4 takeaways from FC Cincinnati’s preseason victory over Philadelphia Union

20240209 FCCvsPHI Match 184

After a rough start to the match, FC Cincinnati scored four unanswered goals, including a brace from Aaron Boupendza and singles from Luciano Acosta and Corey Baird, to win their third preseason friendly, 4-3, over Philadelphia Union. 

The match was played in an adapted 120-minute format with three periods organized into 45-minute, 30-minute, and 45-minute sets. One set of 11 players played the first two periods, totaling 75 minutes, then a new set of 11 substitutions checked in for the final 45 minutes. 

Let's look at four key takeaways from the penultimate preseason friendly for FCC:

Slow start, strong finish

An unavoidable talking point from the match was FC Cincinnati's poor opening 20 minutes, falling in an early 3-0 hole by conceding in the 7th, 15th and 17th minutes. 

FCC captain Luciano Acosta told FCCincinnati.com postgame that the slow start may have been due to some tired minds and bodies from preseason training. However, when the group refocused, they performed well. 

It's an apt analysis. After the first 20 minutes of the match, Acosta fed a surging Corey Baird with a high cross that the newly signed member of The Orange and Blue volleyed into an open goal to cut the deficit to 3-1. From there, FCC dominated the run of play and eliminated chances on their own end. 

"We certainly addressed the start, because it was bad. It was us not getting into the game and competing for about 15 minutes, and I think the score line showed that," head coach Pat Noonan said in his weekly media availability after the match. "I like the response … to be able to concede three goals within 20 minutes, and with the group that went 75 minutes to find four goals against a team that defends against the ball very well, that part I liked." 

FC Cincinnati tripped at the starting line, but raced to keep up and ultimately win the marathon. The comeback signified an impressive feat of perseverance and showed just how mature and together the team is as a group. 

"You saw a group really need to come together going down so big, so we could have crumbled," Baird said of today's performance. "I think it's a sign of an experienced team. There's a reason why (FCC) had the success they've had (in the past): to be able to gather ourselves and take a deep breath.

"It was never a 'Okay, we have to go score in the next five minutes.' It was just like, 'Alright, let's wake up. Let's do what we do.'"

It resulted in a victory this time, but the scare provided perspective. Both Acosta and Baird highlighted the fact that you can't start like that and expect outcomes regularly.

Adversity may be a good thing

In addition to the 3-0 hole, The Orange and Blue found themselves in an exhibition atmosphere that never felt very friendly. From the get-go, both sides were clearly playing with an intensity that symbolized the budding rivalry that was born in the MLS Cup Playoffs the last two seasons. 

Both sides received yellow cards, and a red card was issued to Philadelphia  in the final minutes of the second period. There were coming togethers, stoppages after goals, and frustration bore out. Still, the Union players took exception and wanted to share their feelings. 

There were mixed thoughts about the intensity postgame.

On the one hand, there is value in playing games, such as circumstances and emotions, and playing the game hard is what evaluators want to see this preseason. On the other hand, there is an upper limit to that and going over it is unproductive. 

"It can be good or bad. You want the intensity, as we're preparing for important games that start with the (Concacaf) Champions Cup," Noonan said. "So that part I like, but when it becomes too many guys talking, not enough playing, then I think we're losing the plot a little bit."

However, going through those difficult moments can be helpful as a team. Part of preseason is figuring out the soccer side, but it's also about coming together as a group. 

"That's just sort of the mentality this team has," Acosta said postgame. "That even in those moments, if we get caught sleeping, that we can wake up, we can find our rhythm and get back into form." 

Bucha makes his debut

Newly signed midfielder Pavel Bucha debuted for the club by playing 75 minutes with the opening group and contributing to the build-up of all four FCC goals. 

"Good players can be thrown into most environments and stick out in a good way, and he certainly has been very strong since he arrived," Noonan said of his newest midfielder, who came over from Czech Republic side Viktoria Plzeń. "Because he's mentally strong and has played at a high level, he didn't crumble, he got into the game and had a really good 60 minutes to end it."

Bucha had one magical moment in the second frame: he corralled a loose ball, stepped into open space, and fired a shot on the net. The quickness to go from a seemingly innocent moment to a dangerous one highlighted his pace. It sparked the imagination of how impactful he could be as another dangerous factor on a team of stars. 

"He had a couple moments where he moved with the play, how he joined the attack to create chances. I thought he found himself in some good spots where with a little better quality, he's finishing a goal or two," Noonan added. "So we've been very pleased with him. You could tell he's got a good feel for the game." 

Acosta tallies up points

After earning three assists in the first two friendlies and tallying three more in this match, Acosta finally got a finish for himself. By punching in the equalizer, the 2023 MLS MVP brought his preseason tally to seven goal contributions in three games with six assists and one goal. 

Acosta says he is still ramping up this preseason to get back to the form he had in 2023, which is a very harsh self analysis considering the performances he has had, but aligns with the messages he has made about his expectations for the new season. He wants to repeat his success and do more, which requires a higher bar than he's ever set before. 

The goal that Acosta finished himself, though, was a classic "Lucho" golazo, dribbling past two defenders and getting a strike on the net that beat Philadelphia's goalkeeper, Andre Blake. In a 2-on-2 scenario, Boupendza also ran with him, but was covered by a defender. But the gravity of his run kept Acosta from facing a 1-on-2 situation. It made for an easier attempt for the captain, speaking to just how dominant the pair can be together. The space created by the quality and respect each player demands opens the field up on isolated runs in space, exactly where Acosta is already at his most dangerous.