4 Takeaways from FC Cincinnati's opening preseason friendly with Austin FC

20240126 FCCvsATX Match 061

ST. PETERSBURG, FLA - FC Cincinnati kicked off their 2024 preseason friendly schedule with a 2-1 defeat to Austin FC at Al Lang Stadium in Tampa, Florida. Al Lang resides as the preseason training home for Austin and technically served as the first “road test” of the season for The Orange and Blue.

The match was played in a standard 90-minute format with two 45-minute halves, but both teams took more than the usual time at half time to reset for the second half. While this seems standard for most soccer matches, not all friendlies will be on a 90-minute clock. On occasion, the club will play an extended 120-minute game, so the normality of the structure adds to the takeaways from the match. 

Let's dive into the key points of the match, some takeaways, and hear from head coach Pat Noonan on his opinion of the game.

The Orange and Blue win possession battle, Aaron Boupendza looks strong

The first half of the match was defined by FC Cincinnati’s ability to hold possession and win balls back in their own half. The combination of Yuya Kubo, Obinna Nwobodo, and the new look defensive corp of Miles Robinson, Kipp Keller and returner Ian Murphy look connected, winning balls back and turning up field to the forwards, and thwarting challenges early. While in-match statistics or a public game clock were not available for comparison, FCC spent the vast majority in possession and in the attacking half, and pressured Austin in the final third regularly.

While The Verde never had consistent pressure in the final third that made things uncomfortable, they were able to break out in transition and create an early opportunity that resulted in a fairly spectacular take that perfectly floated over the keeper and back down softly to the far post, banking in off the metal for the first goal in the opening stanza.

It was fairly representative of the match as a whole as FCC applied more pressure in all phases and created some chances, but just had the extra inch at the right moments. 

“There were some really good looks,”head coach Pat Noonan said. “There were some really good stretches of play, but just that creativity in the final third. … I think one of the biggest challenges today was just the quality from our wider positions. Specifically with the wing backs, when we got them into the box, how we were able to get some balls in dangerous areas, you know, that was a little bit off. 

“Credit to (Austin). They were blocking some of those crosses and recovering in the box, but I think with a little bit more creativity and quality, we could have found some better chances. But I’m really pleased with where we're starting.”

Aaron Boupendza, who finished FC Cincinnati’s moment of brilliance, and reigning Landon Donovan MLS Most Valuable Player Luciano Acosta looked like the most dangerous players on the field as they linked up in tandem to score FCC’s first goal of the preseason. The goal was ultimately created by Acosta passing up on a shot attempt in the box (on a feed from Corey Baird) to draw out a defender then feeding an open Boupendza who fired it home. 

The pair of Acosta and Boupendza continued their dominating play through the half time whistle, effectively keeping play in the Austin zone, but were unable to find a second finish despite some close chances. 

Full line change at half

In a preplanned move, FC Cincinnati decided to make a full 11-man change at halftime, rotating players in and out to give everyone an opportunity to get minutes in this first formal preseason match. 

With players still working into full fitness and the desire to see all of FCC’s camp players in action, a full rotation at halftime and a second change later in the half to switch goalkeepers created a disconnect between the halves. 

Austin, on the other hand, did not make a 100 percent rotation and kept stars like Sebastían Driussi in the match, further complicating the matter. 

In many ways, the trends of the first half continued. FCC owned possession, but created far fewer dangerous chances and never truly had an opportunity to make Austin uncomfortable. FCC was able to mostly steady Austin’s transition play, but ultimately it was a transition that created the opportunity, while not directly, for The Verde and Black’s second goal. 

There were bright spots in The Orange and Blue’s build up though. Gerardo ‘Dado’ Valenzuela looked very confident and capable on the ball through the middle of the field, impressing beyond his years for a 19-year-old. Kenji Mboma Dem, who played out of position according to Noonan, and Bret Halsey also looked strong on offense in their opportunities. For Mboma Dem drove offensive play in his debut with the club after being drafted in the second round of the 2024 MLS SuperDraft out of the University of Dayton. Halsey found himself with multiple stand out moments, beating defenders on the wing and sending in quality crosses.

Quick integrations 

The lineups presented in each half both represented significant changes to the norm as new players were introduced in FC Cincinnati uniforms for the first time. The first half lineup featured three significant arrivals with defenders Robinson, Keller and forward Baird playing with their new teammates for the first time. The second half squad also had three fresh faces, but most had not played with each other regularly between first and second team matches until today.

That being said, Noonan felt the whole team gelled well and was pleased with how seamless the additions felt to the squads.

“We got some answers,” Noonan said. “I was really pleased, outside of the result, with how many new faces were out there getting familiar with some of the things that we’re asking (of them). I thought the guys did a really good job of pushing themselves.”

Part of the quick integrations became obvious with how well Murphy and Roman Celentano meshed with Robinson as part of the defensive lineup. The communication between the three was already apparent.

The three played together while part of the U.S. Men’s National Team January camp and their reactiveness to Celentano’s communication was apparent. 

“I think the guys did a good job of welcoming (Robinson) in and that probably helped a little bit with the enrollment in camp, so they could help him out once he met the rest of his teammates and we started to get to work on the field,” Noonan said. “(Robinson) has worked his way into the group in a really, really good way. He's a good kid, strong character, obviously we know a very good player as well … he's been excellent.”

Ahead of schedule

It became clear throughout the week that the sun's rays would become an issue with the heat impacting training as the day wore on. Friday was no different. While the noon game time had a fresh 74 degree temperature and some overcast skies, by the start of the second half, it was 80-plus degrees with a bright sun.

FC Cincinnati players pushed through it, an attribute that has impressed Noonan in the opening week of Florida workouts.

“They pushed themselves from a fitness perspective,” Noonan highlighted.

Part of preseason is getting back into a fitness level that the offseason rest may have taken from the players. So it is to be expected that a key tracking point of the first friendly is managing that measurement. On top of the hard work today and in training, the focus on ‘the work’ has left a positive impression.

“We’re further along. I've been very pleased with the two weeks on the field,” Noonan said in reference to where his club is at this point in the calendar compared to the two previous preseasons with FCC. “Off the field … there's just a comfort level, a better understanding, as far as the expectations of what things are going to look like.

“We were working on some stuff off the field where with guys we're trying to get them out of their comfort zone. We saw some of our veteran guys, but also some of the new guys, really come out of their shells in a pretty unique way. And I thought that was pretty, pretty cool.”

Preseason - FC Cincinnati vs Austin FC - Jan. 26, 2024

PRESS RELEASE- FC Cincinnati open preseason schedule with dropped 2-1 result against Austin FC

Aaron Boupendza scores for the Orange and Blue in first preseason test

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – FC Cincinnati fell in a 2-1 result against Austin FC in the first of four preseason matches for the club on Friday afternoon at Al Lang Stadium. Austin FC opened the scoring in the 13th minute through Valentin Noël before Aaron Boupendza struck in the 20th.

Austin restored their lead in the 65th minute as second-half substitute Sebastián Druissi found the back of the net.

ATX, Valentin Noël, GOAL 13’ – A dangerous cross into the Cincinnati box finds Jáder Obrian who picks out Noël with a first-time touch and Noël heads home.

CIN, Aaron Boupendza, GOAL 20’ – Corey Baird plays a ball into the box from the left wing. Luciano Acosta picks up the cross off an Austin defender and finds Boupendza who curls his attempt in at the far post.

ATX, Sebastián Driussi, GOAL 65’ – Sebastián Driussi strikes for Austin after controlled play in and around the Cincinnati box to restore the Austin lead.

First Half Lineup: Luciano Acosta, Corey Baird, Aaron Boupendza, Roman Celentano, Isaiah Foster, Kipp Keller, Yuya Kubo, Ian Murphy, Obinna Nwobodo, Alvas Powell, Miles Robinson

Second Half Lineup: London Aghedo, Marco Angulo, Nico Benalcazar, Kenji Mboma Dem, Brett Halsey, Evan Louro (Paul Walters), Arquimides Ordoñez, Sergio Santos, Brain Schaefer, Trialist, Gerardo Valenzuela

FCC return to preseason game action on Thursday, Feb. 1 against the New England Revolution at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

The Orange and Blue begin the 2024 season in Kingston, Jamaica on Thursday, Feb. 22 at Cavalier FC in the first leg of a Round One Concacaf Champions Cup fixture. FCC open their 2024 MLS slate on Sunday, Feb. 25 at TQL Stadium against Toronto FC.

FC Cincinnati’s full 2024 schedule can be viewed HERE. FC Cincinnati matches air live on MLS Season Pass on Apple TV, the unprecedented subscription service which features every MLS Regular Season, MLS Cup Playoff and Leagues Cup match.

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