A final piece to FC Cincinnati’s 2024 puzzle?

FC Cincinnati’s dominant performance, especially defensively, led to the club’s first win of the 2024 season on the road against the Chicago Fire last weekend. Led by the trio of Ian Murphy, Matt Miazga and Miles Robinson, who look like Pat Noonan’s first-choice center backs, the Orange and Blue limited the Fire to just four shots in open play. The center backs look like they’ll be a consistent threat on set pieces this season too, which would supplement an offense that’s still adjusting to a lot of new faces. Going forward, the addition of DeAndre Yedlin should reinforce an already obviously good defensive group. 

DeAndre Yedlin in Orange and Blue

Chris Albright finally got his wingback. On Sunday, FCC’s general manager filled the last major outstanding hole on the team’s roster with the acquisition of Yedlin from Inter Miami for an entertainingly specific $172,799 in General Allocation Money. 

Yuya Kubo, Bret Halsey and Alvas Powell all started games at right wingback early in the 2024 season and acquitted themselves well. But a proven solution at the position always seemed like it would be on Albright’s to-do list before the transfer window closed. 

Despite his 81 caps for the U.S. Men’s National Team, Yedlin’s arrival comes with some questions. Simply put, Yedlin hasn’t produced at even an average level in MLS in recent seasons. Situation matters and let’s not forget that Yedlin was playing on a terrible Miami team before the arrival of Lionel Messi and co. last year. 

In more than 2,320 minutes in 2023, Yedlin tallied just two assists and 2.2 expected assisted goals. Yedlin has never been an outside back who plays passes directly to teammates’ shots as he has just 18 assists across 284 matches played. Comparing Yedlin and Arias’ seasons from 2023, there’s a noticeable gap in production, especially in the attacking third. 

Again, context is key. Yedlin played much of last season on one of the worst teams in MLS. But at the same time, many of these numbers aren’t far off of his career norms. So even though we shouldn’t expect Yedlin to be a chance creator or major hub of ball progression for FCC, he should make the team better. 

Yedlin will provide width on the right and presumably another outlet higher up the field in the build-up. If teams continue to press, which they almost certainly will, Yedlin’s pace up the right wing should be a dangerous factor if FCC can find him in space. His defensive work rate will also be a valuable addition to FCC’s backline. Yedlin’s experience on the right side will help to balance Luca Orellano’s attack-first instincts on the left side of the field. His speed should also provide additional cover when FCC’s press is broken or after turnovers happen in inopportune parts of the field.

Availability has value in and of itself, too. Arias played just 1,652 minutes across 26 matches including 16 starts in 2023. As noted above, Yedlin played 2,320 minutes in 28 matches with 25 starts. Having your first-choice right wingback be available throughout the season will have positive knock-on effects for the rest of the roster. For example, Kubo can return to his super sub role, giving Pat Noonan a potential game-changer off the bench.  

Celentano’s Distribution

You’ve probably noticed a change in Roman Celentano’s game early in 2024. He’s playing long passes less often – a lot less often. According to Football Reference data, Celentano attempted 11.1 passes that traveled longer than 40 yards per 90 minutes in 2023 compared to just 4.50 per 90 minutes this year, albeit through just two league games. In 2023, Celentano hit 40-yard or longer passes on just over half of his goal kicks. This year, that number sits at less than 15 percent

Noonan’s emphasis on playing out of the back more this year is almost certainly a product of the departure of Brandon Vazquez’s aerial presence on deadballs as well as the addition of Miles Robinson’s passing on the backline. 

The Orange and Blue have a mixed record playing out of the back so far in 2024. By inviting pressure and then playing cleanly through it, FCC has found space in moments of transition that might not have otherwise happened. But the downside risks have been clear, too. Especially against teams willing to commit numbers high up the field, Celentano’s short to medium passing has already been put under a microscope. 

The sequence immediately preceding Obi Nwobodo’s called-a-penalty-but-ruled-just-outside-the-box foul against Toronto, Celentano received a pass back from Robinson. Pressured by an onrushing Prince Osei Owusu and with other Toronto players cutting off passing lanes to Murphy and Kipp Keller, Celentano tried to play a chipped ball toward his midfield double-pivot. Except he hit it too far, leaving Alonso Coello plenty of time to direct an uncontested headed pass to a teammate to come right back at Celentano’s goal with FCC’s defensive shape still in flux. 

There’s still been danger in situations where it’s worked out. Against Toronto, Celentano was pressured but was able to find Nwobodo in the middle of the field. In this situation, Nwobodo cleanly handled a pass that had to be, and was, hit pretty hard. But, as you can see, Nwobodo was tightly marked, as was Bucha alongside him. 

Hitting a hard pass covering a relatively far distance to a covered teammate coming towards the goal is a situation that often won’t work out well. Even assuming the pass recipient can bring the ball under control, they’re still moving away from where they want to, limiting what they can do next. 

Finding patterns of play where Celentano can make quick decisions to find open teammates will be vital. And he’ll have to have a quick trigger to just send the ball upfield if there’s nothing available. At a certain point, conceding possession past midfield outweighs the risks of turning it over in the defensive third.

To be fair, these are situations Celentano has rarely been in as a professional. He’ll have the opportunity to prove he can take a step forward with the ball at his feet. Watching his comfort level and if he can become an asset in FCC’s build-up play will be a key storyline as the 2024 season progresses. 

To Top