Despite all of the struggles FC Cincinnati has faced in this unpredictable 2020 season, the club finally has something it can control. In the final group stage match of the MLS is Back Tournament, FC Cincinnati takes on the New York Red Bulls at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida, at 8 p.m. Wednesday on ESPN. If FC Cincinnati wins against the Red Bulls, the Orange and Blue guarantee themselves a spot in the tournament knockout stage.
The second match of the MLS is Back Tournament on Thursday resulted in a 1-0 win against Atlanta United, providing FC Cincinnati with its first MLS win in more than 10 months. Frankie Amaya scored the game-winning goal in the 76th minute against a short-handed Atlanta squad. The win against Atlanta United also provided Jaap Stam with his first three points as head coach of FC Cincinnati.
On Wednesday, FC Cincinnati squares off against the New York Red Bulls, another team FCC has previously played against in the 2020 MLS regular season. In March, FC Cincinnati lost 3-2 at Red Bulls Arena in Harrison, New Jersey. Kyle Duncan, Kaku, and Daniel Royer scored the goals for the Red Bulls, and Allan Cruz and Jurgen Locadia scored the two goals for Cincinnati. Despite losing the match, FC Cincinnati out-possessed New York and looked like the better team in the second half, with the goals from Cruz and Locadia coming after halftime.
The resume so far for the Red Bulls in the MLS is Back Tournament is quite similar to that of FC Cincinnati. The Red Bulls beat Atlanta United 1-0 in its first match of the tournament with an early goal from Florian Valot. However, New York suffered a setback in the second match, losing 2-0 to Columbus Crew SC. Not surprisingly, the goals for the Crew against the Red Bulls came from none other than Gyasi Zardes and Lucas Zelarayan, who combined to scored three of the four goals for Columbus against Cincinnati.
Both FC Cincinnati and the New York Red Bulls have three points and will be looking for a win to guarantee a spot in the Round of 16. Below is the Group E table through two matches:
If FCC and the Red Bulls were to draw, New York would claim second place over Cincinnati in the group based on goal differential. However, in the MLS is Back tournament, the top four third-place teams out of the six groups also advance to the Round of 16 as wildcard teams. If FC Cincinnati were to draw against the Red Bulls, it would still need help from other teams to secure a spot as a wildcard team in the knockout stage.
For up-to-date wildcard standings in the MLS is Back tournament, click here.
Here are some things to watch for in the second match-up against the New York Red Bulls this season:
1) This question has remained the same throughout the entire MLS is Back tournament: Will Jurgen Locadia be on the matchday roster for FC Cincinnati? The addition of Locadia to the starting lineup or as a substitute could really help FC Cincinnati create more attacking opportunities. If FC Cincinnati is without Locadia against the Red Bulls, the only true striker left on the roster is Brandon Vazquez. If that is the case, it will be interesting to see if Stam goes with Vazquez in the starting XI or sticks with the combination of Yuya Kubo and Adrien Regattin.
2) Will Stam continue to implement the “park-the-bus” strategy against the New York Red Bulls? Despite FC Cincinnati having a man advantage for over 60 minutes against Atlanta United, Stam continued to implement conservative tactics, often playing in a 5-3-2 formation on defense with 11 men behind the ball. This strategy worked well, preventing Atlanta from having much space to work with in the attacking third of the field.
3) What does the starting lineup look like for the New York Red Bulls? New York has used the same starting lineup for both matches in the tournament. Although the first match resulted in a 1-0 victory, the second match resulted in a 2-0 defeat. After a lopsided loss against Columbus, it seems unlikely that the Red Bulls would go with an identical starting lineup for the third match in a row.