In Praise of FC Cincinnati’s Chris Albright and Pat Noonan

They’ve been successful as players, coaches, and executives, and that success is clearly rubbing off on the FCC organization.

Back in February I wrote in my season preview column that trophies were a realistic goal for FC Cincinnati. Silverware chances in the Leagues Cup and the U.S. Open Cup went up in smoke—or in the case of the latter, went up in Messi—but Cincinnati remains in the driver’s seat for the Supporters’ Shield and is the betting favorite to win MLS Cup.

These possible achievements were further crystallized in FC Cincinnati’s come-from-behind 2-1 victory in Atlanta last week, which allowed the Orange and Blue to become the second-fastest side (26 matches) in league history to clinch a playoff berth. Only Los Angeles FC (25 matches in 2019 and 2022) was quicker to book a postseason ticket.

At this time two years ago, Cincinnati was full-steam ahead for its eventual third successive bottom-of-the-table finish. General Manager Chris Albright had been hired, inheriting a roster with talent that was also bloated with bad contracts, and he’d yet to convince Pat Noonan to join his project as head coach.

Today, trophies (yes, plural!) are FC Cincinnati’s ambition. It’s another startling reminder of how quickly the franchise’s fortunes have flipped through the partnership of Albright and Noonan. The duo, alongside less-heralded folks behind the scenes, have reshaped the roster and created a culture of winning in less than two complete league seasons. “Our goal is obviously trophies this year, and it’s pretty obvious what we’re chasing now,” defender Matt Miazga told the team’s website. “But it’s massive. My hope is (clinching a playoff spot) is a step in the journey.”

Even a craggy 1-0 loss to Orlando over the weekend, Cincinnati’s first league setback at TQL Stadium in 2023, can’t take the shine off FCC’s rise. Saturday was the squad’s fifth match in 15 days, so we’ll let it slide. With seven matches remaining, the Orange and Blue are 10 points clear in both the race for the Supporters’ Shield and first place in the Eastern Conference.

Success as a player obviously doesn’t guarantee overseeing a winning team as a coach or an executive, but winning in multiple places as both a player and coach/executive over an extended period of time? There might be something to that in FC Cincinnati’s case.

Albright won three MLS Cups as a player. As an executive with the Philadelphia Union, he won a Supporters’ Shield and reached the playoffs four times while playing a pivotal role in establishing the league’s top player development pipeline.

As a player, Noonan won seven trophies: two MLS Cups, two Supporters’ Shields, and three U.S. Open Cups. Over eight combined seasons an assistant coach with the L.A. Galaxy and the Union, Noonan never missed the playoffs and won the Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup.

That’s 13 combined trophies between Albright and Noonan. Whether it’s convincing a group of players of your vision and tactics or persuading ownership to invest millions of dollars in particular players, credibility isn’t hard to come by with Albright and Noonan’s history.

The honors and rewards have come in for the club’s top performers of late, too. MVP frontrunner Lucho Acosta was named MLS Player of the Month for August, the second straight month he’s claimed the honor. The captain leads the league in goal contributions (13 goals, 11 assists).

Starting goalkeeper Roman Celentano inked a contract extension that keeps him with the club through the 2027 season. Tied for second in the league in clean sheets, Celentano (presumably) received a raise with this new deal, which came pretty quickly considering he was the second overall selection in the 2022 SuperDraft.

Meanwhile, striker Aaron Boupendza (Gabon), wingback/defender Santiago Arias (Colombia), and Junior Moreno (Venezuela) have been called up to their respective countries’ national teams for World Cup qualifying matches. None will miss any game time for FC Cincinnati, though, with the club off until a September 16 road match in Philadelphia.

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

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