Completing a remarkable 24-month turnaround, FC Cincinnati clinched the 2024 MLS Supporters’ Shield with a 3-2 victory on the road Saturday over Toronto FC.
The Shield is awarded to the team with the best regular season record, and Pat Noonan’s side clinched the honor with three matches remaining, accumulating 65 points so far on 19 wins, 8 draws and just 4 losses. The honor also guarantees FCC home-field advantage through the 2024 MLS Cup Playoffs.
There really is no overstating the accomplishment led by Noonan and FCC General Manager Chris Albright in transforming this club from perennial basement dwellers to the best in the league over a 34-game schedule in just two seasons. What the Orange & Blue have done now in winning the Supporters’ Shield would make them the league champions in nearly every domestic league around the world.
As remarkable as that is, however, it’s just as certain that garnering the most points in the regular season does not make a team the champion of Major League Soccer. That comes only via advancing through the postseason bracket, as with other North American team sports. So relish this newly-earned honor, but also aspire to what is considered the greater prize, the league championship that goes to the winner of MLS Cup.
In post-match comments distributed to media, Noonan said he believed such a turnaround could happen and that he intends for this award to be just the beginning for FCC.
“You think it’s possible, your ego, the belief always has you thinking big,” Noonan said. “And whether people think it’s realistic or not, that doesn’t matter, you work to try to achieve these accomplishments. And it’s just a credit to a lot of the people that I just mentioned, and really the players and the way they’ve performed and the way they’ve grown as a group and you know, our entire technical staff, front office, everybody, I just think over the two years, we’ve become so strong as a group that this is a possibility. So hopefully, it’s the beginning of more success and more trophies for this club.”
The game began with a reasonable amount of scoring chances. Latif Blessing hit a volley off the crossbar for Toronto, while Aaron Boupendza, Brandon Vazquez, Ian Murphy and Junior Moreno all had good looks at goal for FCC but failed to convert.
The breakthrough came in the 28th minute. Alvaro Barreal hit a cross from the left. Yerson Mosquera glanced it on to Brandon Vazquez in the box, and the big forward controlled and blasted home from close range to give the Orange & Blue a 1-0 lead.
Vazquez doubled his pleasure minutes later, banging home a rebound from an Aaron Boupendza shot, and it was 2-0.
Thoughts immediately turned to clinching the Shield in this match, and this may have contributed to a quick Toronto rally to tie the game. Federico Bernardeschi created both goals. First, he hit a long-range shot that Celentano fumbled, allowing Jonathan Osorio to bundle home the rebound. Then the Italian forward ran to the end line and whipped a cross in. Celentano parried it but straight onto the head of Osorio who headed home to make it 2-2 going into the break.
The winning goal came in the 72nd minute, appropriately created by Acosta, who ran 40 yards deep into the Toronto end before slipping a pass to Boupendza who slammed a shot home. FCC had the majority of the remaining chances in the game, while Toronto had a late flurry that nearly led to a heartbreaking equalizer, but the score remained 3-2 and the Orange & Blue celebrated the biggest accomplishment (SO FAR) in the club’s history.
Noonan acknowledged that the team, after celebrating the major accomplishment, will now continue pursuing the regular season points record, preparing for the MLS post-season and an effort to win the club’s first league championship, while managing squad freshness.
“We feel like we can … let me think about how I want to phrase this,” Noonan said. “We can get the points record, regardless of who’s on the field. And now it’s about managing these games in a way where yeah, we have a quick turnaround going into the Red Bull game (Wednesday). So it’s not necessary to risk players if the recovery isn’t there. But we’re going to put out a strong team and look to maintain fitness for players because you don’t want guys …we’re not just going to do wholesale changes, and have guys that are off for weeks leading into the playoffs. This next game will probably be the one that we look at, just with, really the next two, how we balance out the rotations to make sure we’re fresh and not pushing guys in an unnecessary way. Because it’s about keeping guys healthy. But we’ll still look to go out and win a game on Wednesday. But the next couple of days, we’ll just determine how we decide on the starting group. And likely guys won’t be playing three games this week, if we don’t need them to. So you know, there’s a plan for that, but we’ll finalize that in the coming days.”
CIN: Roman Celentano, Álvaro Barreal (Ray Gaddis 85’), Ian Murphy, Matt Miazga, Yerson Mosquera, Santiago Arias, Junior Moreno (Yuya Kubo 89’), Obinna Nwobodo, Luciano Acosta (C), Aaron Boupendza (Dominique Badji 82’), Brandon Vazquez
Substitutes not used: Alec Kann, Alvas Powell, Nick Hagglund, Marco Angulo, Malik Pinto, Bret Halsey
TOR: Luka Gavran, Aime Mabika, Sigurd Rosted, Kobe Franklin, Themi Antonoglou (Cristian Gutierrez 77’), Michael Bradley (C) (Victor Vazquez 77’), Latif Blessing (Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty 60’), Jonathan Osorio, Alonso Coello (Franco Ibara 69’), Federico Bernardeschi, Deandre Kerr (Hugo Mbongue 9’, Prince Owusu 77’)
Substitutes not used: Tomas Romero, Cassius Mailula, Sane O’Neill
STATS SUMMARY: TOR/CIN
Shots: 12 / 25
Shots on Goal: 7 / 13
Saves: 10 / 5
Corner Kicks: 2 / 8
Fouls: 11 / 12
Offside: 1 / 1
Possession: 44.7 / 55.3
TOR – Themi Antonoglou (Yellow Card) 74’
TOR – Prince Owusu (Yellow Card) 86’