The lore between Cincinnati and Philadelphia has turned the page, only for the Orange & Blue to write another one for a building comeback story. The question remains—who could be the main characters in this next chapter?
FC Cincinnati (5-2-0, 17 pts.) overcame a surprising test against a resting Philadelphia Union (2-1-4, 7 pts.), as well as an injury concern that has yet to be fully determined. Luciano Acosta scored his first goal of the season, and the defense held firm for FC Cincinnati to earn their third-straight clean sheet. The 1-0 victory keeps FC Cincinnati in first, but an apparent injury to Acosta may leave the upcoming slate of games in limbo.
FC Cincinnati came into the match as the team with the surprising hot streak. While FCC’s last official loss was handed to them by Philadelphia in the 2022 playoffs, the Orange & Blue were one of three teams still undefeated to start the 2023 season. The 1-0 victory over Inter Miami was the fourth match in six without a goal by Acosta, Brenner, and Brandon Vazquez.
Philadelphia presented some rust to start the season, losing three of their first six. However, the Union lasted the first leg against Mexican side Atlas in the CONCACAF Champions League on Tuesday, winning 1-0 at home. The Union rotated much of their squad to rest their typical starters. Daniel Gazdag, Mikael Uhre, and Julien Carranza started on the bench, while left-back Kai Wagner missed the game due to an injury concern. While the team itself was green, head coach Jim Curtin presented a 5-3-2 formation that mirrored Cincinnati’s 3-5-2.
FC Cincinnati brought in a Starting XI mostly unchanged from the 1-0 victory over Inter Miami. Midfielders Obinna Nwobodo and Yuya Kubo were left off the roster due to injury, while left-back Santiago Arias made his first start since the season opener.
The early start to the first half presented more opportunities for Cincinnati to smother passing lanes and counter. Philadelphia opted to slow the pace down but struggled to stitch passes together. However, the Union’s bunkering defense forced Cincinnati to depend more on longer passes that did not entirely penetrate the back line. When Cincinnati progressed forward, the Philly back line opted to foul and force FCC to beat them with set pieces.
The best opportunities presented themselves by the end of the half. Brenner and Acosta played give-and-go in added time twice, but the Brazilian striker’s first shot sailed high, and he was unable to catch up to the final pass on the second attempt.
While FCC owned a majority of the possession (75-25), Philadelphia had the better shots on target, forcing Roman Celentano into two saves after 45 minutes.
While Philadelphia threatened with their powerful substitutions looming, Cincinnati took some momentum into their own hands with Arias and Alvaro Barreal playing further up the pitch. The best opportunity came in the 59th minute, as Brandon Vazquez threaded a pass into the box, only for Brenner to miss on the streaking finish.
The dam finally broke in a flurry of offense from the Orange & Blue. Brenner appeared to have struck gold in the 69th minute, only for referee Ted Unkel to point to the penalty spot due to a Philadelphia foul on Acosta, wiping out the score. Acosta stepped to the spot and calmly scored his first goal of the season to make the score 1-0.
The goal was the sixth-straight penalty kick that Cincinnati had converted since 2022.
With Philadelphia maximizing their substitutions, the Union started to command possession, only for the Cincinnati defense to demonstrate how good they have become. Roman Celentano picked up two key saves in the final 15 minutes, while Matt Miazga and Yerson Mosquera plugged the box with clearances.
In added extra time, Sergio Santos appeared to extend the lead, only for the goal to be waved off. Philadelphia managed more pressure in the extra five minutes, but in the end the penalty kick from Acosta held the win in place.
“I thought (Philadelphia) defended really, really strong,” coach Pat Noonan mentioned regarding the Union’s play. “It made it really difficult for us to get into the box, and it was probably going to be a matter of one moment to make a difference in this game. Fortunately, we found it, but I was really pleased with our guys’ ability to figure out a way to get a goal, see the game out, and win against a very good team.”
While the Union’s mass substitutions in the second half seemed daunting, the team was unshaken. “I think (the substitutions) actually helped us open up the field for our guys up top,” Nick Hagglund countered after the game. “They started to push a little more, but we started finding space in behind. It was harder when they were in deep, when they started to go for it, but we found a little more space to play a little more.”
The underlying concern, however, was Acosta himself. After the penalty kick, the Argentinian was taken off the field and later seen with his arm in a sling.
“I haven’t seen the replay, but I think (Acosta) was bracing his fall and that it could be an AC joint,” Noonan mentioned after the match. “There is an early diagnosis where it might be a week or two. It’s too early to know until we get that looked at. It’s likely he could miss a little bit of time here, but I hope I’m wrong.”
Roman Celentano finished the game with four saves to record his fifth clean sheet of the season and the tenth of his MLS career. FC Cincinnati has now gone 314 minutes without giving up a goal, the longest spell in their MLS history.
Still undefeated, FC Cincinnati travels to the Show Me State to take on St. Louis City SC next weekend. Philadelphia prepares to finish their second leg at Atlas next week in the CONCACAF Champions League before traveling to Chicago.
Match 7 – FC Cincinnati vs. Philadelphia Union
TQL Stadium, Cincinnati, OH
Result: FC Cincinnati 1, Philadelphia Union 0.
FC Cincinnati Starting XI (3-5-2):
Roman Celentano (GK); Nick Hagglund, Matt Miazga, Yerson Mosquera; Santiago Arias (Ray Gaddis 73’), Marco Angulo (Malik Pinto 62’), Luciano Acosta (c) (Sergio Santos 73’), Junior Moreno, Álvaro Barreal (Alvas Powell 90+1’); Brandon Vazquez, Brenner (Dominique Badji 90+1’).
Bench: Alec Kann, Joey Akpunonu, Ian Murphy, Arquimides Ordoñez.
Philadelphia Union Starting XI (5-3-2):
Andre Blake (GK – c); Olivier Mbaizo (Jack McGlynn 79’), Jakob Glesnes, Jack Elliott, Nathan Harriel, Matthew Real; Jesus Bueno (Alejandro Bedoya 61’), Jose Andres Martinez (Julian Carranza 71’), Leon Flach; Chris Donovan (Mikael Uhre 60’), Quinn Sullivan (Daniel Gazdag 61’).
Bench: Joe Bendik, Brandan Craig, Andres Perea Joaquin Torres.
CIN – Luciano Acosta 69’ (penalty)
YC – Olivier Mbaizo 21’ (PHI, foul)
YC – Yerson Mosquera 48’ (CIN, foul)
YC – Andre Blake 70’ (PHI, foul)
at St. Louis City SC, 8:30 p.m. Saturday, April 15th, CITYPARK (St. Louis, MO)