FC Cincinnati’s Marvelous March

A surprisingly wonderful start to the 2023 season looks to continue Saturday when Inter Miami visits TQL Stadium.

It doesn’t exactly bear the same level of surprise as zero of the top 12 seeds in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament reaching the Final Four. But FC Cincinnati opening its 2023 slate with five straight unbeaten matches—including four in March—surely was a welcome shock to its supporters.

Brandon Vazquez scored his first goal of the season March 25 in Nashville.

Photograph by Joseph Guzy

Thanks to a 1-0 win at Nashville last weekend, Cincinnati has taken 11 out of a possible 15 points so far this season and extended Major League Soccer’s longest active unbeaten road streak to nine games. After rallying to a net a 3-3 draw in Chicago and notching a nil-nil draw at Orlando, the Orange and Blue posted a more well-rounded, mature effort in Nashville despite playing shorthanded in the midfield.

The visitors were happy to let Nashville, typically content to sit in its defensive shell, control the ball (61% to 39% possession) but log more of the dangerous chances (seven shots on goal to three). In the end, Brandon Vazquez’s putback of Alvaro Barreal’s shot just after intermission was the difference. The game-winner was the first goal of 2023 for Vazquez, who is reportedly being followed closely by German first division side Borussia Monchengladbach.

Here are notes from the Nashville match and other FC Cincinnati-related odds and ends.

FCC’s first Academy player debuts

In Nashville, with Junior Moreno (Venezuela) and Marco Angulo (Ecuador) on international duty and Yuya Kubo unavailable through injury, 20-year-old Malik Pinto made his MLS debut, slotting into the FCC midfield next to Lucho Acosta and Obinna Nwobodo. He’s the first FC Cincinnati Academy product to start a match for the senior team, and he went 64 minutes and completed all 22 of his passes. The former Princeton University player was tasked with slowing down star Nashville midfielder Hany Mukhtar, who was the league’s MVP in 2022 after registering 34 goal contributions (23 goals, 11 assists).

“Malik, other than just the fatigue and cramping, I thought he had a solid game,” Cincinnati head coach Pat Noonan said afterwards. “After the first maybe five minutes, he looked like he got way more comfortable connecting simple passes. Defensively, I think him and Obi [Nwobodo] had a pretty good partnership on the night just to try to help take away passes to [Hany] Muhktar, who you can see how difficult he is to deal with.”

Acosta extension coming?

Acosta’s representatives have reportedly begun discussions with FC Cincinnati on a contract extension. Acosta, who turns 29 on May 31, is under club control through 2024. The Argentine certainly earned his team-high compensation in 2022 (just over $2.2 million), with his 10 goals and a league-best 19 assists enough to merit placement on MLS’s Best XI.

Soccer players on the wrong side of 30 are typically poor investments, however, so it will be interesting to see if the two sides can find middle ground. General Manager Chris Albright naturally wants to keep the club captain around, especially since the team is formatted to suit Acosta’s creative strengths, but will want to do so at a reasonable price and length.

Up next: star-crossed Inter Miami

FC Cincinnati returns home from its two-week road trip Saturday night against Inter Miami, which has dropped three successive matches after prevailing in its first two games.

Since its introduction into MLS in the 2020 season behind an ownership group fronted by English soccer legend David Beckham, Miami has constantly recruited and landed stars of various stature. Blaise Matuidi joined the club straight from Italian power Juventus for its inaugural campaign. Ahead of the 2021 season, former Real Madrid, Napoli, Juventus, AC Milan, and Chelsea striker Gonzalo Higuain signed for the club. Miami also brought in Phil Neville, a former teammate of Beckham’s at Manchester United and the ex-coach of the England women’s national team, to be the head coach.

Before last season, U.S. men’s national team defender DeAndre Yedlin, who made more than 100 appearances for English Premier League side Newcastle United, came aboard. And this past January, former MLS MVP and Atlanta United striker Josef Martinez signed for the club. Martinez tallied a ridiculous 77 goals in his first three seasons in Atlanta.

Miami has also been repeatedly linked to Lionel Messi, who is yet to reach a new contract with French power Paris Saint-Germain. MLS commissioner Don Garber has already weighed in on Messi’s potential arrival, saying such a move would be “terrific for MLS” and that the league would be flexible with Messi’s prospective migration to Miami.

Yet, for all of its star chasing, Inter Miami has a pair of first round playoff exits to show for its method of roster building.

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

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