FC Cincinnati cap off challenging opening month with ‘full squad’ win at New England Revolution

20240317 NEvsFCC Match 113

With nearly 10,000 miles traveled by the time FC Cincinnati touched back down in the Queen City Sunday night , The Orange and Blue capped off a challenging stretch of eight games in 25 days with a 2-1 win over New England Revolution at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts.

Luciano Acosta came on at half time and flipped the script on the match – subbing out a younger starting lineup that performed admirably to keep the game even – contributing to two goals in the first 15 minutes of the half to give FC Cincinnati enough to see out the match.

But the win meant more than just the three points FCC earned on the road.

With the loss to CF Monterrey in the Concacaf Champions Cup still fresh in the mind from three days prior despite a valiant effort, FC Cincinnati personnel felt the sting of that defeat and wanted to cleanse themselves of it.

“It’s always good to play so quickly after a disappointing loss,” Miles Robinson said of the victory. “I think were growing in confidence and collectively getting stronger together and to get two away wins this early in the season I think definitely shows the team we can be.

“It's definitely tough playing these midweek games. But after a little bit of a road trip getting a W definitely add some, some light on this whole first portion of the season.”

It took every member of the squad to see out the win: 11 starters, five substitutes and the efforts of every coach, staffer and player, dressed or not, to get to this point and ensure the fitness and mental preparation was there to win.

From youngsters like Stiven Jimenez and Dado Valenzuela, to veterans like Yuya Kubo, who played not only different positions but full 45s in different positions, everyone played a part in capping off the victory Sunday afternoon.

“I said it before the game, ‘It'd be nice to see these guys rewarded with a good result after what they've endured,’” Pat Noonan said in his address to the media postgame from the locker room in Gillette Stadium. “And I say ‘endured,’ it's not to be dramatic, it's taken its toll on the group. You could see in the game, there were heavy legs, tired minds, but they found a way. And I'm really happy for them that they get to experience walking off the field with a win."

Noonan referred to his pleasure in seeing the team earn a victory, but by all accounts, the FC Cincinnati manager squeezed every morsel of potential from his squad. Starting with a new formation that optimized the lineup he had available to him, Noonan drew up a game plan and adapted it on the fly to give the team the best chance it could to succeed.

His starting midfield had four career MLS starts between them once kickoff had occurred. The wingbacks consisted of a man who had played forward or midfield his entire career until two months ago and a player who joined the roster two weeks ago. But that mismatched group got the job done.

“I liked the personnel that we had for that shape,” Noonan said. “I thought it was good to see what it looks like to have an option to play in a slightly different way.

“It was just trying to find a couple advantages in front of their backline. … We were hoping Sergio [Santos] could kind of position himself in a way where we could free up Dado [Valenzuela] and Corey [Baird] in what we anticipated their shape might look like, and finding ways to play through the middle and not always looking at the safe way to play around.”

The depth on the roster in the opening half put FCC in a place to capitalize later in the match and not chase a deficit. The Orange and Blue kept New England off the scoresheet through halftime, and while Noonan expressed that he was frustrated with some of the quality in connecting passes in the offensive zone, it put FCC in a position to use a few “super subs” off the bench and go for the win in the second half.

"No plan, it was how the game was playing out," Noonan said of his substitution strategy and how it was flexible during the match. "We knew we had a lot of tired legs, so we didn't want to do too much too early. And then from there, it was just how the game played out."

Acosta proved again (not that anyone needed any reminding) why he was the 2023 MLS MVP and one of the most dynamic, game altering players in MLS right now. Despite the fatigue of playing in every match in 2024, and Noonan revealing that Acosta was dealing with a “knock” on his ankle, the Argentine midfielder instantly changed the game with his pace and skill. Acosta pushed the offense forward and sliced through the Revolution’s backline like a hot knife through butter.

The resulting change in tempo gave FCC a two-goal lead in the span of three minutes. The first score came on a corner kick that after an initial deflection, Kubo headed in just over the line. The second goal occurred on a cheeky free kick by Acosta two minutes later that slid under the Revs’ leaping defensive wall and past a diving keeper.

“Yes and no. Yes, because of his quality, but no because of how fatigued he was,” Noonan said when asked if he’s no longer surprised by Acosta’s great feats. “The energy and the quality that he brings to the group. The life that he brought to the group in the second 45. The understanding of the moment of how to defend when we need him to; the angles he takes.

“There was a play late in the game where off of the set piece and chipped ball in behind, he's the one who's seeing the ball into Roman [Celentano's] hands. It's just so many little moments that you see a player that gets it and is hungry to win.”

Celentano similarly kept FCC in the game in more ways than one and likely deserved a better outcome than even the victory provided given his performance. With three game-altering saves in each half, and countless other clearances, pressures and grabs from danger that wouldn’t register as a save, Celentano cleaned up any messes that happened to get by the stout (but strained) defensive backline.

The lone goal he conceded came where a misplayed back pass was intercepted by Giacomo Vrioni and left Celentano all alone with the attacker at point blank range. A difficult spot to be in.

But one goal allowed does not sour the achievement. When push came to shove, Celentano knew his team needed his best given the challenges the outfield players were overcoming.

“We were talking as a goalkeeper group and it was like ‘we're on the back end of a long stretch, we're on the road short notice, turf…whatever the excuse is. All that means we just have to be locked in as a goalkeeping group and be ready for maybe more action than we're used to,'” Celentano said. “I feel like we're a pretty good defensive group but when you're coming out the back of all this stuff, I feel like you got to be ready to make some saves in some certain moments.”

With the victory, FC Cincinnati flies back to southern Ohio cleansed of that disappointing feeling they left Mexico with. They can look forward to the first full week of rest and preparation after over a month of double match weeks. With another league road win in their back pocket, they can focus on the upcoming MLS calendar with an undefeated 2-0-2 record.

After much angst about where they stand in the league after two home draws, FCC made it out the other side of the gauntlet with eight MLS points in four matches, good enough for third in the Eastern Conference with a game in hand over Inter Miami CF.

Now, the work begins. Noonan indicated postgame that with a more regular schedule of matches upcoming, FCC can begin to focus on the issues they’ve identified rather than hop from one problem to the next.

But until then, FC Cincinnati earned a team win in New England, their first in five years. That’s worth celebrating.