Only a month removed from the start of the season, FC Cincinnati seems to already be playing in must-win games. Away at Orlando, home against Seattle and away at Nashville are all tough matches right out of the gate. However, the team that usually starts slow has managed to get a result in every match to date of the 2023 season. Despite this string of positive results, FCC’s biggest test may still be in front of them in the form of a Nashville SC squad that sits at 4th in the Eastern Conference, only one point behind FCC’s eight. To add to the tightness of the standings, this game packs an extra punch as a rivalry from all the way back in the USL days of Cincinnati once again rears its ugly head. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest storylines leading up to match day.
Nashville SC joins the Eastern Conference
After a brief stay in the Western Conference, Nashville SC joins FCC once again in the Eastern Conference. This means that the two sides will face off in both a home and away contest for the 2023 season. Look for Nashville to travel to the Queen City in mid-July. Nashville enters this match with a stellar defense, having only allowed one goal all season. The goal came last week at New England where the squad also suffered their first defeat. Nashville also features 2022 MVP and Golden Boot winner Hany Mukhtar, who has not yet found the back of the net this season.
Top scorer out for FCC
We always expected international duty to affect the Orange and Blue for this match. Indeed, we thought perhaps our top scorer would be away on international duty. However, we expected this to be Brandon Vazquez and not Junior Moreno. FCC will be without him and Marco Angulo for the match as both have been called up to represent their countries. For Moreno, it’s a pair of friendlies against Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan. He currently sits on 35 appearances for the Venezuelan national team where he has one goal. For Angulo, two friendlies against Australia could see him earn just his second cap for Ecuador. The loss of these two players could prove to be a big challenge for the side if Yuya Kubo (injury) is not able to go.
FCC could be left digging deep into its depth chart, needing to choose between Malik Pinto and Stiven Jimenez to fill the defensive midfielder role. Both of these players would be making their first senior appearance for FCC if chosen. Pinto has made the squad previously for FCC. However, Jimenez has been absent from the 18 for recent matches, leaving his Saturday status up in the air. In Thursday’s media availability, head coach Pat Noonan alluded to the possibility of youth getting the start in the role. However, he also left the door open to a formation change, allowing more of a veteran presence on the pitch. It seems we will not know how the team plans to tackle this challenge until the lineup drops at 7:30 on Saturday.
Vazquez not in USMNT squad
Vazquez, barring any last-minute change, will be in the 11 for FCC after failing to make the USMNT roster. He featured in the USMNT January camp, scoring one goal in two appearances. Fellow U.S. international Walker Zimmerman was also left off the Nations League squad for the USMNT. He’s likely to start alongside Shaq Moore, also out of the USMNT. It’s not time to hit the panic button on Vazquez in a U.S. kit as Miles Robinson was the only MLS player to receive a call-up. Expect MLS players like Vazquez to see their names tapped for the newly created “Continental Clásico” in April where the United States will play Mexico in Glendale, Arizona. For Nashville, it’s two solid defensive additions that were expected to be absent from this match.
Nashville and FCC met previously during the 2023 preseason where they “drew” 3-3 in 90’. The match continued to the 120’ mark where it finished 6-3 in favor of Nashville. With the three-headed monster of Brenner, Acosta and Vazquez producing only one goal this season and Hany Mukhtar yet to find the back of the net in 2023, we may not see the offensive slugfest that we saw during the preseason. However, a gap in the defensive midfield for FCC could leave the door open for Mukhtar and Nashville’s leading scorer Jacob Shaffelburg to score.
When asked about what he thinks makes a good rivalry in MLS on Thursday, Noonan stated that a history of games fanbases was essential. These two teams certainly have a history of tough games. The Nashville-FCC connection goes all the way back to the two sides’ USL days where they most notably faced off in a 2018 USL playoff match that ended in favor of FCC after penalties. The MLS iteration of the teams has never seen an FCC victory as the Orange and Blue are (0-2-2) all-time against Nashville. This includes a 2021 6-3 Nashville win, its MLS record for goals scored in a match. A simple Twitter search will show you the banter between the two sides pertaining to the fanbase side of the argument.
Despite the social media noise, Noonan claims it is business as usual approaching the weekend.
“We haven’t spoken about [Nashville] as a rivalry,” Noonan said. “We’ve spoken about it as we have a really difficult opponent and one that we respect. That’s our next game. We see it to be a good game with two good teams and we know it’s going to be a very challenging one in their stadium.”
The game takes place at GEODIS Park at 8:30 on March 25th. It is being streamed for free on Apple TV+.