Well, it’s fair to say I didn’t see that coming. FC Cincinnati’s 3-1 win over the Philadelphia Union on Saturday led to questions from local and national media if it was the Orange and Blue’s best win in MLS? Considering the opponent, the dominant second half, and what was at stake for the rest of FCC’s season, I’m inclined to agree with those arguing for Saturday’s win sitting at the top of the rankings.
Getting three points against the top team in the Eastern Conference would be a great result in any playoff push but when that opponent came to TQL Stadium after winning five straight, outscoring opponents 18-2, a convincing win is even better.
After a middle third of the season marked by dropped points and disappointing draws, maybe we’ll look back at the dominant 3-1 win over the Union as a season-changing result. Of course, it’s very possible that won’t be the case but, as of this writing, FCC has 10 games left in the regular season and a playoff appearance is very much still a possibility. Coming into the season, I’d hoped for meaningful summer
We need to be talking more about Lucho Acosta’s MVP Case
Lucho Acosta’s absence due to COVID-19 following the international break in June and then his suspension in July dimmed his MVP case somewhat. However, after his performance against the Union, it’s time, once again, to talk about how good Acosta has been and how real his MVP case should be.
I keep coming back to his role in Brenner’s game-winning goal. He isn’t the biggest or most physical player but his technical ability and underrated strength allow him to pull off some incredible sequences. Acosta kept Jose Martinez, one of the best defensive midfielders in MLS, on his back with a mazy run before slipping in Brenner (who, to be fair, made an excellently timed run to stay onside) to slot the ball past Andre Blake.
We love it when a plan comes together. 💪
cc: @LuchoAcosta94 ➡️ @09brenner pic.twitter.com/r7VICdGZoB
— FC Cincinnati (@fccincinnati) August 7, 2022
Acosta finished the night with four key passes and major contributions to all three goals, though he was only credited with one assist by Football Reference’s stats (MLS corrected this Tuesday). In addition to his three goal-creating actions, Acosta was credited with 11 shot-creating actions on the night.
As anyone reading this knows, Saturday wasn’t a one-off for Acosta, either. Acosta currently leads MLS in expected assists with 8.4 on the season and ranks second in MLS for npxG plus xA per 90 minutes among players who played at least 1,500 minutes. He’s second in the league in shot-creating actions per 90 minutes with 6.29, trailing only Carles Gil’s 6.44. Acosta’s 0.95 goal-creating actions per 90 minutes lead the league.
If FCC’s win over Philadelphia sparks a hot streak down the final stretch of the season, Acosta’s MVP case should only accelerate, and deservedly so.
Wingbacks help break down the Union
After struggling against Inter Miami, Alvas Powell bounced back against the Union, providing balance and width to FCC’s attacking play. Against Miami, Powell had 21 touches in 52 minutes, with just 6 in the final third. On Saturday, he accumulated 44 touches in 66 minutes, with just five in the Orange and Blue’s defensive third of the field. Even though Powell didn’t do much ball progression (three progressive carries, three progressive passes), he found space in wide areas of the field, stretching Philadelphia’s midfield diamond, and opening space for teammates in more central areas.
Though his possession didn’t lead directly to scoring chances, Powell’s involvement, paired with everything Álvaro Barreal did, gave FCC balance.
Barreal continued his run of form making him nearly undroppable at the moment. He wasn’t tested all that much defensively by the Union, but his ability going forward gives the Orange and Blue an extra element that makes the team much harder to defend. Like Powell, Barreal provided width on the left, allowing FCC to move the ball horizontally across the field, stretching the Union’s defensive shape.
Barreal also provided danger in the half-space, making underlapping runs like the one leading to his goal in the 71st minute. During their time playing together, Lucho Acosta and Barreal switched positions, regardless of formation. Plus, Barreal has the technical ability and creativity (and showcased it during Acosta’s recent suspension), to play in the center of the field and dictate play.
.@alvarobarreal00 makes it THREE! pic.twitter.com/PrO6XY6QbE
— FC Cincinnati (@fccincinnati) August 7, 2022
The sequence leading to Barreal’s goal is telling. After Vazquez, Brenner, and Acosta couldn’t manufacture a shooting opportunity in a transition 3-vs-3 situation. The ball was played back to Obi Nwobodo to reset possession and Barreal started making a run through the center of the field like a late-arriving midfielder and Alejandro Bedoya, who trailed at the start of the run, never caught up.
Lucho Acosta drifted into a wider position in the half-space to receive the ball from Nwobodo. Vazquez dragged Jakob Glesnes wider with a run towards the ball, leaving a gap for Barreal to run into. Acosta fed him the ball and Glesnes couldn’t recover in time, giving Barreal enough time and space to roll the ball past Andre Blake and make the score 3-0.
Barreal’s history as an attacking midfielder gives him an ability going forward that most wingbacks do not have. He might not be the cleanest or most effective defender but his work rate is never in doubt, meaning he’ll, at the very least, be trying on the defensive end. Playing a more mobile, left-footed center back on the left side of a three center back line, like Ian Murphy, can help shore up that side’s defense too.