FC Cincinnati happy to reward home fans with victory but know they are still ‘trying to find their rhythm’

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The Orange and Blue got their win at home. It took longer than expected, and a little more work than fans hoped for, but FCC earned three points Saturday night at TQL Stadium. The details of the victory will fade away; what matters is that they did it. 

After two nil-nil draws at home and two 2-1 wins on the road, Luciano Acosta stepped into the spotlight and gave FC Cincinnati a goal to secure a 1-0 win over New York City FC. The league's best defense continued its reign of terror on MLS offenses. Even without Miles Robinson (who was away on international duty), the defensive core kept its third clean sheet of the season and remained unscored on at home. 

FC Cincinnati also find themselves at the top of the table after five matches. They lead the Eastern Conference and Supporters Shield standings with 11 points, despite the challenges faced from schedule congestion in the opening month of the MLS season. 

But at the end of the night, the win was somewhat secondary. After two draws, everyone in the locker room felt the duty, the obligation, to give the fans something to celebrate. 

"It's nice to win in front of our home fans. It's been a little too long," head coach Pat Noonan said postgame. "In some ways, it didn't feel like it mattered how. It was just important for us to win at home and (I was) pleased that the guys were able to do that. It wasn't the prettiest game or performance, but I thought we defended really well." 

Noonan highlighted the need to “reward” the home fans after two nil-nil draws at home and give them, at the very least, something more exciting to cheer for. FC Cincinnati has been used to winning at home since the head coach arrived in the Queen City two seasons ago. One probably wouldn't go far as saying the performances at home have been a monkey on their back to start the season … yet … but it certainly wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that the outcomes have weighed on the team (players and coaches alike). 

So in the full week buildup to Saturday's match, putting on a strong performance was top of mind. 

"I was glad I was able to give this gift to the fans," Acosta said after the victory. "To give them this triumph we've been fighting and fighting and fighting to try and break through, and tonight we finally did that so I am very happy.

“Every game I feel that responsibility…I’m just happy I can play for this club and that I can get this result tonight.” 

This early in the season, most clubs are still trying to find their footing. Results vary widely across the league and draws are more common than wins at this point in the young season. FC Cincinnati's victory keeps them in a group of five teams that are unbeaten, two of which have only one win and another having played one fewer match than the rest of the field. 

In the meantime, the stout FCC defense has dominated matches, giving The Orange and Blue attack time to sort itself out. 

"Our defending is carrying the group right now," Noonan said plainly at his post-match press conference. "This early in the season some teams are looking to find their rhythm and, just like us, (find) ways to create and score goals. And when that's not there, what does it look like on the other side of the ball?

"I do think our group (has been) able to consistently get pressure on the ball and make it difficult on teams. … We just have to find ways to finish off chances so it doesn't have to feel the way it does in a one-goal game, which I think we've shown that we're capable of winning consistently. But you'd like to find ways to get that second goal and kind of change how the end of the game might look."

To that point, FC Cincinnati easily could have registered a 3-0 result at the very least if you were to only count actions that were called on the field before being overturned. 

A penalty kick was initially given to FC Cincinnati in second-half stoppage time thanks to a handball in the box from NYCFC. But after a VAR review, the call was overturned, and FCC's attacking opportunity was halted due to the call-stopping play. Earlier in the match, Kipp Keller appeared to score his first career MLS goal on a header from an Acosta cross, but after a VAR review, it was deemed Acosta was offside in the buildup of the goal, and it was called off. 

Close, but not close enough. Twice more, FCC strikers had breakaway chances on target but the NYCFC keeper stood up to the task. In total, The Orange and Blue had six registered shots on target, and only one found the back of the net. Generating chances has not been a problem for FCC this season, but the lack of finish remains a work in progress. However, as FCC continues to work to find their groove, having such an effective defense makes it easier to earn results like this.

Hagglund’s return

Part of that defensive pressure came from Nick Hagglund, who returned to a hero's welcome in his 2024 debut. After missing the end of the 2023 season and undergoing hamstring surgery on November 7, 2023, Hagglund made his first appearance since October 21, 2023, coming on for Kipp Keller in the 73rd minute to help see out the victory.

While the Cincinnati native has not been available on the pitch, he has continued to be a vocal leader and culture setter for the club off the field, making his return a triumph not only for himself and fans, but for his teammates as well.

“I was buzzing for him,” Roman Celentano said with a wide smile postgame. “I'm just happy he's back. … I normally don't like to play too emotional, but there was a ball that was played through and he had a sliding challenge that stopped the breakaway and it was probably the best moment of the match for me. 

“It's kind of like validation for him. Like ‘alright, I'm finally back here. I know I can do it.’ I was really happy for him to get on the field, make a couple of big plays for us and help see out the game.”

In addition to the sliding clearance, Hagglund pushed danger away. The center back completed 10 passes, intercepted a pass in the attacking zone to keep the pressure on and drew a foul for his side.

“To throw him out there and see him perform, I thought he made a couple of really key tackles. … He helped us secure the victory,” Noonan said. “It's good to see him back on the field. You can see what it means to his teammates and certainly his fans. But a good starting point for him.”