A lot of teams may have wished to avoid playing Lionel Messi and Inter Miami in the MLS Cup playoffs this season, but FC Cincinnati, already the top seed in the Eastern Conference, did something about it with a 1-0 victory on the road Saturday night.
The win, coupled with other results on the night, eliminated Miami from postseason contention, while further enhancing the stellar Supporters Shield season for Pat Noonan’s team. Alvaro Barreal scored a second-half winner, and the Orange & Blue withstood a furious late onslaught in search of an equalizer.
Noonan said the result on the night was pleasing to him, but recognized that some aspects of the performance, particularly in the first half, could have been better.
“I like the outcome, how we got there was, you know, at times concerning,” he said. “But what this group of players has consistently done is figure things out. First half, just some really poor composure on the ball, some support decision-making. And that was the biggest frustration and talking point at the at the break was defensively, you can’t have a whole lot of answers when you have guys starting to move into attacking positions and have such poor turnovers. But you guys got better in the second half. Played with more courage and were more patient. Too often we were going up the same channel. And then in the second half, I thought we did a better job of moving the ball side to side, it freed us, you know, in positions where we could find Lucho, where we could get our wingbacks more advanced and with space and then created some good looks from that. So that part I was pleased with the way the guys adjusted.”
The match represented an opportunity for the Orange & Blue to extract some revenge from Miami for the U.S. Open Cup semifinal defeat suffered at TQL Stadium on Aug. 23. Noonan named a strong starting XI, albeit with striker Aaron Boupendza and defender Yerson Mosquera beginning the game on the bench.
The bench is also where Inter celebrity forward Lionel Messi started proceedings, returning from an injury layoff.
FCC had a couple of good early chances. Sergio Santos came close in the seventh minute. Barreal hit a great long pass forward to Brandon Vazquez, who controlled well and squared to Santos, but the shot was just tipped wide by Inter goalkeeper Dre Callender.
In the 10th minute, an Inter corner fell to Tomas Aviles at the penalty spot and his half-volley crashed off the bar. FCC then countered and a nice passing move from Acosta, Vazquez and Arias found Santos in front of goal, but the finish was wide.
Inter hit the woodwork two more times in the half, first on a curled shot from Martinez, and then a great chance from Ben Cremaschi after he was played in with a short pass by Martinez.
Inter tightened its grip on the proceedings as the rainfall increased in the Fort Lauderdale night, but the match went to halftime scoreless.
Aaron Boupendza came on at halftime for Santos and FCC began threatening the Inter goal more regularly. Boupendza had a near miss shortly afterward when Santiago Arias’ shot was saved by Inter goalkeeper Dre Callender.
Another attention-getting substitution came in the 55th minute when Lionel Messi entered the game. Within minutes, he had a dangerous free-kick opportunity, but missed it badly.
The visitors had other chances to score, but the breakthrough finally came in the 78th minute via a surging run through the middle by Yuya Kubo. His shot was saved by Callender, but the rebound fell to the feet of Barreal and the FCC left back made no mistake with his chance to put his team up 1-0.
The remainder of the game consisted of Inter pressuring the FCC goal and missing the target, and FCC getting great counterattacking opportunities but failing to connect with the final ball. This profligacy also resulted in Boupendza and Acosta exchanging words when the latter was subbed off, the issue apparently being a pass not played.
FCC are now on 68 points, having earned 20 wins, eight draws and five losses so far, with a regular season ending match in two weeks vs. Atlanta and TQL Stadium, and then the playoffs.
Noonan acknowledged that some things for the team will need to improve in order to achieve additional success in the postseason.
“You’re not going to win playoff games, playing like that. I think the guys know it,” he said. “If we’re going to be honest about the assessment of the game, look past the result. How did we perform? And in a lot of ways, I think we underperformed. And so while we’ve been able to figure out how to win in the regular season, the games just look different in the playoffs. And I think the guys will be sharper, you know, a lot of it will have to do with how brave we are on the ball and being able to play the game. And if that improves, I think we’ll be okay.”
Match Summary (courtesy, FC Cincinnati)
CIN: Roman Celentano, Álvaro Barreal (Bret Halsey 81’), Ian Murphy, Matt Miazga, Nick Hagglund, Santiago Arias, Junior Moreno (Yuya Kubo 65’), Obinna Nwobodo, Luciano Acosta (C) (Malik Pinto 88’), Sergio Santos (Aaron Boupendza 46’), Brandon Vazquez (Dominique Badji 88’)
Substitutes not used: Alec Kann, Marco Angulo, Yerson Mosquera, Gerardo Valenzuela
MIA: Drake Callender, DeAndre Yedlin (C) (Robert Taylor 76’), Sergii Kryvtsov, Kamal Miller, Noah Allen, Sergio Busquets, Tomás Avilés (Lionel Messi 55’), Facundo Farias, Benjamin Cremaschi, David Ruiz (Jean Mota 56’), Josef Martínez (Nicolas Stefanelli 75’)
Substitutes not used: CJ Dos Santos, Dixon Arroyo, Victor Ulloa, Ryan Sailor, Robbie Robinson
STATS SUMMARY: MIA/CIN
Shots: 16 / 13
Shots on Goal: 2 / 6
Saves: 5 / 2
Corner Kicks: 8 / 5
Fouls: 12 / 14
Offside: 1 / 3
Possession: 61.6 / 38.4
CIN – Obinna Nwobodo (Yellow Card) 27’
CIN – Roman Celentano (Yellow Card) 84’