Pat Noonan said he doesn’t consider FC Cincinnati vs. Nashville a rivalry game, but there’s no questioning the value of earning three points Saturday at TQL Stadium would carry for the head coach and his team.
Noonan characterized the weekend matchup as an important game against a strong opponent. It is the relative positioning of the two teams in the MLS standings is a leading reason why winning this game would mean a little more to either team.
“The guys understand the magnitude of the matchup and the quality of our opponent,” Noonan said in comments distributed by the club to media. “We’re at home against a good team in a key matchup. Regardless of who they have on the field I like to think our guys are going to be up for this game.”
The Orange & Blue’s dramatic come-from-behind victory Wednesday at New York Red Bull gives them 48 points from 22 matches, which means they have an 8-point lead over New England in the race for the Supporters’ Shield for high regular season points earners. Nashville and St. Louis are two points further behind at 38, meaning Saturday is the best chance the visitors have to stay in the conversation for that version of silverware this season.
The match also marks the closest thing FCC have had close to a full squad since a June 10 draw a Vancouver. In the five league matches since then, the team still has managed two wins, two draws and one loss, for eight points, despite missing mainstay starters Brandon Vazquez and Matt Miazga who were away on international duty. Other players missed one or more games through injury or suspension during that spell. Such a performance while shorthanded can’t help but conjure the feeling of momentum in what has been such a promising season.
Now, Vazquez and Miazga have returned from their involvement at the CONCACAF Gold Cup following the U.S. Men’s National Team losing Wednesday in the semifinal vs. Panama. Noonan said each will be assessed as to their availability for the Nashville game. Vazquez started and played 73 minutes on Wednesday, with Miazga going 38 minutes as a substitute. Of course Noonan himself will be back with the team as well, having missed the Red Bull match after attending his father’s funeral.
Dominique Badji remains out with an injury, while Yuya Kubo is what Noonan called “day-to-day” in regard to the Nashville match, but Ian Murphy is back from suspension and Junior Moreno and Sergio Santos are recovered from injury. Other players like Quimi Ordonez, Malik Pinto and Marco Angulo took advantage of the opportunity to contribute to the team’s performance via increased playing time, giving the team a deeper look and feel.
New DP signing Aaron Boupendza may still be given more time before making his FCC debut, having just begun training in Cincinnati this week. Click here and here for a couple of good rundown on what the newest FCC man brings to the table.
A look at Nashville must always begin with explosive attacking midfielder Hany Mukhtar, who again leads the team in scoring with 13 goals and 8 assists. Other key components for Gary Smith‘s team include forwards Jacob Shaffelburg and Teal Bunbury, defenders Walker Zimmerman and Jack Maher, midfielders Fafa Picault, Dax McCarty, Alex Muyl and Sean Davis, plus goalkeeper Joe Willis.
Nashville’s lineup will not include, however, defenders Daniel Lovitz and Shaq Moore, both suspended following red cards in the team’s Wednesday loss against Philadelphia. The team is 11-5-7 on the season, but doesn’t come to Cincinnati on a particularly rich vein of form, having lost four of its past five matches.
Noonan said his team recognizes this just means Nashville could be a little more dangerous on Saturday.
“Now they’re going to have their two first-choice outside backs suspended,” he said. “So we’ll look to anticipate what we think could be their replacements. Maybe a different look in their formation, just be prepared for different things….They have a very consistent group and the experience they have gives them the ability to go win games.”
Of course winning games, including big ones, is something this FCC is beginning to show it also knows a little bit about.