FC Cincinnati scored twice in the second frame of the adapted 120-minute fixture with New England on Thursday at IMG Academy. The match was structured with four 30-minute periods, and both clubs made a full 11-man switch after the first two periods.
The 2-0 victory for The Orange and Blue is nice. Still, given the circumstances and oddities of preseason friendlies like this one, the performance was truly important and worth discussing.
Let's dive deeper into four things I took away from the match:
The Boupendza-Acosta Connection
Aaron Boupendza scored both FC Cincinnati goals. Luciano Acosta assisted on both to give the duo three goal connections in two games in preseason. They haven't all been cookie-cutter or in the same way; all three have come in different ways and situations.
The connection between FC Cincinnati's Landon Donovan MLS MVP winner in Acosta and the DP striker the club purchased in the middle of last year's season is imperative moving forward. In many ways, they are expected to be the engine that drives this offense, and their growing chemistry is key to that.
It’s taken time to click on all cylinders, as any new player would tell you is normal, but it's clear they are connecting on some higher level now. Acosta understands where and when Boupendza likes a ball played for him, and conversely, Boupendza is finding runs that he knows Acosta can, or likes to, play the ball and create open space.
An impressive example of this was the second goal the Gabonese striker finished on. Where Acosta had won a ball in midfield just shy of the circle in the FCC defensive zone, and before the MVP had fully turned to run in the space, Boupendza took off up the field, realizing the bubble in the New England defense. Acosta found him in stride for an over-the-top long ball that bounced once before Boupendza got a flick over the keeper for a score.
Instinct? Good coaching? Chemistry? All of the above in some combination but they're clearly developing something special.
They put the CB in USA
For the first time, FC Cincinnati could utilize their full might at the center-back position and see how their new star defender would slide into an impressive defensive core.
Miles Robinson was joined by Matt Miazga and Ian Murphy in the opening 11, giving FCC a trio of defenders who have all been called to represent their country in some capacity. When you throw Roman Celentano into that mix, it's a party of American national team members. But with Miazga out though against Austin after suffering some mild back spasms leading to caution, this was the first time he and Robinson had taken the field together since the 2023 Gold Cup semifinals against Panama.
The defense was stout. They locked New England out of any truly dangerous situations and sustained pressure well when it came so they could turn the ball back upfield when they could without panicking. What came to mind first of this performance was that they were snuffing out a candle rather than blowing it out. It was slow and suffocating, but it was never violent or direct. They pulled the air out of any attack.
It was a collective effort. Obinna Nwobodo was as key to that as anyone, as he usually is. Still, the work done to orchestrate and communicate the defensive scheme fell back on the 2023 MLS Defender of the Year in Miazga, who spent most of the 60 minutes he was on the field hollering…communicating…instructions to his teammates to ensure they stayed connected in the effort.
'Dado' looks the part
Gerardo “Dado” Valenzuela has been very impressive in both preseason games. The performance has yet to yield a reward in terms of goals, but the poise, physicality and creative skills all look years above his age.
At just 19 years old, given how some players look who are far older than him and the role he plays, it's really impressive. He carries himself and plays confidently and fearlessly, making himself stand out. It's clear his vision for how he wants to play the game is outstanding, he may just need his body to catch up to his mind.
Dado came in for the final 60 minutes and was central to the attacking effort, often being the focal point in the middle of the field. He frustrates defenders, has a knack for winning free kicks, and links play excellently in the attacking midfield section.
After two preseason games, there's a growing place for Dado to contribute to this team in the more immediate future.
Through two matches, it's becoming clearer how FC Cincinnati approaches preseason fitness build-ups and how FCC players adjust to it.
In the first friendly, everyone played 45 minutes and then subbed out; in the second, they added an extra 15 minutes with a short break in the middle. With two more matches, we may see less rotation as the club builds its first-teamers up for Concacaf Champions Cup play and the opening of the 2024 MLS regular season.
What has been most impressive is that The Orange and Blue are improving as they go along in matches. Each group has looked stronger at the end than they had at the beginning, which is a nice feather in the cap of the FC Cincinnati strength and conditioning team. Still, it also shows that their working pace is beneficial. It's not as if by 60 minutes they're gasping for air or can't stay connected.
There are still two more preseason friendlies before competitive matches resume. The Orange and Blue will visit Philadelphia Union on Friday before hosting New England in Clearwater to close preseason.