FC Cincinnati looks to avoid domino effect in preparation for U.S. Open Cup semifinal

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Head coach Pat Noonan shouldered the blame for FC Cincinnati’s loss to Columbus Crew Sunday, highlighting the team’s inability to execute its signature pressure and the tactics regarding the team’s organization.

“They were better than us and deserved to win,” Noonan said postgame. “That starts with me. We got some of those things wrong, just in terms of how we were trying to get the ball and knowing that a team that’s very good with the ball.

“If you miss your moments, you’re in trouble. We had too many flybys, too many guys that didn’t set their feet when they were going to the ball, and they were able to dribble out of pressure. And once that first moment’s broken, then they have the ability to move into positions to really cause you some trouble.”

FC Cincinnati lost the possession battle to Columbus Crew 61.2% to 38.8%, one of the largest possession deficit gaps of the season for The Orange and Blue. FC Cincinnati’s passing completion percentage in the final third was also uncharacteristic, completing only 65.1% of their passes.

“We never allowed ourselves to move forward as a unit,” Noonan added. “It was three attacking and the rest trying to play catch up.

“We never got into any kind of attacking structure that allowed us to move the ball in their half the field. I thought there were some goals out there to get back into the game, but then I just think we struggled all around and our decision making on the ball was really poor.”

“We just weren’t good enough,” goalkeeper Roman Celentano said. “It’s not one player’s fault, not one person’s fault. It’s a team game and we all take it on the chin. So we will move on to the next game together.”

The inability to generate ball control through the midfield is uncharacteristic of The Orange and Blue. It was only the third time this season that FCC had been held off the scoreboard. With 39 goals scored this season and 28 conceded, they are tied for fifth in MLS in scoring offense and tied for seventh in scoring defense.

“​​There’s no excuses,” Noonan asserted. “We had a poor performance and that certainly starts with me and in the preparation period. So we’ll look at that and try to make sure that it doesn’t have a domino effect on what’s to come.”

FC Cincinnati played for the first time in just over two weeks after being eliminated from Leagues Cup in the Round of 32. Despite the poor performance out of the break, Noonan says he wouldn’t have changed how the club operated during the time off.

The midfield’s lack of control and recovery made things difficult for the attacking trio of Aaron Boupendza, Luciano Acosta and Brandon Vazquez to connect on attacks. With Boupendza, who played in just his second MLS match Sunday, still being integrated into the club’s system, the relationship between the trio is still growing.

“I think it just takes time … chemistry is not going to come instantly,” Vazquez said on building chemistry with Boupendza and Acosta. “When you spend a lot of time playing with each other in training, you get an understanding of the players and people around you. Their tendency and their habits become more clear. That relationship can be cultivated over time and training.”

Off the pitch, the trio are developing a tight bond, a detail that Vazquez feels is important to progressing the on-field product. “It takes a little bit of everything and every bit helps,” Vazquez added.

Thinking ahead to Inter Miami CF and beyond

The match with Columbus Crew is inextricably linked to the matches that come in the following days and weeks, which will see The Orange and Blue play a game every three days for the next two weeks. While the two-week break leading into Hell is Real helped prepare players physically and mentally for this stretch, it seems impossible to separate any match from the ones that follow, as health, energy and consistency will be key to winning trophies down the stretch. Nothing happens in a vacuum.

But the first two matches of the stretch have even more emotional significance. After playing FC Cincinnati’s oldest rival, The Orange and Blue will now host Inter Miami CF in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup semifinals, a game that already has deep significance to FCC’s history and would be a notable game for the club even if one of the most popular and iconic players in the world hadn’t joined their South Florida opponent within the last month.

Lionel Messi is expected to start for Inter Miami CF. He will be looking to add to his trophy case as The Herons are coming off winning their first trophy after defeating Nashville SC in the Leagues Cup final.

“There’s no better moment or more important moment to be able to put a poor showing in the past quickly and focus on playing another very important game,” Noonan said of the ability to turn around quickly for the semifinal. “We’ve responded in good ways before, but now will be the biggest challenge.”

FC Cincinnati has been excellent this season in short turnaround situations. In the 2023 season, FCC is 8-1-2 when playing a game with two days of rest, an encouraging sign for The Orange and Blue’s ability to respond to frustrating results with great success.

“I want to be the first one to beat them,” Vazquez said of the opportunity to face Inter Miami CF and Lionel Messi. “So I think (the semifinal) would be a perfect match to do it. We just have to quickly forget about (the Columbus Crew game).”

“It’s a really big game, one of the biggest in club history,” Celentano added about the semifinal. “The boys right now are focused on recovery and getting things right for (Inter Miami CF).”