After seven minutes of stoppage time, and a last-second attempt from Toronto FC sailed high of the net, the referee blew his whistle, and the trophy was theirs. For the first time in the club’s history, FC Cincinnati have earned an MLS trophy. In Toronto, Ontario, Canada, The Orange and Blue had won the 2023 Supporters’ Shield.
With a thrilling 3-2 win over Toronto FC, The Orange and Blue secured the Supporters’ Shield with their 65th point (19-4-8) of the season, 1,830 days after earning their last trophy before joining MLS in 2019.
“What a moment to experience and share with the players and the staff members,” FC Cincinnati head coach Pat Noonan said of the accomplishment. “Certainly a lot of people to thank and a lot of work that’s gone into this and all those people will be recognized in the coming days.”
“I’m so happy,” FCC captain Luciano Acosta said postgame. “We’ve achieved what we set out to achieve, and now we know the job’s not finished. We’re going to keep going, and we’re going to achieve more.
“I don’t have many words to explain how I’m feeling… that’s is my second family,” Acosta said in the locker room while admitting to fighting back tears. “I need to say thank you, to everybody. Thank you to the fans. Thank you to my family, thank you to everybody who makes this city my family and makes this club my family.”
FC Cincinnati took an early lead, scoring twice in the first half on a brace from Brandon Vazquez. The hosts stormed back with two of their own, but it was the combination of FC Cincinnati’s two DPs who earned the third and ultimately winning goal late in the second half.
“We just needed to keep our composure,” Noonan said of his group’s attitude after conceding the lead in the first half. “Guys were frustrated because they expect to be winning, they expect not to be conceding goals and so it was just trying to make sure that we had the right approach coming out of the break.”
The Orange and Blue will return to TQL Stadium to face New York Red Bulls Wednesday night, where, after the match, FC Cincinnati will celebrate with their supporters and lift the Shield for the first time.
“I want people to really enjoy this,” Noonan said. “I know (the players) are right now. So we look forward to sharing this moment in front of our home fans on Wednesday.”
Boupendza Delivers (The Winner)
With a dramatic second half brewing, Aaron Boupendza delivered the match-winning goal after being perfectly led on to by a pass from captain and MLS MVP front-runner Luciano Acosta.
In the 72nd minute, Acosta won a ball in the final third and dribbled his way to just outside the box. A surging Boupendza made his run into the box, and Acosta threaded the needle between Boupendza and the defender to give the striker a clear path to the net. Boupendza sent a curling shot past the keeper and into the side netting.
Boupendza’s arrival with the club was heralded by the promise general manager Chris Albright made that Boupendza was coming specifically because of his ability to augment this roster and help them win championships. A prophecy that has come true as Boupendza’s goal proved the winner, and the striker has now scored five goals in five MLS starts. Acosta earned his 13th assist on the season with his contribution.
“(Boupendza) scored a big goal for us,” Noonan said. “This is why he’s here and he was one of many players that contributed in a way where we could be champions.”
A Brace For Brandon
Brandon Vazquez broke open the scoring for FC Cincinnati in the first half, scoring twice in seven minutes to give FCC the early lead. Both goals came from the American striker being in a solid position to capitalize on opportunities in front of the net.
Following a throw-in just feet from the corner kick flag in the 28th minute, Álvaro Barreal sent a cross to the middle of the box, where Yerson Mosquera was able to get his body on the ball and direct it to Vazquez for the finish from the left of the penalty spot. Both Barreal and Mosquera were credited with assists.
The second goal came unassisted but was the product of dangerous play from Barreal and Boupendza. With the two playing a slick give-and-go to free up Boupendza, the Gabonese striker fired a shot on net that was saved by the TFC keeper. But Vazquez was in position and was able to tap in the finisher, giving FCC a 2-0 lead in the 35th minute.
The brace was the seventh multi-goal game of Vazquez’s career across all competitions. It was his fifth for FC Cincinnati and fourth in MLS play. The last time Vazquez earned a multi-goal game for The Orange and Blue was in the Leagues Cup against Chivas Guadalajara on July 28th.
The Hosts Respond
However, FC Cincinnati could not see out the first half with the lead as unfortunate rebounds found the foot and head of Toronto’s Jonathan Osorio in the 39th and 44th minute to even the score going into the half.
The first TFC goal came after Celentano was able to square up a blistering shot from Federico Bernardeschi in the 39th minute. The shot squibbed away from Celentano after wearing it in the chest just far enough for a serging Osorio to tap in the goal uncontested.
Five minutes later, the combo struck again. A shot from a narrow-angle was saved by Celentano but popped up in front of the net, where Osorio headed the equalizer in from just feet off the goal line.
Noonan indicated he felt the performance from Celentano to allow the rebounds was uncharacteristic, so he was not concerned with the individual mistakes made on the goals. But was impressed by Celentano’s response and the entire team’s effort to support him and play stronger defense as a result. “I think the guys in front of them did a really good job to limit chances at goal,” the head coach said. “That’s also a sign of strong teammates. They know at that moment, maybe if (Celentano) was rattled we need to be better defensively. We need to be a little bit more difficult to break down so that they’re not getting chances on goal and I think those guys stepped up to help their teammate.”
The second goal was created controversially, as contact up the field on Boupendza went uncalled, allowing for a play to be developed by TFC. Boupendza would require medical attention and was temporarily removed from play, but returned later.