FC Cincinnati’s 2-1 loss to Los Angeles Football Club was so much like so many other losses fans have become accustomed to: the Orange and Blue surrendered a lead and conceded the game-winner late in the match. Except, in the case of Sunday’s match, there’s a more charitable perspective to take. FCC pushed one of the best teams in MLS and can be reasonably disappointed about not splitting the points. The Orange and Blue, dealing with injuries all over the field, played in a new formation and started three MLS Super Draft picks from the last two years. Then gave the current Supporter’s Shield leaders all it could handle.
Moral victories don’t lead to points in the standings but a performance like Sunday’s should still lead supporters to be optimistic about this team.
Roman Celentano’s Promising MLS Debut
Last week, I wrote about some of the other rookies’ contributions early this season. Well, Roman Celentano got his chance to show why he was the second overall pick in the MLS SuperDraft. He made his first team debut in the midweek U.S. Open Cup match against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, keeping a clean sheet. A knock kept Alec Kann out of the lineup against LAFC on Sunday and Noonan opted to start Celentano over Kenneth Vermeer. Celentano didn’t miss a beat stepping up from FCC2 to a USL Championship opponent to one of the best sides in MLS. He made 6 saves and kept FCC in the match with some huge saves, especially in the second half.
Celentano graded out well in Football Reference/Statsbomb’s shot-stopping metrics too. Though LAFC created 1.7 xG in the match, Celentano faced 2.9 post-shot expected goals (PSxG), the second-highest total faced by an FCC keeper this season. For any new readers, PSxG differs from regular xG because it only counts shots on target and also considers where and how hard the shot was hit on target.
Celentano saved pretty much everything he had a chance at saving. Per Wyscout’s goalkeeping statistics, all six of Celentano’s saves were reflex saves. LAFC’s two goals were, as you can see, in pretty unstoppable places. Kellyn Acosta’s goal took a big deflection into the side netting and Danny Musovski’s winner was into the top of the net.
If one were to find a nit to pick, it’d be Celentano’s distribution. Playing against a team willing to press high up the field and aggressively, Celentano’s passing will be needed to help FCC build out of the back. Some of those errant diagonal passes could have put the Orange and Blue on the attack because they’d take so many LAFC players out of position.
However, despite the occasional issues with distribution on Sunday, the most important thing for a goalkeeper is to keep the ball out of the net. Celentano showed an ability to stop shots in the last week, and though it’s way too early to draw any long-term conclusions about his future, Chris Albright’s 2022 draft class looks better and better with each passing match. Alec Kann is surely still the Orange and Blue’s number one but hopefully an Open Cup run can give us all a longer look at Roman Celentano.
More Tactical Flexibility
On Sunday, faced with injury absences, Pat Noonan opted for a 4-2-3-1 shape. John Nelson made his first MLS start for the Orange and Blue at left back, Calvin Harris lined up ahead of him on the left wing and Dom Badji got the call on the right wing. For the most part, FCC looked comfortable lined up in, by my count, its third different formation in eight MLS matches.
FCC largely silenced former MVP and Golden Boot winner Carlos Vela throughout his 86 minutes on the field. He finished the night with an assist, coming on Musovski’s winning goal, but bad luck led to the opportunity in the first place as Alvas Powell’s pass hit the back of Vela’s foot.
Not everything was perfect but the Orange and Blue’s ability to switch between formations and lineups based on player availability or matchup is something new. Noonan and his staff’s ability to set the team up in a variety of ways bodes well for the rest of the season and beyond.
Firsthand Acosta Appreciation
There are plenty of reasons to write about Lucho Acosta. It’s not an exaggeration to say he’s been one of the most impactful players in MLS this season. His 0.48 expected assists per 90 minutes and his 7.25 shot creating actions per 90 minutes both lead MLS. Impressively, 42 of Acosta’s 56 shot creating actions have come from live passes to teammates, ten more second place, reigning MVP Carles Gil’s total. To put it another way, if you just count Acosta’s passes during live action leading to a teammate’s shot, that total would be fourth-most in the league in 2022. All this is to say Acosta is having a great season as an attacking midfielder so far.
However, the real reason I’m including Acosta is for some of the stuff that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet. I had a different perspective on Sunday than usual because I got to watch the match in person at TQL Stadium. And let me tell you, I had a blast watching Acosta. His technical ability, his flair, his work rate, and just general willingness to try stuff, to me, are worth the price of admission. Does he get caught in possession too often? Maybe. But he also tried to play Dom Badji in with a rabona over LAFC’s defense. He nearly scored on a free kick from 22 yards out by going under the jumping wall.
In preseason, Pat Noonan emphasized getting the ball to Acosta in space and letting him dictate the attack in transition. When FCC does that, good things usually follow. We all want to see the Orange and Blue win but appreciating when players do really fun things on the field is worth highlighting too. I have no issues with a pragmatic approach to winning on the field. But when Lucho is on his game and making things happen, or even just trying to, the game is just more fun.