In case you missed it, FC Cincinnati rode a late-game collapse to a 3-2 defeat in the Eastern Conference Final to the Columbus Crew last Saturday. After taking a commanding 2-0 lead into the half, the Orange and Blue came out looking to add to their tally in the second half. However, after some big misses by the home side, the Crew scored twice in the space of 11 minutes late in the game to send the match into overtime. Then, with FCC looking like a squad that was missing key pieces, as the team was forced to start depth players and was also recovering from a bout of illness spreading through the locker room during the week, Columbus was able to nick a goal at the end of the extra period to win the match and book a spot in this year’s MLS Cup final, eventually winning 2-1 over LAFC.
Let’s look at where your favorite FCC players ranked for this match. And, as a bonus, I decided to add a note on each player looking toward next season.
Check out Cincinnati Soccer Talk’s post-match report HERE for more details.
- Each player starts off with a six as a standard rating. Six signifies an “average performance” for the match.
- Players will receive additions or subtractions to their score based on individual moments and the overall team performance.
- We’ll look at multiple criteria and statistics from websites like FB Ref, Who Scored and FOTMOB.
- All statistics used will be taken from fbref.com when possible.
- A player may receive a N/A if they are subbed on/off before any quantifiable statistics are available.
Expected Goals (xG): FC Cincinnati – 1, Columbus Crew – 2.7, per mlssoccer.com
Now, onto the ratings:
Manager – Pat Noonan – 6
I really don’t want to pick on Pat Noonan here. His Coach of the Year honor was well-deserved, and he has this team well ahead of schedule in their development. Furthermore, his hands were tied by injuries and a suspension in this match, yet he nearly guided his team to a win. However, I have to do the ratings, and as such I would be remiss if I didn’t mention where I thought the gaffer could have done better. To start, he set his team up to get numbers behind the ball, frustrate the Crew and go forward when possible. This worked to good effect in the first half, even if FCC was a bit fortunate to be up by two heading into the break.
Then, in the second half, it looked like he may have over-emphasized the need to slow down and keep the ball to players like Brandon Vazquez, who cut the ball back with the chance for a 3v3 runout in the 60th minute. His team continued to give the ball away cheaply at times, and at others pull back and try to keep it even when it looked like they might have an advantage to go forward. Then, in my opinion, he was quick to pull players like Santiago Arias, removing him in the 65th minute though he had just burst forward to intercept a pass on the press moments before. He took off Aaron Boupendza in the 73rd minute even though the Gabonese looked the most likely FCC player to score. Even if this was the right play, it might have suited him better to add a player to the midfield rather than using Dom Badji as a like-for-like replacement.
This loss was not Noonan’s fault. Could he have made a few different choices? Certainly. Would those choices have guaranteed, or even made a win more likely? Perhaps not. However, I think he’d be the first to admit that he’d have done things a bit differently if he had the chance. Two semi-final losses this season will have been a very good experience for a relatively new manager.
GK – Roman Celentano – 7
Roman Celentano didn’t have a poor match, but he also wasn’t a game-changer like his opposite number. When he was called into action, he mostly did what was expected. He did well to push a Cucho Hernandez shot well out of the box in the 37th minute when it was struck with real pace and could have caused some problems. He was also quickly off his line to gather a Cucho through ball before Alexandru Matan could run onto it in the 60th minute, and again to rob Christian Ramirez of a chance in the 75th. Roman was also more than adequate when asked to take part in possession. A lot has been made of his inability to accurately hit long balls. In the 58th minute, he failed to clear the edge of the box with a simple Arias back pass, gifting the ball back to Columbus in the attacking third. In stoppage time at the end of the match, he put a goal kick directly out of bounds. However, in all, he completed 14 of 24 long passes, which is well above league average for goalkeepers.
Celentano’s one big blemish in this match came on Columbus’s opening goal. When Julian Gressel crossed toward Ramirez, Roman threw himself toward the ball but got nowhere near it. This added to the confusion as the ball found its way through and struck Powell, while also leaving no doubt as to whether or not Powell’s touch would wind up in the back of the net. For the Crew’s other two strikes, there really isn’t anything the young shot-stopper could have done.
Roman continues to impress in moments, but doesn’t make enough “big-time” saves to be considered among the league’s elite shot-stoppers. However, he’s done nothing but improve so far, and I don’t expect that to stop next season.
RWB – Santiago Arias – 7
Santi Arias looked up for this match and was a constant nuisance down the right side until he was removed in the second half. He passed at a 76 percent rate, had four progressive passes, and created a shot. However, he continued to show an inexplicable lack of quality in possession in this match, as he had all year. None of his three crosses found a target. Particularly, he wasted a gorgeous pass from Acosta down the line in the sixth minute of the match, having his cross blocked before hitting the ball out for a goal kick. It’s plays like these that leave me scratching my head and wondering what could have been.
However, defensively he was quite good all season, and this match was no different. He read a free-kick routine from the Crew like a book in the 42nd minute, clearing the danger easily and making the visitors look silly. He ended the match with three tackles, a block and three interceptions while also winning three of his five ground duels. While I don’t think he ever hit “former Athletico Madrid” defender form for the Orange and Blue this season, he has been more than serviceable as a right wingback in MLS. Going forward, if FCC brings him back and can provide a bit more balance to the attack down the right, he can be a key part of another championship-level team.
RCB – Alvas Powell – 6
Had the match ended at the 75th-minute mark, I would have said that Powell had a very good game. Though he got beat by Cucho in the 17th minute, allowing the Columbian to come inside and find Diego Rossi, who eventually cut it back to Cucho for an open shot, he kept his wits about him enough to block that shot off the line when it looked destined for the far corner of the goal. He ended the match with two tackles, four blocks,and an interception, and looked like a capable starter for the most part. Offensively, it looked like he may have created the game-winning goal when he strode forward and forced Schulte into a diving save in the 69th minute, the rebound of which was bundled over the line by Aaron Boupendza before it was called back for handling.
However, soccer is played for 90 minutes… and this match was 120 minutes long. Though I don’t fault Powell for having the ball strike him and end up in the back of the net for the Crew’s first goal, he did lose Ramirez in the run-up. It almost looked like he was expecting the striker to be offside, even though he was well behind the ball. This left him chasing when the ball was struck allowing for the misfortune that credited him with an own goal. He also failed to track Ramirez on his delayed run to the top of the box leading to the Crew’s 85th-minute goal, then tried to close late, meaning he was too far away from the striker to affect his layoff but too close to prevent Diego Rossi from getting the next touch. He lost Cucho on a corner kick in the 101st minute, resulting in a diving header that nearly led to Amundsen bundling the ball into the back of the net. Then, in the 109th minute, he drifted under the ball allowing Ramirez to attempt an acrobatic volley that Celentano was able to keep out.
Powell is not a center-back. He has proven that he can play there in a pinch to good effect. However, the Eastern Conference Final against the best offensive team in the league looked like a bridge too far. I think Powell’s days as an MLS starter are over, but as a backup outside defender and emergency center back, he will be a key depth piece for this team in 2024.
CB – Yerson Mosquera – 7.5
I slagged a bit on Yerson Mosquera last match, even failing to acknowledge his game-winning goal in this column. I thought he was really good against the Crew on Saturday. He had three tackles and seven recoveries while winning both of his aerial duels. However, where I really thought he excelled was in his reading of the game. Against the Union, I thought he was too aggressive, and went looking to win challenges in midfield when he should have stayed home. Against the Crew, he was patient, took up good positions and looked to read where the play was headed (see image below). This played out with him leading the team with five blocks.
However, the youngster wasn’t Matt Miazga, and it showed. Particularly, he lost five of his nine ground duels. Finally, I thought he got caught in no-man’s land, unable to defend the cross that resulted in Powell’s own goal. Mosquera has shown an ability to learn, adapt and grow in his short time in the United States. I think it would behoove him to continue to put in some time in MLS, learning the language and fine-tuning his game before returning to England, but I’m not sure his parent club (Wolves) would agree.
LCB – Ian Murphy – 8
I thought Ian Murphy was awesome in this match, putting a nice cherry on top of an inconsistent season of a sundae. His defensive angles were on all night, allowing him to easily defend several Crew crosses at the near post. He ended the match with four blocks and an interception. He also showed what an asset his closing speed could be on several occasions, tracking runners and intervening when they looked in on goal. In the first half, he made an excellent recovery run to block Cucho’s shot when he was in on goal in the right channel. He did so again in the 59th minute to stop an early Yaw Yeboah cross from finding Alexandru Matan in on goal.
I will also continue to bang the drum for Ian Murphy being the best passing central defender on this team. In this match, he had four progressive passes and led his compatriots with four passes into the final third. Other than a few errant passes late in the game when his targets were tiring, he didn’t put much of a foot wrong on the ball.
For Ian Murphy, the question remains whether he can become a full-time starter next season. If he plays like he did in the Eastern Conference Final, I have few doubts that he can. However, he needs to play this well more consistently.
LWB – Álvaro Barreal – 6.5
Álvaro Barreal had a roller coaster of a match, following brilliant moments with moments of real struggles. He led the team with five tackles but also got dribbled four times. He had two key passes and nine passes into the final third, but also only connected with only one of his four crosses. He had an outstanding opening 20 minutes but faltered and cramped up in the final 20 minutes of the match.
Early on, it was Barreal’s quick pressure that forced Mo Farsi into his mistake for FCC’s opening goal. He also made a key tackle on Matan in the center of the field then recovered and blocked a shot from the corner of the box on the same play in the 20th minute. Offensively, he cut onto his right in the 17th minute, forcing Patrick Schulte into a diving save. He had a poor turnover in the 23rd minute trying to play a one-touch long ball with his right foot when FCC had easy possession. Later, he got cooked by Farsi in the 29th minute, then made a dangerous challenge that drew shouts for a penalty. Then, in the 41st minute, he fell for the same move and brought the wingback down at the edge of the box for a dangerous free kick. However, it was also his lovely cut inside and outside-of-the-foot pass through to Vazquez that generated the set-piece that led to FCC’s second goal, on which he earned an assist.
Álvaro Barreal proved that he can be a top-notch chance-creator from the wingback position in MLS. However, his defensive frailties were badly exposed once Ian Murphy began starting full-time on his side. I think he’s good enough defensively to be a best-XI MLS defender so long as the defense behind him is solid enough to cover up for his occasional lunges at the ball or failure to track back. I think a European team that sees the chance to develop him might take the chance on buying him, but I struggle to see him making any real contributions in a top-five league next season.
DCM – Junior Moreno – 8 (Man-of-the-Match)
Nobody has been harder on Junior Moreno than me. At times this season, it has seemed like he couldn’t keep up with the game. However, in this match, without Obi and against the most potent offense in MLS, he was fantastic. Defensively, his one tackle and three blocks were solid, if unspectacular. However, he also led the team with five interceptions and contributed six ball recoveries. He seemed to cover ground tirelessly and was in a position to limit Crew attacks in wide areas on numerous occasions.
Offensively, he was his typical self. He rarely lost the ball, leading all starters by passing at a 90.2 percent rate. However, often this means he is passing backward and sideways, but in this match, he added five progressive passes and four passes into the final third.
My knock on Junior Moreno continues to be the fact that he is always solid, but rarely changes the game. I think he can be a solid rotation piece, coming in to lock down games defensively or help keep the ball and see matches out. That’s why he was an integral part of a Supporters’ Shield-winning season that saw FCC go 15-2-9 in games decided by one goal or fewer. However, I don’t think Moreno should be a full-time starter for a team that has its sights set on winning silverware in a knockout competition.
DCM – Yuya Kubo – 7.5
The play that epitomizes Yuya Kubo for me happened in the 38th minute, when he chased Cucho down from behind, dispossessed him then played a perfect long ball to release Brandon Vazquez down the right side. His defensive mobility and ability on the ball could make him a fantastic MLS midfielder. However, he is simply too inconsistent during matches, floating in and out of them and going long periods without making an impact.
Yuya Kubo had three shot-creating actions and completed 81 percent of his passes. However, his 37 touches were the least of any starter other than Aaron Boupendza, who played 14 fewer minutes. He also managed just two progressive passes. Yuya also led the team with seven tackles and won nine of his 15 ground duels. However, he wasn’t able to get a block or an interception, indicating that he was probably chasing the game a bit.
Overall, I thought Kubo had some impressive matches this season. I continue to wonder what he could do if he were allowed to play alongside Obi game in and game out. I’m not sure he has best XI midfielder in his future, but I think he could be top 10 at his position if he was given the time and trust. I’m in favor of bringing him back next season and giving him a bigger role.
CAM – Luciano Acosta – 7
The MLS MVP finished this match with a goal, while also leading his team with 0.4 xA. He created three shots and led the team with seven progressive passes. His set-piece goal might have been a bit fortunate, but he found the space to curl his shot through traffic and on target. In the first half, in particular, he played several nice through balls that could have led to chances if his teammates were a bit sharper on the night.
However, I’m not sure if it was because of his tiring legs, or maybe he was still carrying a knock, but he was dreadful down the stretch when FCC really needed him to step up. In the 61st minute, he turned the ball over, trying to dribble through three Crew defenders. In the 66th minute, he took a free kick in the middle of the field and tried to fit it into Vazquez, turning the ball over when his team was still up 2-0 and could have continued to kill the game off. He again turned the ball over on the dribble in the 72nd minute before hacking down Darlington Nagbe and earning a yellow card. Then, he lost the ball again, deep in the corner in the 82nd minute, with his team clinging to a slender one-goal lead. Lastly, in the 114th minute, playing on one leg, he tried to flick a ball up and backheel it up the touchline in his defensive third, turning the ball over and leading to the possession from which the Crew scored their game-winner. In the end, he led the team with 11 combined mistouches (seven) and dispossessions (four). He also led the team with duels lost (17) and had the worst duel percentage by far of any starter for either team (19 percent).
With Lucho Acosta, you take the good with the bad. Any player who creates by carving up defenders on the dribble is going to turn the ball over a lot. My question for 2024 is, if Lucho plays 500 fewer minutes will he be more consistent down the stretch, or will his influence diminish? His 2,605 league minutes is not an eye-popping number, but the way he wore down late in the season and failed to impress in the playoffs has me concerned.
ST – Aaron Boupendza – 5.5
Aarong Boupendza continues to be the best and worst player on the pitch. He has moments of brilliance, like in the 51st minute when he did well to cut onto his left foot inside the box, beating Malte Amundsen, and hitting a shot that drew an excellent save out of Patrick Schulte. The quickness with which he found Brandon Vazquez after Farsi’s turnover was key to the American’s opening goal. He also had several nice turns under pressure in transition, adding to the threat that FC Cincinnati can pose going forward. He contributed the most xG of any player by far at 0.7 and was successful with three of his four take-ons.
However, it is the moments of sheer audacity when it is warranted, and his utter lack of concentration in simple moments throughout the game that will continue to define him until he gets it straightened out. He tried an ill-advised 52-yard shot in transition in the 24th minute, during a moment of the match where FCC needed a spell of possession. After one of his gorgeous turns in transition in the 29th minute, he left Rudy Camacho in his dust only to under-hit the through pass to Acosta to give it right back to Columbus. In all, he had five mistouches and passed at the lowest rate of any player to play in the match for either team, at 58.8 percent. Finally, and most damningly, he had no fewer than three opportunities to put the game to rest by scoring a third goal, not even counting the excellent Schulte save mentioned above. First, he skied a shot over the bar from the top of the box in the 59th minute after a promising transition started by Yuya Kubo. Then, he strayed needlessly offside in the 67th minute when Vazquez nutmegged Camacho sending him in on goal. Finally, even though he did well to react first to a rebound on an Alvas Powell shot in the 69th minute, he couldn’t finish his first strike and the rebound off of Schulte struck his arm before ending up in the back of the net.
Considering how hard it is for players to succeed in MLS right away, I consider his five goals in just over 600 minutes to be an excellent return. If you remember how frustrating it was to see Lucho try to play hero ball all the time his first season, I trust Pat Noonan to get through to Boupendza and get him playing within the game model. I am nothing but optimistic about the Gabonese’s future with the Orange and Blue, even though I am supremely frustrated by his performance in this match.
ST – Brandon Vazquez – 6
Discussion of Brandon Vazquez’s performance has to start with him putting the home side ahead in the 14th minute. Despite not having the cleanest of touches on Boupendza’s cross, he was able to stay with the ball and finish to the back post out of sheer determination. He also had some other nice offensive moments, including a great run in the second minute of first-half stoppage that forced Moreira to foul him and created the set-piece that allowed Lucho to score FCC’s second. His match could have looked very different but for two mistakes from his teammates. He could have gotten an assist on FCC’s game-sealing goal had Boupendza not strayed offside in the 67th minute. Finally, his excellent headed finish in the 79th minute could have restored FCC’s two-goal lead but for Sean Zawadski baiting Mosquera into pushing him before flinging himself wildly to the ground.
However, those chances didn’t come to count on the scoresheet, and the big American also had a few rough spells in this match. He wasn’t the cleanest passer, including when he missed Lucho with a return pass in transition in the 28th minute when the Captain was busting a gut to get forward and create a chance. He had five mistouches and was dispossessed five times. Finally, even though he led FCC with 11 duels won, he also was near the top in duels lost with 11.
Brandon Vazquez has made no bones about the fact that he hopes to not be back in the Orange and Blue again. It’s not that he doesn’t love FCC, but that he hopes to get a European move this winter. I think he has the size and speed to make some European teams salivate at his prospects. His touch and passing have greatly improved over the last few seasons, and at 25 years of age, there is hope that he can continue to make strides. I don’t think he has “starter on a Champion’s League team” in his future, but he could certainly make a solid go of being a key player for a mid to low-tier team in a top-five league.
Ray Gaddis (65th minute) – 6
Ray Gaddis did what Ray Gaddis does for 56 minutes in this match. He didn’t make a tackle but was well-positioned and defensively sound enough to log three blocks and an interception without getting dribbled. He also took care of the ball, passing at a 78.3 percent rate while not having a mistouch or a dispossession. However, he also didn’t add any value to the attack, failing to log a progressive pass and having his lone cross blocked by the first defender.
You could do much worse than Ray Gaddis as a backup defender in MLS. However, his limited upside means he has to be used only in matches where other players will carry the offensive load or where FCC is already holding a lead. Because he is, by all accounts, a great locker room guy, I think Ray will be around for another season unless he chooses to hang up his cleats.
Dominique Badji (73rd minute) – 6
Dom Badji had an excellent appearance as a substitute but for one missed chance. His poor first touch on a give-and-go in the 106th minute squandered any chance of him getting a shot off when he looked in on goal (see image below). Outside of that, he completed all but one pass, battled for 50/50 balls and worked hard defensively. The problem with Badji continues to be that he just isn’t much of a value-add off the bench outside of his incredible work rate.
Badji won only three of his seven duels (2/5 ground and 1/2 aerial). Despite him basically playing as a midfielder for 40+ minutes due to Lucho’s cramping, he failed to log a tackle. Finally, he was not able to log a shot or a shot-creating action.
Dom Badji is a good kind of player to have around a team. He works tirelessly, has good athleticism and, by all accounts, is a good teammate. However, he doesn’t add enough when he comes onto the field to be a game-changing sub. Similar to Gaddis, Badji needs to only be played in certain matches, which makes him a tough player to keep on this roster.
Obinna Nwobodo (85th minute) – 6
Obinna Nwobodo’s low score is not his fault. He looked like a driver trying to win a race with a flat tire. I have to believe that Noonan put him into the match expecting his team to be able to close the door on the Crew in regulation. Despite Obi’s clear injury limitation, he still managed to log a tackle and an interception. He passed at a capable 80 percent rate and added four ball recoveries. He wasn’t able to help the team by progressing the ball, but overall it looked like he played as well as we could expect.
I don’t need to say anything about Obi’s prospects for next season. He is inarguably one of FC Cincinnati’s most important players. The question that I have is, can he turn his excellent ball-winning and defensive play into more chances going forward? If he can develop the ability to dribble forward and create or hit dangerous passes in transition after winning the ball, he has the ability to be one of the few defensive midfielders in the conversation for league MVP.
Sergio Santos and Marco Angulo (106th minute) – N/A
I’m not grading Sergio Santos and Marco Angulo on their overall play. Instead, these substitutes receive an “N/A” for not making any kind of impact despite being substitutes in an overtime period when the rest of their team was severely gassed. The players had a combined 11 touches. Even though Angulo completed all five of his passes, neither of these players recorded a progressive action or a progressive reception. Both players looked to me like they were running around aimlessly like fans who won the chance to take the field for their teams in some kind of charity game.
Both of these players will be back on the roster in 2024 unless FCC finds a way to sell, trade, or buy one of them out. Angulo is young, new to America and highly-rated. I am hopeful that, with a full off-season of coaching and integration he will be able to contribute more next season.
I struggle to find a scenario in which Santos plays meaningful minutes in the Orange and Blue. He has speed and athleticism, but his injury record means that he never has time to shake off his rust or round into any sort of form.
Availability Notes: Matt Miazga (suspension); Nick Hagglund (injury)
- xG – Expected goals (or xG) measures the quality of a chance by calculating the likelihood that it will be scored from a particular position on the pitch during a particular phase of play
- xA – Expected assist (or xA) is directly related to the xG of a shot that the pass creates.
- Post-Shot xG (PSxG) – Post-Shot xG is calculated after the shot has been taken, once it is known that the shot is on-target, taking into account the quality of the shot.
- Progressive Pass – A pass that advances toward the opponent’s goal where the distance between the starting point and the next touch is:
- at least 30 meters closer to the opponent’s goal if the starting and finishing points are within a team’s own half
- at least 15 meters closer to the opponent’s goal if the starting and finishing points are in different halves
- at least 10 meters closer to the opponent’s goal if the starting and finishing points are in the opponent’s half
- Progressive Carry – Carries that move the ball toward the opponent’s goal at least 5 yards or any carry into the penalty area. Excludes carries from the defending 40% of the pitch.
- Dribble – Moving past the opposing player while maintaining possession of the ball. When a player shields the ball or otherwise uses physical strength to maintain possession, this is not a dribble.
- Key Pass – A pass that immediately creates a clear goal scoring opportunity for a teammate. A key pass does not have to lead to a shot, and thus is different than a shot-creating action.
- Long Pass – Definition depends on the site being used. Typically, a pass that travels a distance greater than 30 yards.
- Mistouch – When a player fails when trying to gain control of the ball without a defender earning a tackle or a ground duel.
- Ground Duel – A challenge between two players to gain control of the ball, progress with the ball, or change its direction.
- Dispossessed – The times a player loses control of the ball after a tackle from an opponent, not including attempted dribbles.
- Recovery – Any action that ends the possession of the opponent without the ball going out of bounds. Recoveries are typically duels (44%) or interceptions (16%), but can happen without any specific action from the player doing the recovery (positioning himself correctly or simply collecting the ball).