The positive news for FC Cincinnati following a 4-3 setback Saturday night to CF Montreal is it remains firmly in the playoff race (19 points from 14 matches, good for sixth in the Eastern Conference) entering Major League Soccer’s 21-day international break.
FC Cincinnati’s aspirations for a first-ever five-game winning streak were dashed by 2021 Supporters Shield holders New England 3-2 on May 21. And following another epic defeat to Montreal on Saturday, the Orange and Blue enter their sabbatical losers of successive matches, having surrendered seven goals in the two losses.
Defensive lapses in Montreal—particularly goals ceded in first-half stoppage time and in the first minute of the second half—cost FCC a draw at minimum. “It’s a shame we can’t find a way to walk off the field with at least a point with the chances that we created and some of the moments that we squander where we have too good of looks to not finish plays off,” FC Cincinnati head coach Pat Noonan said postgame in Montreal. “You score three goals, you’ve got to figure out a way to get a result.”
Loads and loads of goals are seemingly a prerequisite for nearly every FCC-Montreal battle. The two clubs have delivered a pair of 4-3 results—both Montreal wins—in 2022. Last season, an outlier 0-0 draw in August was preceded by a 5-4 thriller in July. That’s 23 goals over four matches, yet only one point gained by FC Cincinnati.
The visitors began Saturday’s tilt strong and with a touch of good fortune. Junior Moreno poked home Brandon Vazquez’s redirected header from Alvaro Barreal’s corner kick in the 12th minute. Five minutes later, Montreal playmaker Djordje Mihailovic left due to injury. Mihailovic is tied for third in MLS in goals (seven)—he scored a pair vs. FCC in April—and his four assists are tied for fourth-best in the league.
Montreal struck twice, however, to enter the break ahead 2-1. A third Montreal goal was added in the first minute of the second half, and FC Cincinnati appeared to be in serious trouble. Alvaro Barreal pulled one back in the 52nd minute, and then Montreal were awarded a penalty not long thereafter for a Nick Hagglund handball in the penalty box. Roman Celentano made contact with Romell Quioto’s penalty kick but couldn’t keep the ball out of the net.
Noonan substituted Brenner—who was dropped vs. New England due to an undisclosed disciplinary issue—in the 62nd minute. A minute later, the forward assisted on Moreno’s second goal of the night, a powerful strike from just outside the box. The introduction of Brenner upped FCC’s level, arming the Orange and Blue five with attacking players to probe Montreal’s defense. Nonetheless, a tying score failed to arrive, and FC Cincinnati returned stateside to ponder its suddenly porous defense.
FCC have allowed at least three goals in successive matches after not yielding more than two goals in a match since the first meeting with Montreal eight games ago, a stretch that included three shutouts. Yes, the quality of the competition increased, but this a worrying stretch for a side that’s now conceded 25 goals in 19 matches, the third-worst mark in the East.
Still, FC Cincinnati is off to its best start to an MLS season in its history, with a chance to regroup, rest, and get healthy ahead of its next match on June 18 at Philadelphia. Noonan’s former club sits second in the East with 25 points and has lost just once all season.
“I think the record’s fair based on performances in certain areas where we’re just not executing enough to be more consistent with the results,” Noonan said. “We certainly had a nice stretch defensively that allowed us to go on a run, but we lost that a little bit in the last couple of games. But when you look at how we’ve missed out on some points, I would say there’s frustration in the sense that we could be in a better place we currently are.”
Next week in this space, I’ll dive into FC Cincinnati’s season to date, revealing who’s chiefly responsible for the club’s turnaround, as well as examining the gauntlet that awaits FCC when the season restarts.
Grant Freking writes FC Cincinnati coverage for Cincinnati Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @GrantFreking.