FC Cincinnati ready for every opponent's ‘best shot’ heading into Orlando City SC, final stretch of MLS season

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With a playoff spot secured, the target on the back of FC Cincinnati in the league only gets larger as the season wears on.

With every match being vital to the Supporters’ Shield chase in FCC’s case, every game for an opponent is amplified as it is an opportunity to steal points and prove they can take down the league leader.

That pressure is something that FC Cincinnati players and coaches are not only aware of, but ready for heading into the final stretch of the season.

“You’re getting everybody’s best game,” FCC head coach Pat Noonan said ahead of the weekend match with Orlando City SC, who sit in third place in the Eastern Conference. “The same way we’re trying to maintain our position in the table, they’re trying to climb the table and be a team that’s playing at home in the playoffs.

“Every game we’re playing is a tune-up. We’re playing good teams. And we’re gonna get team's best game. Every game will give us more information about ourselves in the stretch run, but also the challenges that every opponent is going to give us from here on out.”

While the intensity of the matches may replicate the style of play that postseason games feel like, Noonan clarifies that it is too early in the year to glean any information from in-match outcomes or strategies and use that for playoff preparation.

“It’s too far into the future. When that time comes, it will be a matter of where we’re going to be and who we’re playing,” Noonan said. “Then you start to analyze where things are at that current time.

“If it happens to be a team that you’ve played in the stretch run, then you look back at those games to help analyze your opponent, but we don’t think about this game or preparation as far as a team that we might see in the playoffs. It’s just the next opponent that we will face.”

Feeling strong at end of tough stretch

As a difficult stretch of play winds down to a much-needed break, with 14 days between FC Cincinnati’s matchup with Orlando City SC and Philadelphia Union, Noonan has been encouraged with the physical and mental fitness his club is showing entering Saturday’s match.

“I think we’re strong right now,” Noonan said Friday about his team’s energy levels. “I think our previous experiences with this have kind of helped the players navigate quick turnarounds. We’ve still at different times looked to rotate a body or two without having four or five changes, but just in all the feedback from guys over the last week is that the recoveries have been good.”

The Saturday night match caps a two-week span where The Orange and Blue have played every three days, including two road matches and a U.S. Open Cup semifinal. The span has seen FC Cincinnati earn six of nine points in MLS and maintain their 10-point lead in the Supporters’ Shield standings.

“I think you see from the games and the energy in the way these guys were able to go out and compete that they’re in a good place as far as turning around on a consistent basis,” Noonan added.

With eight matches remaining in the league schedule, the two-week break in the calendar is one of two extended breaks FCC will have before the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, as they will have another bye weekend before MLS Decision Day on October 21 at TQL Stadium against Atlanta United FC.

For Club and Country

Two FC Cincinnati players have been called to duty ahead of the upcoming international window. Colombian midfielder Santiago Arias and Venezuelan Junior Moreno will join their national team as they begin qualification for the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

The duo will see each other on the field as Colombia and Venezuela will open CONMEBOL qualification against each other on September 7 in Colombia’s Estadio Metropolitano in Barranquilla. “Los Cafeteros'' will then travel to Chile on September 12.

Venezuela (a.k.a La Vinotinto) will conclude the qualifying window with a September 12 match against Paraguay in Maturin, Venezuela, at Estadio Monumental.

“A well deserved call up for both players,” Noonan said of his players, who will depart for duty following Saturday’s match. “They deserve to be representing their national teams and so we wish them the best of luck.”