In a match with both clubs going the distance, FC Cincinnati fell in a final round blow in penalty kicks to Nashville SC on Friday night at TQL Stadium.
Scoring all five penalty kicks to FCC’s four, Nashville SC advanced to the Round of 16 in Leagues Cup despite a late comeback by The Orange and Blue to force the shootout.
“It’s a strange feeling in this building and certainly a disappointing defeat,” FC Cincinnati head coach Pat Noonan said of the result.
The Orange and Blue had not suffered a losing decision on their home grounds this season, and despite that remaining technically true with the match being level at 1-1 following 90 minutes of action, being eliminated from the tournament was not an ideal result for the home club.
“As far as performance, I think we did a lot of good things in how the game played out,” Noonan added. “I think the guys felt good about how they played … but we lost, and that’s never enjoyable.
“Whether it’s cup play, league play, playoffs, you never have a good feeling when you come up short like we did tonight.”
While the final outcome hurts, Noonan indicated that it will be important to learn lessons from the disappointment and grow as a group. This is the first trophy of the season that is no longer available to FCC.
However, there is still plenty to play for as FC Cincinnati sit atop the table with MLS play resuming August 20, followed by the 2023 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup semifinal at TQL Stadium on August 23, a quick turnaround to another knockout stage matchup.
“We’ll try to use this as a good learning experience for what it looks like in knockout competition,” Noonan said. “Like we do after every game, we will assess how we played and why we came up short, which I think is just the ability to finish off a couple plays.”
“You always learn,” captain Luciano Acosta said of the defeat. “Whether you win or lose, we learned today that teams won’t make it easy for us to play. They’ll sit back and make it difficult for us to play. But I’m very proud, this team fought until the end.”
“We had a couple opportunities that we missed and we just have to execute better,” striker Brandon Vazquez added. “The team doesn’t like this feeling. You can see it in the locker room. We don’t like this feeling at all. So I think we’re just striving for better. We know we deserve better. We have to step out onto the field and go after three points in the next game.”
Nashville SC succeeded against FC Cincinnati by utilizing their defense-first approach to limit The Orange and Blue’s opportunities to have quality looks on goal. Despite owning 66.2% of possession, FCC could only generate 1.65 expected goals, with Vazquez’s penalty kick goal in the 85th minute contributing most of that figure.
“We have positioned ourselves to do some great things at the end of this season,” Noonan said. “I think our guys understand the way we played, and the way the game finished, that they shouldn’t be here too hard on themselves, but we’ll see how we respond.”
FC Cincinnati is back in action next for the aforementioned August 20 fixture against Columbus Crew for the return match of Hell is Real at Lower.com Field. The road game kicks off a frenetic return to play as FC Cincinnati continues to hunt for a trophy, first taking on Inter Miami CF three days later in the U.S. Open Cup semifinals, and then playing three league matches in the 10 days following that.
With an eight-point lead in the Supporters’ Shield standings and only 11 matches remaining in league play, every game will be vital to FCC securing silverware this season.
“I know we have the team to win everything,” Vazquez said. “We could have beaten any team we faced the rest of the tournament. I think (this loss) gives us a wake-up call, and we just have to put our full attention to the Open Cup and the Supporters’ Shield."
Vazquez earns the equalizer
Down 1-0 in the 85th minute, Vazquez earned the equalizer for The Orange and Blue, getting fouled in the box and converting the resulting penalty kick in the dying moments of the match.
On a seemingly innocuous play, Nashville SC’s Jack Maher pushed Vazquez from behind while running for a cross. It appeared as though the cross was sailing high past Vazquez’s head but the foul was absolute, earning FC Cincinnati a lifeline that the striker capitalized on.
Vazquez stepping to the spot was unique though as to this point Acosta had been the predominant penalty taker for The Orange and Blue. But when the moment called for it, Acosta pointed towards Vazquez to take the shot.
“I told (Vazquez) to take it. … I was tired a bit … but confident, so I told Brandon to take it,” the captain said of the decision. Acosta cited some cramping in his calves as the fatigue he was feeling.
The goal was Vazquez’s fifth of the tournament, which would tie him for the most in Leagues Cup play entering the Round of 16.
Kann clears the danger
In a first half that featured little danger, FC Cincinnati goal keeper Alec Kann answered the bell when called upon. The veteran goalkeeper made two key stops to thwart Nashville SC of finding the opening goal.
The first came off a shot from Fafà Picault, who found himself open in the box and blasted a shot that Kann was able to deflect away. The second came on a header from a corner kick that the FCC goalkeeper was able to nab out of the air despite being tangled up with multiple Nashville SC attackers.
Kann also made a third save of the half with ease after Nashville SC’s Hany Mukhtar tried his luck from beyond the half field line, to which Kann easily ranged back and collected the lofting shot.
The visitors get the opener
After momentum had been building in the favor of The Orange and Blue, Nashville found their chance after a Shaq Moore breakout run earned the visitors a corner kick. The set piece from the corner resulted in the first goal of the match in the 64th minute, as Aníbal Godoy knocked in the rebound after Mukhtar’s cross was batted away but not cleared.