FC Cincinnati 2

Youngsters shine in celebration of FC Cincinnati pipeline

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Largely on the back of their up-and-coming talent, FC Cincinnati handily defeated Cavalier FC, 4-0, Wednesday night to punch their ticket to the next round of the Concacaf Champions Cup against CF Monterrey.

Three players scored their first goals, another collected their first assist, and another made their first team debut. In all, eight players who logged minutes for FC Cincinnati 2 in 2023 made an appearance, highlighting the strong development coming from inside the FCC system. 

"Really pleased with the performance," head coach Pat Noonan said of the victory. "We stressed the importance of keeping a clean sheet and goal differential, and continuing to attack the right way and play the game the right way.

"I was happy with the score line. I'm happy with the guys that contributed and got good minutes tonight while allowing us some much needed rest for a couple individuals. So, a good series for our group and we move on in a good position." 

Alvas Powell earned his first goal for the club after 81 career matches to open the scoring in the 19th minute. Aaron Boupendza doubled the lead with a thunderous strike before the halftime whistle blew, essentially securing FCC's result.

But  players had their fingerprints all over the match, with many doing so as starters. 

Gerardo "Dado" Valenzuela assisted on the Boupendza goal, becoming the youngest player in club history to earn an assist at just 19 years and 150 days old. Bret Halsey, who had two assists by the evening's end, served his pass on a platter for Powell to put into the back of the net. Malik Pinto roamed the midfield with assurance and poise. Arquimides Ordoñez patrolled the top of the field and helped create dangerous opportunities all night.

After halftime, Noonan unleashed his full group of youngsters. Calling on 16-year-old Stiven Jimenez for his third appearance with the first team, London Aghedo for his debut performance, and Isaiah Foster for his second appearance.

"The younger guys, the guys that play for the second team a lot, we always have something to prove," Aghedo said after his FCC debut. "Just the fact that coach Pat trusted us to go out there and get the job done in a tournament like this, it means a lot." 

"It felt good," Foster echoed in his time with the media. "(A goal) builds confidence, but just the fact that coach Pat trusts me to be on the field in the first place is a blessing in itself.”

At times, it felt like this victory was forged in the fires of Scudamore Stadium at North Kentucky University, where FC Cincinnati 2 play their home games.

While some of the connections made on the pitch were first team regulars, much of the build-ups and chances created were achieved by regulars of the second team.

The trust, comfort and predictability on display showed experience. Often, it was Pinto, for example, distributing from the midfield to Halsey on the wing, who would then find Ordoñez or Valenezula in an attacking position. By the time the second half rolled around and first-teamers like Matt Miazga, Ian Murphy and Obinna Nwobodo were subbed off, the true young Garys were able to step in and ensure FCC booked their spot in the Round of 16. 

"Minutes are important when you're not getting them with the first team. Sometimes that's your way to improve your standing by staying sharp and fit," Noonan said of the importance FC Cincinnati 2 has had on the night’s group. "Guys like Dado, Quimi, Malik, Stiven and London … a lot of these guys have worked together … so I'd like to think there's a comfort level when they're on the field together that they understand the strengths and weaknesses of each other to be able to perform and you saw that tonight."

The victory served as an important milestone in FC Cincinnati’s history. For the first time in club competition, The Orange and Blue  won an aggregate matchup and advanced to the next round in continental competition,a goal that Noonan and his compatriots have targeted since his arrival in the Queen City.

For those on the roster who less frequently make the starting 11 or are called on as subs, the win serves as a reward for their dedication and commitment, a confidence boost for the work they put into earning the result, and a reminder that it is possible to work your way up  and contribute to the first team. 

"You always want a clean sheet," Aghedo said. "So to see that zero up there, it definitely gives you more confidence that you did your job, and everyone on the field did their job. So I'm just hoping the team's confidence pushes forward because of it." 

"It feels really good … when you get this opportunity, I think it's extremely important, Halsey added. “When you get an opportunity you have to take it. I think it's great for all the young guys. Obviously, we grind together in the practice squad just hoping we can make it in the roster. So I think it's cool." 

At the end of the night, FC Cincinnati advanced in continental competition, a tremendous moment in the club's history. Next up in the tournament is a match with one of the biggest clubs, not only in Mexico, but in the world in CF Monterrey.

FC Cincinnati players and coaches reiterated postgame that they are not looking past Chicago Fire FC, who they take on in league play Saturday, before turning their attention back to the Champions Cup. But they would concede that the gravity of the moment is great and is an exciting opportunity for the club. 

"It should be a good matchup (with Monterrey)," Foster concluded. “Yeah, they're a really big club, but we're an up-and-coming big club … so it should be fun."