CONCACAF Champions Cup

FCC begins 2024 season with CCC battle

PHOTO: Scott Huck

The ninth season for FC Cincinnati kicks off Thursday night in Kingston, Jamacia with a battle against Cavalier FC. After winning the 2023 MLS Supporter’s Shield, FCC has found themselves competing in the CONCACAF Champions Cup for the first time in club history. The tournament is the largest cup competition in this region of the world. The competition will run parallel to the 2024 MLS regular season.

FCC will have a relatively new look going into the match after the departures of Brandon Vazquez, Junior Moreno, Yerson Mosquera, Dominique Badji and Santiago Arias. Additionally, it appears Álvaro Barreal is on his way out on loan. The club added some high-caliber additions to fill the missing pieces. The former Atlanta United and USMNT center back Miles Robinson was one of the biggest free-agent signings in MLS history. The addition of forward Corey Baird from the Houston Dynamo and midfielder Pavel Bucha from Viktoria Plzeň have been largely impactful in the preseason. That also doesn’t even mention the reported signing of Luca Orellano which has not been officially announced at the time of this article’s release. 

FCC has many pieces that are new to the club but the story of the club’s aspirations for the 2024 campaign is in who returns. Reigning MVP and captain Luciano Acosta is the metronome of this club. Acosta’s creative brilliance and world-class leadership are the hallmarks of FCC. Designated Player forward Aaron Boupdenza looks to build further on his role as the primary target at the crown of the Orange and Blue’s attack. Obinna Nwobodo and Matt Miazga create that spine of FCC’s rock-steady defense in front of a potential All-Star caliber goalkeeper in Roman Celentano.

Now let’s get to know Cavalier FC a little. Cavalier is a Jamaican Premier League club in their 61st season of existence. Like FCC, this will be Cavalier’s first appearance in the CONCACAF Champions Cup or any of its former iterations. The Jamaican club found themselves qualified for the CCC by way of finishing runners-up in the inaugural CONCACAF Caribbean Cup last December. Currently, Cavalier FC is at the top of the JPL table and looking to claim its third-ever JPL title and second in the last four seasons.

Cavalier has the best defense in the league, only conceding nine goals in the 19 matches played. Their attack is nothing to take lightly either, sitting third in the league with 31 goals. With that, there is no wonder why they’re unbeaten since December 17.
Cavalier FC is led by manager Rudolph Speid who typically prefers the 3-4-1-2 but has found tremendous success this year in running a 4-3-3. The roster is filled with young professionals who are no doubt a credit to the investment and vision Speid has held in the youth academy. According to their CCC final roster submission, Cavalier has the youngest team in the field with an average age of 21.5 years old.

When talking about Cavalier FC, you must start with that back line. Center backs Richard King and Kyle Ming are as solid as solid gets. They have great recovery speed and never leave their goalkeeper in a stranded situation. The Cavalier captain leftback Gadial Irving might be the weak link in the backline in terms of decision-making and aggressiveness.

In the midfield, Dwayne Atkinson dominates the possession of the ball and is typically how Cavalier likes to progress the ball throughout the middle of the pitch.

Up top are spoils of young talent. Jalmaro Calvin is the player to keep an eye on. Calvin is a creator of chances and a silky-smooth player on the ball. Forward Orlando Russell will pop off the screen when watching the film. Russel’s dynamic range of finishing makes him a difficult mark on a match. Opposite Russell is the CONCACAF Caribbean Cup Golden Boot winner Shaniel Thomas. Thomas is a true poacher of goal and shows his height to be a tricky thing to adjust to.

So how will this match look? The difference in pedigree is noticeable. In the CONCACAF club rankings, Cavalier FC comes in at 101st while FC Cincinnati ranks 14th. Without playing a United States foe, it might be difficult to assess where Cavalier FC would fall in American soccer but I will go on a limb and compare them to a USL League One side. With that said, I fully expect Cavalier to come out in a low block committing no less than seven players in the box on defense. Acosta and Boupendza are in a class of players that this young Cavalier side might not see again for some time in their young careers. It will also help that FCC seems to have made an attacking adjustment with players coming in. This will allow the Orange and Blue to adjust when faced with these low blocks that Nashville SC and Orlando City were successful in deploying. Pat Noonan was asked to assess what this matchup would look like following the fourth and final preseason match.

“I think what you see in some of these competitions when you are playing unfamiliar opponents is uncertainty,” Noonan said. “Certainly the players are going to see something new. They won’t know these players on an individual level or the team until we really start to focus on it. They are a physical team. They are athletic. They aren’t afraid to play direct. They have guys that can run at you with speed.”

Regardless of the result, there will be a second leg back in Cincinnati next week. The CONCACAF Champions Cup is an aggregate-based tournament where each team has a chance to host a match and the total from the two matches determines who advances. For full details on this competition’s format, please visit Cincinnati Soccer Talk’s previous article. (Link)

The match kickoff is at 9 p.m. EST on February 22 on FS2.

To Top