2023 Match Reports

FC Cincinnati advances thanks to Mosquera stoppage-time goal


After what seemed to be an eternity since FC Cincinnati advanced past the first round of the MLS Playoffs, the Orange and Blue faced the Philadelphia Union Saturday night. The Eastern Conference Semifinal match appeared to be a carbon copy of the same match a year ago. But FCC was able to tweak the ending and craft a thrilling 1-0 victory.

Coming into the match, much was made of the pieces that would be missing. For the Union, wingback Kai Wagner was serving a suspension by the MLS and centerback Jakob Glesnes underwent surgery that ended his 2023 campaign. However, the latter was on the bench for the Union. 

For FCC, a pair of center backs were sidelined. Matt Miazga served a one-game suspension for yellow card accumulation in the first round of the playoffs and Nick Hagglund had his season cut short weeks ago. A late scratch to star midfielder Obinna Nwobodo rounded out the challenging adjustments in this matchup.

With all the defensive adjustments, one would assume this match would be headlined by the star-studded attacking trio for both teams. But this was far from the case.

The match opened with FC Cincinnati heavy in possession, creating good chances. An eighth-minute shot attempt from Aaron Boupendza required Andre Blake to control the ball, as a spilled save would have surely been a goal for the waiting Brandon Vazquez. In the 13th minute, a cross attempt just barely went heavy, not allowing Vazquez to make a clean attempt at goal.

The Union nearly had a clean run at goal in the 19th minute had it not been for an impressive toe-poke tackle by Alvis Powell. Powell, who had to slot into the center back position following the previously mentioned center back challenges, was very sound on the night. Ray Gaddis and Yuya Kubo also had to adjust on the fly to shore up the defense.

Pat Noonan was full of praise for the rotated lineup.

“One might not have seen Yuya (Kubo), Ray (Gaddis) and Alvas (Powell) enough to understand that those guys were going to be ready,” Noonan said. “With the way Ray and Alvas performed, I thought they were outstanding. Yerson again in the middle, (along with) Ian. This was a backline that hadn’t played together for quite some time. I think maybe the combination has happened once. We’ve played a lot of different lineups and we’ve played a lot of different lineups because of injuries suspensions, national team calls. I think we’ve had this conversation a lot where how do we go and win a game. It’s because these guys are good pros and they know how to be team players and they know how to take their moments. Those guys that filled the holes with some important pieces tonight took their opportunity well and helped us win a game.”

The match settled in for a moment before a couple of back-to-back chances closed out the half. The first series came in the 26th minute when Nathan Harriel creating separation for a header over the frame of goal. Immediately following, a Boupendza run into the box led to Vazquez trying to navigate a volley of defenders in front of goal for a shot, but a diving block from Olivier Mbaizo defused the situation.

In the 39th minute, Mikael Uhre had the best opportunity of the match to that point. Jack McGlynn delivered a lob into the box while Daniel Gadzag and Uhre attempted to overload Ian Murphy’s zone. The cross came in cleanly, but Uhre could not get his foot behind the shot and ultimately skied the attempt. A moment later, Luciano Acosta collected a Boupendza back heel inside the box but, similarly to the Vazquez attempt, Acosta could not navigate the well-defended box.

The majority of the second half had nothing to write home about from an offensive perspective. Poor decision-making and sound defending muddled any attack either side could muster. The match had a lot of tired legs presumably due to the long duration between the match and the first-round matches. But neither coach seemed willing to make a change in the match as a potential extra time period was looming. The first change came from the Union as Jose Martinez in the 80th minute had gone down with an injury.

Both teams seemed to flip a switch in the dying moments of regulation hoping to steal the game late. A poor clearance attempt by Boupendza led to an attempt by Harriel at the top of the box. Harriel connected very well and forced a critical diving save from Roman Celentano. Boupendza then departed in the 88th minute for Dominique Badji.

In the 91st minute, Badji provided an outlet for Ray Gaddis as Badji shielded his defender drawing a foul. Instead of a straightforward free-kick attempt, Acosta shuttled the ball across the field to Alvaro Barreal. Barreal made a charging run at the box before sending the ball in. Ian Murphy did really well to provide an option at the far post and create spacing. Murphy adjusted under the pass and headed down toward the middle of the box. Yerson Mosquera collected cleanly and ripped a shot into the back of the net. TQL Stadium erupted into pandemonium as FCC took the lead in the dying moments of stoppage time. With a VAR check on whether Murphy had gone offsides completed, the goal stood. FCC defended well to close out the match to the final whistle. Pat Noonan was asked about the pair of center backs connecting on the match-winning goal.

“There was nothing that we’ve prepared at any point ever that went Ian (Murphy) to Yerson’s goal, so it was nice to see them come up with a play,” he said. “I said before the game to the guys. In these moments in the playoffs, strange things happen. How you go after a game if you’re down a goal, how you protect the lead, maybe guys being asked to do different things than they’re accustomed to, because it’s win or go home. I’m just happy we found the goal, but I thought they defended really well today. And I think the three of them with the ball started strong. And then you can see there were moments of discomfort with just having played together or what we were asking of them. It’s good to look at this game to try to make some improvements for next weekend. But I thought the most important thing was them defending in a strong way, and the bonus was them finding a goal for us.”

CIN: Roman Celentano, Álvaro Barreal, Ian Murphy, Yerson Mosquera, Alvas Powell, Ray Gaddis, Yuya Kubo (Marco Angulo 90’+8), Junior Moreno, Luciano Acosta (C), Aaron Boupendza (Dominique Badji 88’), Brandon Vazquez

Substitutes not used: Alec Kann, Santiago Arias, Sergio Santos, Malik Pinto, London Aghedo, Bret Halsey, Gerardo Valenzuela

PHI: Andre Blake, Jack Elliot, Olivier Mbaizo, Damion Lowe, Nathan Harriel, José Martinez (Jesús
Bueno 80’), Daniel Gazdag, Alejandro Bedoya (C), Jack McGlynn (Chris Donovan 90’+8), Mikael Uhre (Quinn Sullivan 90’+8), Julián Carranza

Substitutes not used: Joe Bendik, Matt Real, Jakob Glesnes, Jeremy Rafanello, Joaquin Torres, Tai Baribo

PHI – Damion Lowe (Yellow Card) 11’
CIN – Ray Gaddis (Yellow Card) 30’
PHI – Julián Carranza (Yellow Card) 51’
CIN – Aaron Boupendza (Yellow Card) 76’

MLS Eastern Conference Final: Columbus Crew (H); December 2, 2023, at 6PM; Apple TV+

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