FC Cincinnati Seizes Control of Its Playoff Destiny

A topsy-turvy 4-point week, including FCC’s biggest MLS win ever, has Cincinnati sitting pretty with a few weeks left in the season.
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FC Cincinnati’s attack truly had a tale of two matches last week. September 7 at New York City FC: 4 shots, 1 shot on goal, 1 (own) goal. September 10 hosting San Jose: 20 shots, 10 shots on goal, 6 goals.

Naturally, a few caveats apply. Brenner was rested at the beginning of the NYCFC tilt, and Lucho Acosta was suspended due to yellow card accumulation. The match also took place in the outfield of the New York Mets’ Citi Field. The pitch was borderline dangerous, with dead patches and slick spots dotted through the field. The sham pitch reminded me of the Oakland Raiders’ hapless setup when the franchise played in Oakland Coliseum.

Besides missing players and competing on a glorified cow pasture, the Orange and Blue were toothless offensively against New York City, a side sinking faster than Enron stock in 2001. FC Cincinnati was tied at halftime due to sheer dumb luck. Despite ceding 70 percent possession, recording one cross, tallying zero corner kicks, and being outshot 17-1, FCC was level thanks to one of the most shocking own goals I’ve ever seen, courtesy of New York City defender Thiago Martins. FC Cincinnati head coach Pat Noonan’s solid second-half adjustments negated NYCFC in the second half, but his team was fortunate to escape New York with a point.

Armed with a first-choice starting XI against San Jose, MLS’s worst defensive unit, the Fighting Garys enjoyed their best offensive showing in franchise history. Brenner tallied a hat trick and a slick assist to Yuya Kubo, snapping a four-match goalless drought and taking MLS Player of the Week honors for his superb effort. Not to be overshadowed was Acosta, whose three assists give him a league-high 18 on the season.

The blowout victory also pushed FC Cincinnati’s goal differential from minus-1 to plus-5. Goal differential is the second tiebreaker—total number of wins per match is first—in the event two or more teams are tied in points at the conclusion of the regular season. The four-point week was critical for FC Cincinnati (42 points, sixth in East), which is a point ahead of seventh-place Columbus and three points clear of eighth-place Miami.

Another positive note to last week was the return of left back/winger Ronald Mattarita. A fixture in FC Cincinnati’s starting XI since arriving from NYCFC prior to the 2021 season, he suffered an ankle injury that required surgery in late March while on international duty for Costa Rica. Just over five months later, the veteran has made substitute appearances in each of the past two matches. A slick operator on the ball when healthy, “Mata” is a big boost for Noonan’s bench and could work his way back into a starting role.

Though wins have been tough to come by recently, FC Cincinnati is now unbeaten in 10 straight. A victory Saturday at Real Salt Lake (43 points, 7th in West) would be massive for the club’s confidence. After this weekend, FCC has a friendly match against Liga MX club Chivas next Wednesday before heading out West again for a midweek match on September 27 at Seattle.

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

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