FC Cincinnati returns to the pitch Saturday night at TQL Stadium following a three-week international break, beginning a stretch of three matches in eight days. And given the upcoming competition, the time is nigh for the Orange and Blue to start accumulating points and victories.
The first match on Saturday is against Colorado, which sits fourth in the West (13 points from seven matches). It is yet another contest vs. a 2020 playoff team; FC Cincinnati has yet to play a squad that didn’t qualify for the postseason last year. In this instance, Colorado was the fifth seed in the West in 2020 but fell in the first round. It was the first time the Rapids had qualified for the postseason since 2016.
Colorado has had eight players register the club’s 12 goals, and its eight goals allowed is second-best among current West playoff teams. A key player to watch is midfielder Kellyn Acosta, who started for the U.S. national team in both of its Nations League matches over the break, including the wild 3–2 win over Mexico in the championship game. Other familiar names to soccer nerds will be winger Jonathan Lewis, who has seven U.S. senior national team appearances, and defender Sam Vines, who has three. On paper, this is FC Cincinnati’s toughest match before the calendar turns to July.
FCC’s two games next week on the road, however, are eminently winnable. The first is against Chicago, the only MLS club that could be considered worse than FC Cincinnati in 2021. The Fire have managed just four points from seven matches (FCC have four points in six games) and scored the fewest goals in the league (four). This is an ideal matchup for a FC Cincinnati side that could be finding solid defensive footing. Each of Chicago’s past three matches has ended 1–0. Last year, the Fire finished one point out of the 10-team Eastern Conference playoffs, missing the postseason for the third consecutive campaign and for the seventh time in eight years.
The final match of FC Cincinnati’s three-games-in-eight-days sprint is against Toronto, a perennial Eastern power that’s fallen on hard times. After finishing second in the East in 2020 to reach the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons, Toronto has logged five points from seven matches in 2021. It’s a bit of a throwback to the club’s early days in MLS, when it failed to make the postseason in each of its first eight (!) seasons, a seemingly unfathomable stretch considering Toronto has been to MLS Cup three times since 2016, winning the championship once and losing in penalty kicks on another occasion. But they resume play this weekend on a three-match winless streak, and a quick switch in form could be hampered by the team continuing to play its home contests in Orlando due to COVID-caused U.S.-Canada border restrictions.
Winning two of these three matches would immediately thrust FC Cincinnati back into the playoff conversation, and the club should be well-rested, with only midfielder Allan Cruz having been away from the team for international duty. The time off should have provided head coach Jaap Stam ample opportunity to create cohesion for his unit, which saw quite a few additions in weeks leading up to the season (Isaac Atanga, Gustavo Vallecilla) and after the season began (Geoff Cameron, Kenneth Vermeer).
FC Cincinnati fans shouldn’t anticipate a well-oiled machine on Saturday, but the time off and the drop in level in competition should equate to draws (at minimum) and wins.