I would have deemed you a fool if you’d predicted that at midnight on April 1, in week six of Major League Soccer’s regular season, FC Cincinnati would be alone in first place in the East for the first time in club history without multiple goal contributions from Brenner, Lucho Acosta, and Brandon Vazquez. Instead, the renowned attacking trident failed to score for the fourth time in six matches, as Cincinnati won 1-0 for the third time in its past four forays.
With 28 matches and six and a half months remaining in the MLS regular season, FC Cincinnati (14 points) stands alone in first place in the Eastern Conference, a point ahead of New England. FCC also has four clean sheets, tied for top spot in the league.
Last Saturday’s 1-0 triumph over Inter Miami at TQL Stadium featured a bit of everything, from another unlikely goal scorer, a video review that lasted the length of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” (the song, not the film) and monsoon conditions in the second half that had me wondering if Lieutenant Dan was taunting the almighty in a shrimp boat nearby.
There’s something to be said for good teams consistently winning close matches. There’s also something to be said for prevailing in a gross, uneasy-on-the-eyes slogfest in the pouring rain with multiple players returning from recent international duty and missing the services of Obinna Nwobodo, one of the league’s top midfielders, who sat with a hamstring injury.
If I’m being truthful, though, routinely nabbing three points in matches like Saturday night requires a bit of luck. Good fortune like Miami’s Josef Martinez, the best goal scorer of his MLS generation, fluffing a 1-vs.-1 chance against Roman Celentano, or surviving while allowing the visitors to completely control the ball. Inter Miami enjoyed 62 percent possession and notched six five-minute intervals in which they had 66 percent possession or better—including a five-minute stretch when it had 88 percent of the ball.
Saturday night was a rather blasé presentation of soccer. If you don’t want to take my word for it, take Pat Noonan’s.
“We’ve been really poor with decision making on the ball, especially tonight,” the FC Cincinnati head coach told Apple TV postgame. Noonan, having proved himself to be a heck of a head coach, is also keen on candor, a welcome sight for writers like yours truly. “Tonight was probably our worst performance. If you had to watch that, we apologize. We were just off on so many levels. … It was good that we won the game, but it was a below-average performance.”
For now, winning 1-0 and taking points from both below-average and average performances is working for FC Cincinnati while Acosta, Brenner, and Vazquez discover their goal-scoring boots. The fearsome trio have combined for just two goals so far after registering 46 total in 2022.
After Nwobodo and Sergio Santos picked up the goals in the season opener and Junior Moreno logged a brace in Chicago, it was center back Yerson Mosquera’s turn to be the Unlikely Goal Scorer against Miami. Mosquera, on loan from the English Premier League’s Wolverhampton Wanderers, headed in a first-half stoppage time corner kick from Alvaro Barreal for his first score in Orange and Blue.
At 45 minutes plus five stoppage time minutes, Mosquera’s goal was the latest first half score in club history. The ample extra time was due to a video review that eventually overturned an awarded penalty for Miami. Referee Nima Saghafi determined that the foul committed by Marco Angulo was outside the area, a fact those of us viewing on television could plainly see after a minute of replays.
Perhaps FC Cincinnati will display more focus this Saturday evening, when the Philadelphia Union, who ended Cincinnati’s season in the East semifinals last fall, visit TQL Stadium. The Orange and Blue fared well against Philly in the 2022 regular season, picking up a 1-1 draw at Subaru Park in June and dismantling the eventual East champs 3-1 at home in August.
Apropos of nothing, congrats to Lakota West High School and Xavier University product Nick Hagglund, who has revitalized his career as an undisputed starting center back under Noonan. Hagglund became the first FC Cincinnati player to reach 100 appearances across all competitions for the club against Miami.
Grant Freking writes FC Cincinnati coverage for Cincinnati Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @GrantFreking.