FC Cincinnati’s Center Back Issues Have Reached Critical Mass

Injuries and national team duty have put the team’s defense on the defensive. A roster addition is likely next month.
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Over its past four matches, FC Cincinnati has lost the services of three center backs. Prized free agent signing Miles Robinson, a former Best XI honoree, is with the U.S. Men’s National Team and last played for FCC on May 29. Matt Miazga, the reigning MLS Defender of the Year, needs knee surgery following his collision with a goal post on June 15. And in Saturday’s 2-1 home loss to New England, Nick Hagglund suffered a broken fibula.

Team observers have long assumed General Manager Chris Albright would be recruiting another forward—an Aaron Boupendza replacement, perhaps?—once the MLS Secondary Transfer Window opened on July 18. An offensive boost may still happen, but it will need to be paired with at least one center back acquisition. With 15 regular season matches remaining, FCC can’t afford to wait much longer to address a position decimated by three multi-week absences.

As I noted last week, Robinson could be back as soon as the July 3 match at D.C. United—though this script accounts for the Americans failing to advance out of their Copa América group. The more likely scenario is the U.S progresses through to at least the quarterfinal round on July 6. FC Cincinnati hosts East-leading Inter Miami that same day.

As for Hagglund and Miazga, the former faces long odds to return in 2024, a crushing blow for the local lad who spent the offseason recovering from a torn hamstring. Miazga’s availability for the rest of the summer appears in serious doubt, and what transpires beyond that is unknown.

On Saturday, Head Coach Pat Noonan elected to start left center back Ian Murphy at middle center back, Miazga’s usual perch. He was flanked by DeAndre Yedlin and Alvas Powell, two typical wingbacks. Hagglund and Kipp Keller, who has six starts and nine match appearances this year, started on the bench, with the latter an unused substitute.

More mixing and matching will be required before Albright can supplement the roster. Powell has ample center back experience, including starting the Orange and Blue’s final two playoff contests in 2023, but he’s oft-injured and remains better suited to a reserve role. Yedlin possesses time at center back over the past two seasons but stands at a below-average height (5-foot-5) for that position. Yedlin’s speed and dribbling are also wasted at center back.

A road trip to struggling Dallas (11th in the West) looms Saturday night. With Obinna Nwobodo suspended for yellow card accumulation, indispensable Yuya Kubo should start at defensive midfield. With the hosts likely to start two forwards in Petar Musa and Jesus Ferreira, expect Keller to slide back into the starting XI and push Yedlin to wingback.

Odds and ends

Against New England, career midfielder Yamil Asad scored his first goal for the club after being signed in late March. With 47 career MLS goal contributions, he’s played primarily at wingback for FC Cincinnati. He garnered his first start Saturday night, slotting in at left wingback, with Luca Orellano playing an inverted winger role on the right side of the field.

Four days after returning to the match day squad for the first time in two months, Boupendza picked up two minutes as a substitute vs. New England. His future in Cincinnati was uncertain even before his jaw was broken at a local bar in late April. I don’t have a read yet on how much playing time Noonan is ready to supply his Designated Player striker moving forward.

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

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