FC Cincinnati head coach Pat Noonan has an interesting choice to make ahead of tonight’s U.S. Open Cup round of 32 tilt against visiting New York City FC, a side Cincinnati has never beaten in eight attempts. He could again rely on backups and members of FC Cincinnati 2, as he did in the 1-0 victory over Louisville City on April 26.
Having defeated D.C. United 2-1 Saturday night at TQL Stadium, Noonan’s regulars will have just three full days of rest ahead of tonight’s match. Striker Sergio Santos was the lone starter who didn’t play at least 79 minutes. And yet FCC has a week off until its next MLS match against visiting Montreal. New York City doesn’t have the same bye week luxury that Cincinnati possesses; NYCFC has the Hudson River derby vs. rival New York Bulls on Saturday night.
Against Louisville, Nick Hagglund was the lone member of the starting XI to have been a regular first team member. Center back Joey Akpunonu, defender Isaiah Foster, and 15-year-old midfielder Stiven Jimenez each made their first-team debuts with Cincinnati. Still, the deciding score vs. Louisville arrived in the second half after Noonan threw on Lucho Acosta, Matt Miazga, Junior Moreno, Brandon Vazqez, Matt Miazga, and Alvaro Barreal. (Last Saturday, Barreal’s goal and all-around showing vs. D.C. United earned him a place on the MLS Team of the Week and made yours truly look sage.)
The cop-out but probable conclusion is that Noonan will begin tonight’s contest with a mix of typical starters, youngsters, and first-team backups. Brenner, who entered for Santos Saturday in the 65th minute following a month-long absence related to his July transfer to Italy, would have been due for more minutes tonight, but the striker suffered an injury over the weekend and will miss the match.
Midfielder Yuya Kubo made his first appearance in six weeks vs. Louisville after returning from injury. He’s since made two successive substitute appearances, totaling only 21 minutes. If Kubo starts, that could push Jimenez to the bench after a solid 76 minutes (I repeat: He’s 15!) against Louisville. Jimenez would have notched a first-half assist if Arquimides Ordoñez, the other teenager to play in that game, could have finished off his feed.
“A 15-year-old started tonight,” Noonan said after the Louisville match. “That’s pretty cool. He saw good minutes tonight at this stage and that is credit to his growth and his maturity for us, for me and for our staff to say we’re confident in putting him out there and still being able to win a game. I thought there were some things that he did well, but I think his maturity level in the field, the way he sees and reads the game, I was pleased with that.”
Ordoñez, who tallied the lone score against Louisville, endured an up-and-down match last week. The 19-year-old has just 56 minutes of first team action in 2023, but he’s scored a league-best six goals for FC Cincinnati 2 in MLS NEXT Pro. “Quimi” was recently called up by the Guatemalan Under-20 National Team in preparation for the coming Under-20 World Cup. Last summer, he registered five goals in six appearances during the 2022 CONCACAF under-20 championship, helping his side qualify for the Under-20 World Cup and earning a spot on the tournament’s Best XI.
I’m also eager to see 20-year-old midfielder Malik Pinto, who’s appeared in three consecutive MLS matches but for just five combined minutes. Noonan appears to have ample faith in him, though, handing him a start on March 25 at Nashville when the midfield was without Kubo, Moreno, and Marco Angulo.
FC Cincinnati seeks to win its opening two U.S. Open Cup matches for the first time since 2018, while New York City FC is searching for its first road victory in seven tries in 2023.
Grant Freking writes FC Cincinnati coverage for Cincinnati Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @GrantFreking.