Major League Soccer missed out on having an Argentinian all-world playmaker in the MLS Cup playoffs. Luckily for the fans, there are two of them on the Supporters’ Shield winners to fill that void.
FC Cincinnati (#1 seed in the Eastern Conference) rode a brace from Alvaro Barreal and a looping long-distance shot from Luciano Acosta to take the first match 3-0 against New York Red Bulls (#8 seed). The Orange & Blue welcomed fans to their first MLS home playoff match and rewarded them with a match that will force Red Bulls to win the next two playoff matches.
On paper, Cincinnati’s depth at right back and center back appeared taxed for the playoff opener. Nick Hagglund and Santiago Arias were expected to be out, but Alvas Powell was also withheld after a knock in practice, forcing Ray Gaddis into the Starting XI. This news also appears to be even more dire,as according to Laurel Pfahler on Twitter, Hagglund might be out for the season. Aaron Boupendza returned to the roster after being held out due to a disciplinary action, but started on the bench.
New York started a similar 4-4-1-1 lineup used in their 5-2 win over Charlotte FC on Wednesday. The only perceivable difference was Dru Yearwood starting in place for Daniel Edelman in the midfield. Elias Manoel, fresh off his Wednesday hat trick, started atop the formation.
The Bailey brought out the heavy artillery with a mammoth three-piece tifo to honor the turnaround from MLS-worst to MLS-first. The display showed a fiery crowned lion pulling itself out of the ground with the words “From the depths we rise.”
The words rang true, as FCC finally broke the home jinx against Red Bulls, a team they had yet to beat at TQL Stadium.
The first half started with New York challenging the box early and often, despite not possessing the ball often. Their best opportunity came in the 12th minute as Brazilian midfielder Luquinhas received a look at goal from a Tom Barlow pass, only to pop his one-timer high over the bar.
Cincinnati started to turn their possessions into advances later in the half. In the 23rd minute, Junior Moreno found Barreal streaking into the box. The Argentinian left back smashed his shot past Carlos Coronel to make it 1-0.
The goal was Barreal’s sixth of the MLS season and seventh overall.
The Red Bull defense then took their eye off the ball to allow Acosta to work his magic. New York’s Andres Reyes attempted to pass back to his goalkeeper, only to misjudge the distance. Dom Badji’s advance towards Coronel forced an errant pass that Acosta collected and deposited from 35 yards out. Lucho’s floater in the 35th minute—his 18th in MLS play this year—doubled the lead.
“I did not hit it well,” Acosta recalled about his goal after the match through his interpreter. “I just saw the goal was open and had to hit that, but it came from great pressure from Dom.”
Forced to play from behind at halftime, Red Bulls made a three-player substitution to play on the front foot. While Cincinnati enjoyed solid possession in the first half, New York still had more shots overall (6-3) and was squeezing yellow cards out of Cincinnati. New York’s best shot was a Luquinhas shot from the top of the box in the 55th minute, only for Roman Celentano to smother it quickly.
Celentano made five saves for his first playoff clean sheet.
Despite Red Bulls’ pressure, Cincinnati finally ended the game in the final minutes. Acosta provided a cross to Barreal in the 89th minute, who popped the ball up and powered a far-post left-footed shot to seal the deal. Barreal’s brace made it 3-0 and sent the near-sellout crowd home happy before the rains came.
“It was a tough game, because we didn’t necessarily have an advantage,” Barreal mentioned through an interpreter after the match. “We finished first this season, but we really didn’t have an advantage with this format. But it’s really good to get the win in this one. Now it’s about going on the road and getting the result to close it out.”
The win over Red Bulls marks FC Cincinnati’s first home win against New York in six attempts over all competitions (including the 2017 U.S. Open Cup semifinal loss).
“I’m not surprised,” Head Coach Pat Noonan said after the match when asked about the team’s playoff performance in lieu of the home loss to Red Bulls in September. “But I will say that over the past month we haven’t been at our strongest. Maybe it was what was at stake in the start of the playoffs, but they stepped up. They knew the challenges that were in front of them, and I thought they managed the game in a very strong way.
FCC comes out of this weekend with a one-win advantage over Red Bulls in this first-round format. A win on Saturday at Red Bull Arena would ice it for the Orange & Blue, while a loss would bring both teams back to TQL Stadium on Saturday, November 11th.
1st Round, Match #1 – FC Cincinnati vs. New York Red Bulls
TQL Stadium, Cincinnati, OH
Result: FC Cincinnati 3, New York Red Bulls 0.
FC Cincinnati Starting XI (5-3-2):
Roman Celentano (GK); Ray Gaddis, Yerson Mosquera, Matt Miazga, Ian Murphy, Alvaro Barreal; Obinna Nwobodo, Luciano Acosta (c) (Malik Pinto 90+2’), Junior Moreno (Yuya Kubo 82’); Brandon Vazquez (Sergio Santos 90+2’), Dominique Badji (Aaron Boupendza 72’).
Bench: Alec Kann, Marco Angulo, Isaiah Foster, Bret Halsey, Gerardo Valenzuela.
New York Red Bulls Starting XI (4-4-1-1):
Carlos Coronel (GK); Kyle Duncan (Serge Ngoma 86’), Andres Reyes, Sean Nealis (c) (Dylan Nealis 46’), John Tolkin; Omir Fernandez (Cameron Harper 46’), Dru Yearwood (Peter Stroud 46’), Frankie Amaya, Luquinhas; Tom Barlow (Wikelman Carmona 77’); Elias Manoel.
Bench: Ryan Meara, Daniel Edelman, Jorge Cabezas.
CIN – Alvaro Barreal 23’ (Moreno)
CIN – Luciano Acosta 35’ (unassisted)
CIN – Alvaro Barreal 89’ (Acosta)
YC – Matt Miazga 33’ (CIN, foul)
YC – Alvaro Barreal 52’ (CIN, foul)
YC – Aaron Boupendza 74’ (CIN, foul)
YC – Elias Manoel 76’ (RBNY, foul)
YC – Frankie Amaya 90’ (RBNY, foul)
at New York Red Bulls, 7 p.m., Saturday, November 4th, Red Bull Arena (Harrison, NJ)