On Saturday night, FC Cincinnati (17 points, 13th in the Eastern Conference) welcomes Inter Miami (23 points, 11th in the East) to TQL Stadium for the second time. The first occasion was a historic one for FCC: the first match inside the $250 million structure that, from its ground breaking in December 2018 to the aforementioned first match on May 16, required just under 29 months to finish.
In terms of the East playoffs, not much has changed since May though. Both Cincinnati and Miami are well off the pace of seventh-place D.C. United (30 points), but Miami has found positive form after spending time below FCC in the East basement. Immediately after its win over Cincinnati, Miami dropped six consecutive matches and were outscored 13-1 over that span. But since a 5-0 shellacking at the hands of Supporters Shield leaders New England on July 21, Miami has gathered points in six of seven matches, including wins over Montreal (2-1), Nashville (2-1), Chicago (3-2), and Toronto (3-1).
Despite its strong finish to July and impressive August, Inter Miami has scored only 21 goals in 20 matches, the same as FC Cincinnati. Only expansion side Austin (20 goals in 21 games) has scored fewer goals. Miami has also allowed at least one goal in 16 successive matches. This is no juggernaut FCC is facing on Saturday night. Then again, we’ll see if the Orange and Blue are able to pick themselves up after a shock defeat to Columbus last weekend.
FC Cincinnati has endured ample disappointing results this season; a side doesn’t end up two points off last place in the East without that happening. But Friday night’s 3-2 defeat in Columbus was the second time this season Cincinnati had its rival on the ropes and failed to land the proverbial knockout punch. In mid-July, the Orange and Blue squandered a 2-0 lead—plus a man advantage—beginning in the 42nd minute, eventually settling for a 2-2 draw. Last Friday, the visitors pulled ahead 2-1 in the 74th minute via Isaac Atanga’s first goal of the season. The 21-year-old had been on the field for just six minutes when he fired past Columbus goalkeeper Eloy Room to cap off a FCC counterattack.
Then FCC goalkeeper Kenneth Vermeer, back in the starting XI after missing the past two full matches, spilled a shot from distance right onto the foot of Columbus’ Miguel Berry in the 81st minute to level the proceedings. Two minutes later, Berry scored again off a spilled save from Vermeer. It was a night to forget for the veteran goalie.
The loss extended FC Cincinnati’s winless drought (four losses, seven draws) to 11 matches, with its last victory on June 26 against East-worst Toronto. Early last month I wrote that August would make or break FCC’s season—the club would make a playoff push, more or less stand pat in the standings, or fall into last in the East. Since then, FCC has picked up just three points and dropped two slots in the East standings.
A month later, we now know that the playoffs are a pipe dream and the remaining slate may serve as a two-month tryout for head coach Jaap Stam and players whose futures are uncertain for 2022. Collecting their first home victory would be a step in the right direction for both parties.
Grant Freking writes FC Cincinnati coverage for Cincinnati Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @GrantFreking.