Six Thoughts on FC Cincinnati’s Six-Match Winning Streak

Three wins in eight days have the Orange and Blue flying right now. Should we be concerned about peaking too early?
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A thought for each of FC Cincinnati’s six straight wins, as the local soccer club’s merry month of May continued with last week’s conquests of Atlanta and St. Louis before a tricky trip to Toronto this weekend.

That’s not only six wins on the bounce, but three victories in an eight-day span. The key ingredients over the streak are the you-shall-not-pass attitude of the league’s top defense (11 goals allowed in 14 matches); Lucho Acosta’s searing form (eight consecutive matches with a goal contribution, a new club record and the longest active streak in MLS); and a dearth of frequent flyer miles (past three matches played in Ohio).

More than half of the league slate remains, but the Orange and Blue’s gaudy 2.14 points per game mark is ahead of last year’s average (2.03), which was more than strong enough to claim the franchise’s first major trophy, the Supporters’ Shield.

I can’t help but be a little apprehensive about FC Cincinnati peaking too early. Naturally, attempting to forecast or predict positive or poor form is ludicrous. But with FCC’s quality fading prior to the 2023 postseason, I do wonder about certain players being ridden too hard. For example, midfielder Pavel Bucha, Junior Moreno’s replacement, has been one of the club’s top players for weeks. The 26-year-old has come to grips with the nuances of the MLS game, and his creative potential is much higher than Moreno’s.

However, if you combine the minutes logged Bucha logged with Czech first division side Viktoria Plzeň—which began its 2023-24 season in late July—with his MLS total (an FCC-high 1,229 minutes), he’s amassed 2,347 minutes over the past 10 months. That would have been FCC’s fifth-highest total (excluding goalkeepers) for all of 2023.

The Garys still have 20 league matches remaining, plus Leagues Cup and postseason play. Bucha tallied 2,732 minutes during the 2022-23 season, so he’s used to being pushed hard, but this “combo year” could elevate him into the rare 3,000-minute land. Yikes.

Head coach Pat Noonan will need to start trusting his midfield reserves a bit more to supply Bucha with some rest. A possible fix could be when DeAndre Yedlin returns to full health at right wingback and Kevin Kelsy and Aaron Boupendza (if he’s still around) are both available. Then Yuya Kubo can deputize more often in the midfield.

FC Cincinnati heads north of the border for the second time this season Saturday to face a fully revitalized Toronto side. Currently fifth in the East after a Wooden Spoon finish in 2023, Toronto is playing near its full potential under new coach John Herdman, who previously piloted the 2022 Canadian Men’s National Team to its first World Cup appearances in 36 years. Toronto blitzed rival Montreal 5-1 last weekend, pushing their point total to 22, the same sum the club reached in 2023 in 34 league matches.

FCC’s last defeat was a 2-1 setback in Montreal on April 13. I don’t think the transitive property applies in this scenario, though.

With Yedlin unavailable and right center back Miles Robinson left on the bench for the first time in league play, the starboard side of the Orange and Blue’s defense looked considerably different with Brett Halsey and Nick Hagglund stepping in at wingback and center back respectively against St. Louis. It was the first league start of 2024 for Halsey, typically third choice at right wingback, and just the sixth overall appearance for Hagglund this season. Still ramping up to full fitness following hamstring surgery in November, Hagglund played 90 minutes for the first time since last October.

Robinson was the lone FC Cincinnati player called up for the U.S. Men’s National Team’s upcoming friendlies against Colombia (June 8) and Brazil (June 12). While he won’t miss any FCC matches during this stretch, he is a near-lock to be selected for the Americans’ Copa América roster, meaning the standout will miss multiple league ties in late June. The upside of Hagglund’s injury was offseason acquisition Kipp Keller netting early-season run as a starter and a substitute, so both players should be ready to fill in for Robinson.

Corey Baird was not fit to play either match last week. Dado Valenzuela started in Baird’s stead against St. Louis and Atlanta, giving him three successive shifts with starter’s minutes after racking up 76 minutes off the bench against Columbus. When Valenzuela started alongside Kelsy at striker vs. Atlanta, the Garys had a pair of 19-year-olds leading the forward line.

The Orange and Blue played with their food against Atlanta, notching a 1-0 victory that should have been more lopsided. The Five Stripes entered winless in six contests and lost one of the league’s preeminent creators, Thiago Almada, to injury in the 16th minute. FC Cincinnati, perhaps fighting off a bit of complacency following its Hell Is Real breakthrough, could not find a second goal. On a positive note, Kelsy’s score made him the fastest teenager to score multiple MLS goals.

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

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