FC Cincinnati followed up its “below average” showing in its 2023 opener with an expressly average showing on the road against Orlando City over the weekend, emerging with a 0-0 draw. That’s four points from two matches for Cincinnati, which now turns its attention to a massive early-season visit from Western Conference power Seattle on Saturday evening. Riding high after 4-0 and 2-0 home triumphs over Colorado and Real Salt Lake, respectively, the Sounders appear re-energized after the first playoff-less season in the club’s 14-year history in 2022.
A week after struggling for ball retention against Houston, FC Cincinnati went full FC Barcelona in Orlando by recording 576 passes, the most by the club since the start of last season. Cincinnati owned 57 percent of possession and dominated the final third of the pitch, limiting the hosts to a single shot on target and an expected goals tally of 0.3.
By virtue of its U.S. Open Cup title in 2022, Orlando gained entry to the Concacaf Champions League (CCL) in 2023, a tournament won by Seattle in 2022. Orlando clearly had one eye on its first CCL match on Tuesday night at Liga MX side Tigres, using all of its allotted five substitutions before three-quarters of the match was played, including a pair of subs at halftime.
FC Cincinnati failed to capitalize on Orlando’s squad rotation, though, leaving its finishing boots back in Cincinnati. In the second minute, Lucho Acosta’s lovely weighted pass—I will be typing that phrase many times over the next seven months—wrong-footed a pair of Orlando defenders to play in Brenner, who started after coming off the bench in Week 1. Brenner made perfect contact without needing to stop the ball, but his shot curled wide around the goal. It’s shot he would expect himself to bury, and at least get on target.
Brenner had a much tougher shot from distance saved by Orlando goalkeeper Pedro Gallese, one of the best shot stoppers in MLS, in the 23rd minute. The best chance of the night came from Brandon Vazquez, who struck the crossbar in the 51st minute after a timely dish from Obinna Nwobodo. It’s been a quiet start for Vazquez, whose 31 touches and 23 attempted passes were by far the lowest among starting Cincinnati outfield players on Saturday. Three minutes later, Acosta was played into the final third alone, but the captain’s second-to-last touch played him too far wide of the goal. That minor mistake limited his options, and his shot went wide.
So it was a frustrating evening for the FC Cincinnati attack. A week after transition and corner defending were problematic against Houston, though, Cincinnati shored up both areas against Orlando City. Center backs Matt Miazga, Nick Hagglund, and Yerson Mosquera impressed, winning duel after duel, with Mosquera showing off with his passing lane anticipation. Each of the three completed at least 93 percent of their passes while combining for 12 tackles plus interceptions. Orlando’s attack was relegated to feeble long balls, and seemingly every foray into the Cincinnati attacking third was snuffed out with extreme prejudice.
The season is still very young, but Cincinnati’s defense will be tested this weekend by Jordan Morris, the league’s leading goal scorer (three), and leader in key passes in Nicolas Lodeiro (eight).
Head coach Pat Noonan was impressed with his team’s showing, Orlando deficiencies be damned.
“I know they had to rotate some bodies, but you know, they still have some good players that were on the field tonight,” he said after the match. “And I thought our improvement with the ball was significant and it allowed us to move the ball for long stretches to be able to find different ways of trying to go to goal. And I thought defensively [we] didn’t concede a whole lot. Our group did a really good job of limiting the moments of isolation where they have a lot of creativity in and around goal, and our set piece defending improved.”
FC Cincinnati wasn’t nearly good enough in the final third to merit a road victory, but four points from two matches without its attack truly clicking is still a solid start. In years past, the lacking Week 1 showing would have been a draw and offensive frustration would have led to a crippling defensive breakdown late in the match in Week 2, turning a draw into a loss. But with a talented and experienced Seattle side coming to town this weekend, an average (or worse) showing on either side of the ball won’t be enough to net three points.
Grant Freking writes FC Cincinnati coverage for Cincinnati Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @GrantFreking.