Fair play to FC Cincinnati. With a number of starters unavailable and actually playing a worse match than they did in their 1-0 loss to D.C. United, the Orange and Blue finally exorcised their losing demons, breaking a 14-match losing skid with last Saturday night’s 2-1 victory at Orlando City. A brace from Brandon Vazquez, stellar goalkeeping from Alec Kann, and an overall gutty effort was enough to overcome having Brenner, Allan Cruz, Raymon Gaddis, Ronald Matarrita, and Gustavo Vallecila unavailable for the game. That’s five part- or full-time starters who weren’t even available off the bench.
Vazquez punched in the first of his two goals in the 13th minute, polishing off a beautiful slot pass from Lucho Acosta. The score was FC Cincinnati’s first in 200-plus minutes of open play this season, thus providing the club with its first lead of 2022. Kann kept the hosts off the scoresheet with a brilliant, point-blank stop in the 22nd minute, but 20 minutes later they conceded a goal after rookie Ian Murphy, placed in an unfamiliar position at left back in his first MLS start, failed to ward off Junior Erso in the air.
During his halftime interview, FCC coach Pat Noonan telegraphed his intention to make a change, unhappy with his club dropping into a deep defensive block following Vazquez’s goal. Isaac Atanga took Murphy’s place to begin the second frame, making his season debut. In the 53rd minute, Dominique Badji made a brilliant run, sonning Orlando’s Ruan before delivering a well-placed ball for Vazquez to bury a bullet header. Kann, who had five saves on the night, notched another timely stop in the 85th minute.
Afterwards, Noonan rightly wasn’t thrilled with the showing, which saw his side doubled up on shots on goal (6-3) and thoroughly dominated in possession (69-31 percent), but he acknowledged the gravity of the win. The victory was naturally notable given the absences—Brenner and Gaddis’ injuries were kept under wraps until lineups were announced, and Cruz couldn’t play because of a family matter—as well as FC Cincinnati’s historical struggles against Orlando. The Orange and Blue lost 3-0 at Orlando in 2021 and 5-1 in 2019.
Though most pundits expect Orlando to qualify for the playoffs for the third consecutive campaign, the squad underwent a major overhaul to their attack from 2021. Former Manchester United stalwart Nani departed for Serie A club Venezia, Darryl Dike was sold to English second division side West Bromwich Albion, and Chris Mueller left for Hibernian FC in the Scottish Premiership. That’s 68 career goals and 64 assists in MLS off the books.
In spite of its goal-scoring woes and Orlando taking four points through its first two matches, FC Cincinnati entered the match with far more scoring attempts (29) than Orlando (13) and six more corners (12-6). Orlando had not been convincing, and a shorthanded FC Cincinnati squad not only proved its mettle but showed that Orlando requires additional time to work in its new pieces. Next up for FCC is an early Saturday afternoon tilt against Inter Miami at TQL Stadium, the first of three straight games against squads below them in the East standings.
Miami have taken just one point through three matches and are undergoing a self-inflicted rebuild after swinging too hard ahead of their 2020 expansion season and paying a price for running afoul of MLS rules. A week after FC Cincinnati was bludgeoned 5-0 in Austin, Miami lost 5-1. Over the weekend, Miami dropped a 2-0 home match to Los Angeles FC, prompting head coach Phil Neville to call out star striker/Designated Player Gonzalo Higuain.
Following the rendezvous with Miami, FC Cincinnati travels to expansion side Charlotte (zero points) and hosts Montreal (zero points). The going gets tougher after Montreal. FCC has a pair of tilts with Western Conference giants (at Seattle, home vs. Los Angeles FC) sandwiched between an away game at Atlanta.
FC Cincinnati may not have entirely “deserved” Saturday’s victory, but they did come away with precious points. It’s time for the club, hopefully with some of its regulars back in the fold, to begin a winning streak and notch its second-ever home victory Saturday against a Miami side in disarray.
Grant Freking writes FC Cincinnati coverage for Cincinnati Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @GrantFreking.