While this point of the previous three MLS season for FC Cincinnati brought anything but meaningful matches, Pat Noonan’s team has experienced so much already in this campaign that they are close to earning veteran status for high-pressure situations.
The Orange and Blue play another crucial game Tuesday night, this time away to Seattle. FCC’s win at Real Salt Lake last time out has strengthened their playoff position, with the team in sixth place in the Eastern Conference on 45 points. A game in hand over 4th-placed New York city FC means a home playoff game isn’t out of the question, but at just three points ahead of 8th-placed Columbus, missing out on postseason play altogether is also a distinct possibility.
But these high-pressure matches are becoming old hat for the team now. They’ve been playing them just about every week since the beginning of June when they first realized the team’s emergence this season meant a playoff berth was within reach. as Noonan mentioned in comments distributed by the club to media.
“I think the experiences leading up to that June break, really, we just felt like we experienced so many different things in terms of winning and losing and how we went about doing that, that helped us grow as a group where now I think you see a team that is able to manage the game in a better fashion,” Noonan said. “And winning always helps with the confidence. So, we found ways to win. Different ways to win, whether it was six goals in our San Jose game, or grinding out results, even draws against New York City on the road where we’re not playing well with the ball and we need to defend the box and have a strong mentality there. I think we’ve done a good job, the guys have done a really good job of managing the game and the moment to find ways to get results. … I think it’s a group that continues to want to learn and get better. I think you’re seeing a better version of our group than even a couple months ago, there’s been a lot of progress.”
Noonan said the team’s preparation over the 10 days from the previous league match (including a 3-1 Leagues Cup win over Chivas Guadalajara), has been promising.
“I think you see a confident group. Our training has been lively, the quality’s been good,” Noonan said. “Friday maybe Saturday, was one of our best trainings of the year, where we had a really good push and guys communicating, I think, guys, again, understand where we’re at and what’s ahead of us. So, it’s a confident group and a motivated group, and that’s translated to some really good training sessions.”
“I think it was a chance in the Chivas game and with the timeline leading up to our matchup against Seattle. It allowed us to get some players more minutes that maybe hadn’t been getting the minutes but it also allowed us to have a good balance where it didn’t need to be everybody playing 90 minutes, there were still a lot of guys that started that Chivas game with Sergio (Santos), with (Ronald Matarrita), with (Dominique Badji), there are a couple of others as well, where we still had to manage the minutes and, you know, I was really pleased with how we came out of it and the effort, the quality the win, but that it allowed us still to have good intensity in the lead up to our matchup tomorrow.”
Noonan agreed an argument can be made that with a 6-0 win over San Jose followed by the win at RSL, the team may be playing its best soccer of the year when is needs to most.
“I think over the last two weeks, we’ve been more consistent. I think that’s fair. You know, we had a stretch where even though we weren’t losing games, and we would have a strong performance and follow that with an average performance, a subpar performance,” he said. “So, the last couple of weeks has been a more consistent and a better version of our group. And certainly, it’s an important time to be seeing that.”
FCC is close to full strength, but left back Ronald Matarrita did not travel with the team to Seattle after picking up a slight injury in the Chivas game. Noonan stressed that he doesn’t see it as a setback in the Costa Rican’s return from long-term injury, but with Seattle’s home field featuring field turf, it seemed a good idea to hold the player out of this contest.
“He took a little bit of a knock, it was, I think, a good 60 minutes for him. Again, you can see, he’s pushing himself in ways where he’s trying to get that fitness back every single day,” he said. “So, with this particular game, we didn’t want to risk the travel, the turf, so Mata stayed back. He’s pushing himself fitness-wise while he’s home. So, it was the only one where we just felt we needed to stay cautious with where he’s at in this process. And certainly, we’d like to have his availability, but we just felt with the knock he took, we just wanted to eliminate the risk. So, Mata is continuing to progress. But in this particular game, well, we wanted to be safe with him.”
Seattle is virtually eliminated in the Western Conference playoff hunt and will be missing some key performers due to injury and international callups, but Noonan still expects a tough challenge on Tuesday night.
“Well, in terms of personnel, there’s a lot of uncertainty there. In terms of the shape of their group, there’s some uncertainty there. But what I’ve said to our group is, this is a winning team, a winning culture, they know what it looks like in tough moments to find results,” he said. “They’ve been put in this position in years past quite a few times, where, whether it was injuries, international duty, whatever the reason, players were away, they found ways to win games. And that’s credit to Brian (Schmetzer, team head coach) and his staff to be able to prepare any group to step out and win a game. So we need to be very cautious about how we go into this game mentally, as far as understanding that whoever we see on the field tomorrow, it is going to be a very challenging game and a team that’s going to be hungry to get a result. So, this is going to be a very difficult game and I think our guys at this stage at this point, understand it, but you know, we’re very aware of, of our opponent’s ability to put out a group to come and win a game and so it’s going to be a challenge.”
Match 32: FC Cincinnati (11-12-8) at Seattle Sounders (12-3-16)
10 p.m. Tuesday, September 27, 2022, Lumen Field, Seattle, WA.
TV: Star 64
National Video Stream: ESPN+
Local Radio: ESPN 1530
Audio Stream: IHeart Radio app