FCC look to continue winning streak vs Orlando

To the extent they were ever off, Pat Noonan’s FC Cincinnati team should feel suitably back on track as they face the next test in their quest for the club’s first MLS trophy.

After a three-setback pause (let’s say it was for context after so much winning), the magical FCC journey through the MLS Kingdom resumed in the form of impressive wins in the past two matches. The form and potential accomplishments are so good that the team officially clinching a postseason playoff bid is almost an afterthought. Up next, on Saturday, a red-hot Orlando club comes to TQL Stadium to serve as the opposition in this week’s chapter of the Search for the (Holy) Supporters’ Shield.

Both the dominance of last Saturday’s 3-0 whitewash of New York and the resilience of a 2-1 comeback victory against Atlanta in midweek reminded us just how good this Orange & Blue team can be. The defensive savvy, the midfield control and the attacking precision were once again all on display.

More specifically, Pat Noonan’s team has benefited from the always-electric string-pulling of Luciano Acosta. The team always seems to be in contention for three points when he is on the field. He is the biggest constant in the team’s excellence, as we were reminded over these past 180 minutes (and this goes well beyond the Argentine’s 13 goals and 11 assists).

Acosta continued his MVP-level campaign, assisting two of the goals vs. New York (one with a powerful run down the left and cutback and the other with a precise corner kick service). His passing helped set up the first FCC goal that night as well. Against Atlanta, he scored a terrific goal via a 1-2 with Junior Moreno and helped create the second with another good pass.

As has been the case all season, a variety of players stepped up to complement their captain on both nights. Aaron Boupendza, Junior Moreno and Nick Hagglund scored against NYCFC, while Acosta and Brandon Vazquez provided the scoring honors in Atlanta.

Alvaro Barreal put in a great shift at left back down south while rookie Bret Halsey deputized more than ably both at left and right back over the two matches. Obinna Nwobodo missed out with a yellow card suspension vs. NYCFC, so Moreno and Yuya Kubo needed to be strong in midfield, but Obi returned Wednesday and played one of his strongest games of the season.

Additionally, Roman Celentano looked good in goal in support of the center-back trio of Matt Miazga, Nick Hagglund and Ian Murphy. Santiago Arias was also strong over two matches, with various others doing their part.

For Pat Noonan, the team’s 17-6-3 record (and its accompanying playoff berth) is primarily a sign of consistency, progress and improvement from the whole group.

“Certainly. It’s a sign of growth, where now we’re a stronger regular season team than we were last year,” he said in comments distributed by the club to media. “And, you know, we’ll see what that looks like in the postseason if we’re a better version of ourself from last year, which I thought we were a strong team. But yes, we’ve maintained our position consistently all year. And you know, that’s what’s allowed us to secure the spot this early. But hopefully, that’s just another milestone that the guys can be pleased about that is en route to our bigger goals. And now it’s about how do we get as many games as possible at TQL.”

Oscar Pareja‘s Orlando team is third in the MLS Eastern Conference with 44 points (13 behind league-leading FCC). The Florida side’s 12-8-6 record has been boosted by a hot streak of late, going 5-1-1 in the last seven league matches.

Facundo Torres leads the squad with 10 goals so far this year. Duncan McGuire has eight. Midfielders Mauricio Pereyra and Martin Ojeda each have eight assists.

Other mainstays in the lineup include goalkeepers Pedro Gallese and defenders Robin Jansson and Rafael Santos.

The teams played to a scoreless draw in Orlando back on the second match day of the season in March.

So, as usual, nothing will come easy for FCC, but Saturday’s contest at TQL Stadium presents another opportunity to take a significant step toward the biggest prize in the club’s young history.

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