FC Cincinnati’s Busy Week Begins With a Win, Ends with a Battle for First Place

Plus a U.S. Open Cup match tonight against old USL rival Louisville City.

Last Saturday was the first of three matches in eight days for FC Cincinnati, including a trophy competition home game tonight. Each presents a different test for the Eastern Conference’s co-leaders.

Brandon Vazquez scores against Portland April 22 at TQL Stadium.

Photograph by Joseph Guzy

FC Cincinnati responded like good teams should after the shellacking in St. Louis.

FC Cincinnati prevailed 2-1 over Portland at TQL Stadium over the weekend, showcasing hustle and defense—with clinical finishing left wanting—to fell their Western Conference foes. Playing without Brenner, who continues to sit with his reported summer move to Italy now finalized, Sergio Santos notched his team-best fourth goal of the season in his second successive start in place of him.

The surprising return of Lucho Acosta certainly aided matters, too. The club captain sat out the St. Louis loss after suffering what looked to be a serious shoulder/collarbone injury vs. Philadelphia on April 8, but he returned to full training on Thursday, then started on Saturday and played nearly the whole match.

Good teams exhibit proper perspective after beatdown losses. Cincinnati refused to let the St. Louis loss linger and secured its fifth victory in five home matches in 2023.

Backups to (likely) determine FC Cincinnati’s U.S. Open Cup fate.

FC Cincinnati welcomes USL Championship side Louisville City FC at TQL Stadium tonight for its first tilt in the 2023 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. FCC has failed to muster much success in the tournament since its 2017 semifinal run, and how well the Orange and Blue perform in the competition will be up to a cadre of backups.

With an away match against New England, the East’s other co-leader, looming on Saturday night, expect a heavily rotated starting XI tonight against FCC’s former USL rivals. Roman Celentano, Matt Miazga, and Brandon Vazquez spent a portion of last week training with the U.S. men’s national team for its April 19 match against Mexico, and they’re good bets to start on the bench tonight.

Vazquez played 64 minutes vs. Mexico and the full match vs. Portland. Miazga played 23 minutes against Mexico and the full match on Saturday. Celentano didn’t feature against El Tri, but he and Miazga are the lone FC Cincinnati players to play every minute of every match thus far. Furthermore, backup goalkeeper Alec Kann—who started the first seven matches of 2022 before an injury and Celentano’s subsequent steller play cost him the starting job—could use the work after being relegated to just 90 minutes of FC Cincinnati 2 duty in 2023.

Other starters due for a rest include Acosta, who’s playing through pain and may not even make the match day roster. Alvaro Barreal (six minutes short of playing every minute of every match in 2023) as well as regular starters Nick Hagglund, Ray Gaddis, Junior Moreno, and Obinna Nwobodo will presumably begin on the bench or not feature at all.

So, who should FC Cincinnati fans pay attention to tonight? Marco Angulo (252 minutes) and Malik Pinto (152 minutes), a pair of 20-year-olds, have become the first two midfield options off the bench for head coach Pat Noonan with Yuya Kubo limited to just 34 minutes this season. Kubo should be available for selection tonight, though, and could start alongside them.

Forward Arquimides Ordoñez was named to the CONCACAF U-20 Championship Best XI for his showing with Guatemala last summer and has 178 MLS minutes to his name as a 19-year-old. He leads FC Cincinnati 2 in scoring with four goals in two matches.

Two recent first-round picks, Joey Akpunonu (2023) and Ian Murphy (2022), have found little (Murphy) to zero (Akpunonu) playing time at center back but should start vs. Louisville. Steven Jimenez, a 15-year-old defender who became the youngest homegrown signing in FC Cincinnati history last November, could be in line for minutes, too.

The Revolution will be televised. Can FC Cincinnati take sole possession of first place?

FCC is unblemished against Eastern Conference opposition in 2023 but will encounter its stiffest test yet Saturday evening in Foxborough, Mass. The Revolution’s U.S. Open Cup foray was Tuesday night, so it will enjoy an extra day of rest.

A minor subplot for the game is FC Cincinnati assistant coach Kenny Arena coaching against his father, Bruce, the five-time MLS Cup-winning manager and two-time former head of the U.S. men’s national team.

Cincinnati and New England sport identical 6-1-2 records (wins, losses, draws) and count on their No. 10s—Acosta for Cincinnati, 2021 MLS MVP Carles Gil for New England—to ignite their offenses. New England is less than two years removed from claiming the Supporters Shield, only to lose to eventual MLS Cup champion New York City FC in penalty kicks in the East semifinals.

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

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