It was quiet in the FC Cincinnati locker room in the aftermath of The Orange and Blue’s victory over New York City FC Saturday night at TQL Stadium.
The spirits were high, and celebrations were had on the pitch, but if a stranger were to somehow wander into the locker room, one might not know a wire-to-wire 3-0 victory had just taken place.
That’s because victories like that are business as usual for FC Cincinnati this season, whose 16 wins lead Major League Soccer. But despite having a challenging week prior to the match, where they lost to rival Columbus Crew and failed to advance in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup semifinals against Inter Miami CF, a sense of calm remained the same after returning to the win column.
“I've said this about this group many times, we never get too high and we never get too low,” defender Nick Hagglund said after FCC’s win Saturday night. “(That week) was a low moment for us, probably the lowest we've had this year, but I think we came back and responded. … We just have to continue our ways.”
“We've seen these guys do this a number of times,” head coach Pat Noonan added about his club's ability to bounce back from disappointing results. “When they're tested and challenged, I think they've stepped up enough times for us to expect this.”
FC Cincinnati players and coaches felt the 3-0 loss to Columbus Crew was out of character, something they weren't proud of. Three days later, The Orange and Blue responded with a strong performance against Inter Miami CF in a 3-3 draw after 120 minutes that was ultimately decided by penalty kicks.
“The next day was pretty somber and quiet at the training grounds,” Hagglund said. “Then the next day at training it was kind of back to regular business. … You can either go down and feel sorry for yourself or pick yourself up, look yourself in the face and go on.”
While the win was back to business as usual as Hagglund says – with FCC earning three points and increasing their lead to 10 points on top of the Supporters’ Shield – it was an important performance to help get The Orange and Blue’s positive vibes back.
Hagglund and Noonan both indicated at different points that FCC’s locker room was off-kilter after being eliminated from the Open Cup. Hagglund described it as ‘fragile’ whereas Noonan used the phrase ‘down.’ The win over NYCFC in convincing fashion served as a remedy, helping to relieve the team of any potential lingering effects.
“I think the (early) goal was good for the psyche of the group,” Noonan said. “Just to get momentum early on in the game, that early confidence.”
In the sixth minute of the match, Aaron Boupendza was able to clean up a rebound off a shot from Bret Halsey that the goalkeeper could not corral. The goal would give FCC a lead that they would not surrender.
“Coming off of tough results (you wonder), ‘What will the early stages of the next game look like?’” Noonan said. “I thought our management early on was good and liked how we were on the front foot.”
Another short week to get ready for Atlanta United FC, Orlando City SC
The win over NYCFC comes in the middle of a challenging stretch in the schedule. Having played three games in seven days already, The Orange and Blue still have two more matches to play, each with only three days matches, before having a full week to build for their next fixture. Taking on Atlanta United FC in a midweek matchup in Atlanta, before returning home for a Saturday match with Orlando City SC.
Preparation for the Atlanta United FC fixture began shortly after the NYCFC victory, but the highest priority for Noonan and his staff was to ensure the fitness of the group was being prioritized.
“The health (of the group) is improving. On the back end of the three games, this was still very much a recovery day,” Noonan said after training Monday. FCC had a light training day with a shorter practice and several players utilizing their time for recovery and regen.
“A lot of guys still needed an extra day of recovery,” Noonan added. “Typically, we'd be out here and maybe do a little bit more two days out from a game, but it's just about recovery and making sure that tomorrow when we go through the walkthrough, we have everybody with as fresh legs as possible.”
Preparing for FieldTurf™
With the match Wednesday versus Atlanta United FC at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, FCC will again be faced with the challenges that artificial playing surfaces pose. All-time, The Orange and Blue are just 1-6-6 when playing on the road on artificial surfaces; this season FCC is 0-0-3.
The change of surface alters the way the game can be played, with things like how the ball bounces, rolls or spins being significantly different from how it moves on a natural grass surface.
“It's a little thing, but it's a big thing,” goalkeeper Roman Celentano said of the change to artificial turf. “From my position, balls behind or over the top might not skip through as much because the turf might hold the ball up a bit more. … A couple of times the ball I thought would come through would just hop up and stay there and it'd be kind of in no-man's-land. So it's something you're kind of always thinking about.”
Mercedes-Benz Stadium utilizes a specific brand of artificial turf called FieldTurf. The brand is popular in stadiums that also host NFL teams (like Mercedes-Benz and the Atlanta Falcons) and is being used in five other MLS home grounds. For example, Vancouver Whitecaps FC’s home of BC Place uses a different brand called Polytan and San Jose Earthquakes’ PayPal Park uses SISGrass, which is a blend of artificial and natural grass.
Celentano notes that the turf in Atlanta is high quality, so it lowers the degree that issues could arise, but it is always something he needs to have in mind.
Artificial playing surfaces also raise the question of health and injury concern as the firmness that turf has compared to natural grass can impact players more seriously. However, Noonan feels that is not a concern for FC Cincinnati, and fitness implications are more to do with recent workload and rotation.
“We don't approach any game on turf and say, ‘We're not going to play guys because of the potential of injury,’” Noonan said. “It's really just about if we need to rotate based on where guys are at in the recovery and the need for rotation because of the workload.
“Certainly you can have the conversation about the types of injuries and the frequency of them from turf, but guys get hurt at any point – training games, grass or turf. So the only times we talked about the surface is just to understand how the game changes with ball bounces. That's all we focus on in terms of preparation.”