FC Cincinnati ready for intensity, desperation in elimination game at Red Bull Arena

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A key to success in the opening match of FC Cincinnati’s Round One series with New York Red Bulls was The Orange and Blue’s ability to match the intensity and physicality that the visitors came in with. 

Now, with the Red Bulls’ season on the line and a chance to advance in a sweep with a win Saturday night, FCC are preparing to face an increased intensity on their opponent’s home grounds with the opportunity to eliminate them for the playoffs.  

“We know they’re going to throw everything at us,” FC Cincinnati head coach Pat Noonan said Thursday. “Different formations, different personnel. (When) your back is against the wall, at times you go to desperate measures, and I hope we’re in a position that we have to see that, but we have to be prepared for their adjustments.”

“We know it is not going to be easy,” midfielder Obinna Nwobodo added. “They’re going to come out with everything which is going to be more challenging for us. So we also have to be ready to match up to whatever they throw at us.”

The signature style that Troy Lesesne’s Red Bulls squad utilizes is designed to frustrate opponents. Part of the success FC Cincinnati saw in the first match, which they won handily with a 3-nil scoreline, they attributed to being able to match the physicality and pressure in like kind. 

Matching intensity while maintaining composer and form gave FCC the advantage. The Orange and Blue broke down the Red Bulls’ press, allowing their superstars, like Álvaro Barreal and Luciano Acosta, to use their skills to make magical finishing moments.

“The most important thing is for us to match the intensity because if we match the intensity then we will be able to use our quality at the right time,” Nwobodo said. “You see that in the last game. Not only did we score many goals, but we also had to fight a lot to be able to achieve that.” 

With Game 2 slated for Saturday and the possibility of a third one on the horizon, the chess match begins to unfold as FCC and New York face off for a third time in four matches. Lesesne indicated an understanding of the need to play the ‘game within the game’ heading into the second matchup, saying, “We have to respect the talent they have and the organization they have. They’re very well-coached. … Pat (Noonan) is someone I have a ton of admiration for. I think he’s really intelligent. It’s no surprise they’ve won the (Shield) in only his second year. We can’t do the same thing six times (against them) … we certainly can’t, Pat (Noonan) is going to figure that out.”

Striking that balance can be a challenge. FCC have seen so much success this season because they have stuck to who they are and played their game style. They haven’t wickedly swung from opponent to opponent; they have forced other clubs to play against their dominant style and punished opponents who can’t adapt. 

“We all know each other. We have a little bit of details that we have to correct and the team that won last time, like we did, have to stick to what we did and try to do more,” Nwobodo said. “We have a game plan and we have to stick to it. So the same way we played at home, we’re not going to try to defend and look for goals. No, we are going out there to be at our best, to play what we learned, and to try to fight and give everything. And in the end, I believe with that, it is enough for us to win.” 

Noonan prefers to think of those changes as “in the margins,” being prepared for different strategies rather than overhauling anything. While the club will technically have less than a week to get ready, the adjustments are already being implemented. 

“You have to have different ideas, different things, different ways that you prepare your own group against what you anticipate,” Noonan said. “We’ve worked on a couple of things this week based on our previous game and even looking back to when we played there in the summer. 

“The margins are small. The games are determined by one or two moments.” 

One in, one out

FC Cincinnati will be without defender Nick Hagglund for the remainder of the season after he suffered a hamstring injury that will require surgery to repair. The Cincinnati native picked up the injury in training. 

Hagglund, who made 32 starts across all competitions this season for The Orange and Blue and leads the club in all-time appearances with 129, shared his thoughts on Instagram.

With Hagglund out, FCC will get a slight reprieve with news that right wingback Santiago Arias is now back to 100 percent after missing two games due to a leg injury picked up while playing for the Colombian National Team in the CONMEBOL World Cup Qualifying. 

“Santi’s 100 percent,” Noonan said. “It was really going to be determined by the second scan, just to see how he recovered. It wasn’t major to begin with, but now it showed nothing. He’s available and he’s looked good in his return to play.”