To diehard FC Cincinnati fans, the scene must have damn near given them chills. To casual FCC observers, maybe confusion was the optimal state of mind, followed surely by an uttering of, “Wait, is this the same team from last year?” Through the first 45 minutes of its season opener last weekend at the New York Red Bulls, FC Cincinnati were wretched. They were so bad that I briefly allowed for the possibility that the visitors could have been unwittingly placed under a soccer version of the Imperius Curse that had robbed them of the capability to complete basic touch passes. And yet, when the game ended, the Orange and Blue had almost salvaged a point against a franchise that hasn’t finished with a losing record since 2011, falling 3-2.
I always hesitate to dole out too much credit to professional athletes for submitting maximum effort, but there is something to be said for the way FC Cincinnati responded in the second half. In the first half, FCC were overwhelmed by the Red Bulls’ energy and superior tactics; fullbacks Greg Garza and Mathieu Deplagne were out of position, with defensive midfielder Haris Medujanin disconnected from Frankie Amaya and Allan Cruz, the other midfielders who were playing with too much of a devil-may-care disposition. Acres of space were frequently developing in FC Cincinnati’s half of Red Bull Arena, with precious few Orange and Blue shirts in the correct positions.
The halftime statistics reflected the onslaught: New York registered 12 shots (three on target), while FC Cincinnati notched a single off-target shot and trailed 2-0. The showing was eerily similar to 2019, a frightening thought to many FCC fans considering that four starters (and theoretical upgrades from last year) were making their team debut.
The second half, however, was a testament to adjusted tactics, the Red Bulls wearing down, and the injection of Jurgen Locadia’s quality into the game. Amaya and Cruz were more conservative in their midfield approach, though Amaya raised my eyebrows—in a positive way—for a few of his ball-winning tackles and general firecrackers-in-his-shoes play.
The second half headline, though, was Locadia. In roughly 30 minutes on the field, he scored FC Cincinnati’s second goal and narrowly missed another in what would have been a scorching strike from outside the box. Not bad for a guy who hadn’t practiced with the squad in over a week. In all, FCC finished with 11 shots (five on target). The Red Bulls, sans now-departed striker Bradley Wright-Phillips for the first time since 2012, logged 15 shots (six on target).
Now the attention turns to a Saturday night showdown against Atlanta United, a perennial contender that lost its star player for the season on opening night. Josef Martinez, the author of 63 goals in 71 matches in 2018 and 2019, is lost for the year with a torn ACL. Brandon Vazquez, his backup for the last few seasons, happens to now be playing for FC Cincinnati.
Atlanta will still be potent sans Martinez vs. an FC Cincinnati defense that remains vulnerable in the back, something I warned about in my season preview. Atlanta will miss Martinez’s clinical finishing, but rest assured its midfield of Pity Martinez, Ezequiel Barco, and Emerson Hyndman is plenty capable of carving up FCC. On the other hand, Martinez’s presumed replacement, Adam Jahn, spent last season in the United Soccer League and Atlanta lost a handful of key contributors from 2019, so (in theory) they should be working out some kinks.
FC Cincinnati is poised to be better this weekend. Odds are, if they come out flat and disjointed once again, Atlanta will turn its home opener into a bloodletting in front of 50,000 screaming fans. The first-game jitters and excuses are in the past. Locadia will probably start and play into the second half, which should provide a nice boost.