FC Cincinnati Finishes a Taxing Stretch in Good Shape

A win and four draws against teams in playoff slots was positive news, along with acquiring insurance at forward.

Pat Noonan was blunt after FC Cincinnati managed a 1-1 draw against East-best New York Red Bulls Saturday night at TQL Stadium: “Great point. Terrible soccer game.” The head coach had just seen his squad survive being a man down for the last 40-plus minutes of the second half and down two men in the dying embers of extra time.

The good news for FCC (26 points, seventh in East) is that the NYRB game was the last in a five-match stretch vs. East squads that entered last weekend in playoff slots. The Orange and Blue emerged with one win and four draws.

The bad news is the hosts have another quick turnaround tonight against visiting Vancouver (24 points, 10th in West), the club’s fourth match in 15 days. To make matters worse, Lucho Acosta—reigning MLS Player of the Month and FCC’s first-ever All-Star—is suspended tonight as punishment for the straight red card he acquired in extra time last Saturday.

As for the on-field happenings against NYRB, Brandon Vazquez’s single-season team record ninth goal of the 2022 opened the scoring in the 20th minute. Nine minutes later, Lewis Morgan converted a penalty for New York after Ray Gaddis’ foul in the box. During the goal celebration, Allan Cruz, no stranger to the occasional unnecessary yellow card, knocked over a Red Bulls’ player, earning a caution. Cruz’s accumulated yet another brainless yellow in the 58th minute, reducing his side to 10 players.

In the end, FC Cincinnati defended well enough to keep the East’s best road side at bay—New York has won six of its nine matches on the road. The two sides engaged in a chippy contest that featured seven cards (six yellow, one red), though only two cards went to the visitors. It’s fair to say FCC lost its composure, though it appears that two games after a post-match bust-up with refs following a home 4-4 draw against New York City FC, the players and coaches feel they’ve gotten the short end of the officiating stick lately.

In any case, the playoff race in the East remains very tight. The East standings entering last Saturday’s matches:
Philadelphia: 33 points
New York Red Bulls: 32
Montreal: 29
New York City FC: 29
FC Cincinnati: 25
Orlando: 25
New England: 25

The East standings after Saturday’s matches:
New York Red Bulls: 33 points
Philadelphia: 33
New York City FC: 32
Montreal: 29
Orlando: 28
Charlotte: 26
FC Cincinnati: 26

Both Columbus, whom FC Cincinnati visits on Saturday night for the first Hell Is Real derby of 2022, and New England possess 25 points. With just under half the season remaining, FCC is in its first playoff race, and while the remaining months will be nervy for the team the action will provide great theater for the rest of us.

Sergio Santos provides insurance at forward this season and beyond

In roster news, Philadelphia Union forward Sergio Santos was acquired last Friday for up to $925,000 in General Allocation Money. He registered 19 goals and seven goals across 75 regular season games with the Union, though the 27-year-old was hampered by injuries during his time there. Santos’ combination of pace and power provides another dimension and needed depth to FC Cincinnati’s forward corps, and he’ll be available off the bench. Eventually, Santos will be able to spell Vazquez and Brenner in the starting XI, a welcome development to a thin position group.

Dominique Badji, who started 12 matches prior to the international break, appears nowhere close to a return. Sans Santos, the only depth behind Vazquez and Brenner is Calvin Harris (who hasn’t played since the international break and has been injury-prone in his two-year career) and rookie Nick Markanich.

Aside from depth, why make this rather expensive move? It’s insurance for 2023. Santos appears to have an option to extend his contract through 2023, while Vazquez looks to be out of contract at the end of the season. Vazquez, who played in Mexico as a teenager, is rumored to be garnering interest from Liga MX side Chivas. At minimum, the 23-year-old is in line for a massive wage raise.

Brenner could form a forward partnership with Santos in 2023 if Vazquez isn’t around. Or, if Brenner continues his blistering scoring form and FC Cincinnati decide to sell the Brazilian and bring back Vazquez, Vazquez and Santos could be Noonan’s top two strikers next year. Or all three could be around. FCC hold club options on Badji for 2023 and 2024, so as long the veteran stays healthy he’ll be in Cincinnati.

For now, FC Cincinnati has added another aspect to its attack. Instead of reinforcing FCC’s back line (yet), General Manager Chris Albright has decided to supplement his offense. This likely won’t be the club’s last move to augment the squad for the playoff push, so keep your eyes peeled for Albright’s next acquisition.

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

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