisco: Levi’s Stadium
Seattle: Lumen Field
Washington, D.C./Baltimore: M&T Bank Stadium

Canada (2)

Edmonton: Commonwealth Stadium
Toronto: BMO Field
Vancouver: BC Place

Mexico (3)

Guadalajara: Estadio Akron
Mexico City: Estadio Azteca
Monterrey: Estadio BBVA

Had Cincinnati pulled the upset, it would have been among the biggest developments in the city’s history—the world’s most popular sporting event coming to the Queen City! But even after Chicago and Minneapolis withdrew from consideration, Cincinnati was the longest of longshots among the American contenders.

Sure, Cincinnati touted FCC’s sparkling new facilities (TQL Stadium and the Mercy Health Training Center), the walkability of downtown, and the city’s relatively central location in the country. The generally positive vibes from the U.S. men’s and women’s national teams playing multiple matches here over the past few years aided the city’s cause.

Still, the small number of available hotel rooms (compared to the other American cities) and the lack of a train and/or subway system were always going to be major hurdles for Cincinnati to overcome. In addition, Paul Brown Stadium had the third-lowest seating capacity among the 17 stadiums in consideration, and the home of the Bengals was going to require $10 million in upgrades to meet FIFA’s specifications.

The World Cup would have been a financial lottery ticket for the city. A study by the University of Cincinnati estimated that the World Cup could have been worth nearly $500 million for the Cincinnati region. Fans from around the world would have flocked here in summer 2026, flooding restaurants, hotels, and shops from Springdale to Florence.

In four years time, Cincinnatians will have to settle for a qualifying national team setting up shop in the city to train, or maybe the 2025 MLS All-Star Game. The WC2026 ambition was admirable, and the city’s serious pursuit of the bid certainly could help it draw additional big-name soccer events in the future.

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

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