The Queen City Showdown saw its final 2023 rendition on Saturday night. But it was Luciano Acosta who was on showcase as FC Cincinnati (18-4-8) defeated Charlotte FC (7-10-12) in a 3-0 result.
The early possession and passing for FCC weren’t always ideal but you could tell that there was a pep in the Orange and Blue’s step. In the fifth minute, a lovely set piece where four FCC players connected in the box. The shot attempt came from Aaron Boupendza who just missed squaring the ball at the frame.
In the 16th minute, Acosta was able to find space inside the box. The Charlotte defender closed well, forcing Acosta to chip the ball up over him. With his back to goal, Acosta unleashed a wicked bicycle kick that was narrowly saved by Kristijan Kahlina. Another wonderful chance came in the 34th minute when Alvaro Barreal delivered a through ball into the box. The ball was redirected by Brandon Vazquez and it set up Boupendza nicely. Boupendza’s shot went between Kahlina’s legs but Nathan Byrne made a great recovery play to prevent the goal.
The match’s opening goal came in the dying moments of the first half. A sloppy foul by Brandt Bronico led to a free kick at the top of Charolette’s box. Acosta and Barreal stood over the ball. Barreal smashed a beautiful left-footed shot into the top right corner leaving Kahlina a mere pedestrian. FCC carried the 1-0 lead into the locker room.
It wouldn’t take long for FC Cincinnati to double the lead in the second half. In the 50th minute, Barreal sent the ball down the touchline hoping to spring the attack. After Charolette’s Andrew Privett elected to turn the ball away from his keeper, Acosta pounced and won possession back. Acosta found Boupendza in the middle of the box and Boupendza left no doubt this time as he smashed the shot into the net. This was the connection FCC fans have been waiting for.
An underrated feature of the match was FCC’s great attacking performance was its play from the backline. Matt Miazga was suspended for yellow card accumulation so Yerson Mosquera had to slide into that central centerback position and Ian Murphy picked up another start in his young career. Pat Noonan, FCC manager, was asked about the backline lines performance on the night.
“Our back line has had a lot of different combinations because of guys missing,” Noonan said. “So we’ve already seen what it looks like when [Matt Miazga] was away with the Gold Cup. And I thought the three of them were outstanding. Like I said, the amount of crosses that came in, the amount of times we had first contact on those crosses or got a body on an attacker to not allow a clear header. I think the one at the end, there was the clear look from Jones, when it was 3-0, but they really had a physical presence and did a really good job of picking up runners in the box. And not only getting the initial contact, but their clearances were good. They allowed us to push our lines to get organized again to deal with the second phase from those wide services. We’ve been able to put a lot of different combinations of center backs on the field and get results. So all three of them performed really well.”
Luciano Acosta is having a season that many consider as the MLS MVP’s leading performer. Fresh off a contract extension and with 14 goals/11 assists coming into the match, he certainly has earned that praise. With an earlier assist to Boupendza in his cap, Acosta was about to potentially slam the door shut on the MVP race. In the 78th minute of the match, Acosta received a pass from Obinna Nwobodo in the midfield. He immediately nutmegs the defender marking him, ushers the ball past another and crossed the legs of another as he entered the box. The shot was spectacular, as well, as he smashed the ball into the roof of the goal over Kahina. An incredible goal from a player who makes plays that look like you were watching a video game.
The final whistle sounded and FC Cincinnati picked up another three points at home. The win moves FC Cincinnati one step closer to the coveted Supporters Shield trophy as they sit nine points ahead of the closest competition. A win in the four remaining games all but secures the first FCC trophy since joining the MLS.
CIN: Roman Celentano, Álvaro Barreal (Ray Gaddis 89’), Ian Murphy, Yerson Mosquera, Nick Hagglund, Santiago Arias (Alvas Powell 84’), Obinna Nwobodo, Junior Moreno (Yuya Kubo 74’), Luciano Acosta (C) (Marco Angulo 85’), Aaron Boupendza, Brandon Vazquez (Dominique Badji 74’)
Substitutes not used: Alec Kann, Sergio Santos, Malik Pinto, Bret Halsey
CLT: Kristijan Kahlina, Nathan Byrne, Jaylin Lindsey (Derick Jones 60’), Ashley Westwood (C), Brecht Dejaegere (Kamil Jozwiak 83’), Brandt Bronico, Justin Meram (McKinze Gaines 83’), Andrew Privett, Enzo Copetti (Kerwin Vargas 60’), Karol Swiderski (Patrick Agyemang 83’)
Substitutes not used: George Marks, Jere Uronen, Bill Tuiloma, Scott Arfield
CLT – Ashley Westwood (Yellow Card) 35’
CLT – Kristijan Kahlina (Yellow Card) 45’+3
Next Match: Toronto FC (A) Saturday September 30th, 7:30 p.m.; Apple TV+