FC Cincinnati wasn’t one of the 12 MLS sides to play last weekend, enjoying a respite from game action after eight matches in 25 days. Cincinnati resumes play tonight at home against Toronto, a star-studded, self-absorbed squad toiling in the dregs of the Eastern Conference.
Speaking of stars, the MLS All-Star Weekend is less than a month away, slated for July 15-19 at D.C. United’s Audi Field. The highlight of the weekend is the league’s annual showcase of its All-Stars against a foreign adversary. From 2005 to 2019, the All-Stars took on a European opponent, before pivoting to play Liga MX’s best over the past two mid-season breaks.
Europe is back in the fold for 2023, with English Premier League power Arsenal playing in the All-Star Game for the first time since 2016. The Gunners were top of the EPL table for much of the 2022-23 season before faltering down the stretch.
So, which FC Cincinnati players could feature against Arsenal?
Lock: Lucho Acosta
First, a refresher on how the squad of 26 players is selected. Eleven are voted on by fans (voting is closed), players, and media. The top player in each position from the combined vote will be named an All-Star, with an additional 12th player included who has the next-highest amount of overall votes. D.C. United head coach Wayne Rooney selects 12 additional players, with the two more picked by MLS Commissioner Don Garber.
Back to Acosta. Despite playing attacking midfielder—the league’s deepest, most talented position in the league—FC Cincinnati’s No. 10 has been the best player on the league’s best team. His assist numbers are down from 2022, in part due to Brenner’s absence-then-exit and Brandon Vazquez’s finishing issues.
Acosta is on pace for a similar goals-plus-assists tally as last year, though, due to his increased goal scoring (eight so far in 2023, 10 total in 2022). After going goalless in his first six matches of 2023, he has seven goals in his past seven matches. Acosta will be one of the Orange and Blue’s All-Star representatives for the second season in a row.
Should be an All-Star, but we’ll see: Alvaro Barreal, Matt Miazga
Barreal’s breathtaking rise from misplaced attacking winger to one of the league’s top wingback/fullbacks has put him on the cusp of his first All-Star selection. He leads Cincinnati in assists, and advanced metrics peg the 22-year-old as the club’s second-best offensive creator behind Acosta.
Despite increased attention from opposing defenses, Barreal has thrived by making the necessary defensive improvements that have helped the Garys flip their defensive fortunes from leaky (third-most goals conceded in East in 2022) to formidable (second-fewest goals conceded in East in 2023).
Miazga has played every minute of every league match, and his candidacy is reflected more by watching FC Cincinnati play than by statistics. The 27-year-old serves as Cincinnati’s captain when Acosta isn’t on the pitch and can be considered the captain of the defense at all times.
Miazga is in constant communication with his fellow center backs, and he’s also adept at breaking opposition lines or releasing one of FC Cincinnati’s attackers with long balls. It’s no coincidence that the Orange and Blue’s defensive showings have changed for the better since his first match last August. His stellar play has also earned him a spot back in the U.S. men’s national team rotation.
Worthy, but probably on the outside looking in: Roman Celentano
Celentano’s quick ascension from emergency starter to undisputed No. 1 to one of the league’s top shot-stoppers was covered a few weeks ago. The second-year goalie is second in the league in clean sheets, but with his passing numbers lacking—and therefore leaving Celentano short of outstanding—he’s likely to be skipped in favor of more veteran goalies enjoying similar seasons.
As for tonight’s match with Toronto, expect a close one despite FC Cincinnati’s immaculate home record (12 victories in 12 matches across all competitions) and the 21-point difference between the two teams. The hosts will be down Miazga and Vazquez for the foreseeable future and are only just getting Nick Hagglund and Sergio Santos back into the fold. A road match at D.C. United (23 points, eighth in East) looms on Saturday.
Grant Freking writes FC Cincinnati coverage for Cincinnati Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @GrantFreking.