In the words of FC Cincinnati head coach Pat Noonan, “It was a hard earned point... it wasn’t always pretty.”
FC Cincinnati went into Stade Saputo and earned a much-needed road point against CF Montréal Wednesday night, scoring in the final moments to equalize and maintain their lead atop the league standings with a 1-1 draw.
For the third time in as many road matches, The Orange and Blue mounted a late comeback to earn a point, continuing a now running theme of resilience and composure as the stakes are raised with every passing match. FC Cincinnati have now scored four times in the 75th minute or later in their last three road matches.
“The closer you get to the end of the season, and once the playoffs start, finding your way back into a game or finding a goal, it's going to become even more difficult,” Noonan said of the comeback effort. “Probably the biggest struggle for us right now is playing with a lead on a more consistent basis. But I think it's important that we know how to work our way back into games despite going down. So you can look at it in a couple of ways.”After a scoreless first half, CF Montréal got on the board first with a 53rd minute goal. When scoring first, Montréal had won 17 straight matches at home.
With the draw, FC Cincinnati (17-4-8, 59 pts.) extended their lead in the Supporters’ Shield race to nine points with five matches to play.
“This group is just so mentally strong,” FCC captain and goal scorer Luciano Acosta said of the effort. “When we're on the field, we don’t want to drop even a single point. We're in a good way right now and we're going to keep going and keep climbing.”
“I feel like this team has gotten better at just figuring out how to come back in games,” goalkeeper Roman Celentano added. “Things haven’t always gone our way and you can't just put your head down and just stop playing. Tonight was a great example of always believing, always fighting until the last minute.”
The Orange and Blue return to TQL Stadium Saturday night to host Charlotte FC with kickoff slated for 7:30 p.m. ET.
Acosta earns the equalizer at the death
FC Cincinnati captain Acosta returned to the starting lineup for The Orange and Blue and was the difference maker in Wednesday night's fixture, taking the equalizing PK in the 90+7 minute.
After Dominique Badji was tackled just inside the box by keeper Jonathan Sirois trying to play the ball on a service by Álvaro Barreal, the referee pointed to the spot to award FC Cincinnati the penalty kick. Acosta hit it true and scored his 14th goal of the season, leaving him in second place for the MLS Golden Boot race by the night’s end.
Badji earned the penalty by finding position at the top of the box early. After he was able to set up in his space and leap for the header, the striker knew he was going to win the ball or be fouled.
“It was the end of the game, so I was just trying to threaten the line,” Badji said. “(Barreal) hit it well enough that I knew I was going to win the ball, but I didn’t know who was behind me.
“I thought it was the center back, I didn’t think it was the (goalkeeper) but I knew I was going to get to the ball first.”
The victory was one based on positioning. Badji says once he knew he was going to get to the ball first and felt the pressure from behind, he knew he had something out of it. By winning that position, he forced the Montréal defense to mark and ultimately foul him.
CF Montréal spent the first 20 minutes of play looking to impose a suffocating press on FC Cincinnati midfielders and defenders. Forcing The Orange and Blue into tight spaces on the field and limiting their ability to carry the ball, CF Montréal was able to create turnovers and loose balls to limit FCC’s chances.
“You have to give credit to the team,” Acosta said of CF Montréal. “Tonight, I think Montréal defended really well.
“Other teams are going to be motivated because we're in the top place. So, when we go on the road, they're motivated, they're fun, they'll play hard. We need to have that mentality.”
FC Cincinnati was able to break the press for the first period of sustained pressure in the opposing end in the 22nd minute, resulting in a corner kick and ultimately an Acosta shot that was saved. From then on, FCC was able to successfully break MTL’s defensive pressure.
FCC win momentum but end half even
After breaking the initial pressure from the hosts, FCC dominated possession, earning a 70 percent or greater possession in all but one interval to end the half. By the time the whistle blew for half time, they had won back 54 percent of possession in the half as a whole.
The Orange and Blue twice had golden opportunities to open the scoring off corner kicks, but missed by inches on both occasions. The first came from the right side when Acosta swung a cross that found the head of Santiago Arias, who headed the cross past the keeper but also inches wide.
The second came from the opposite corner flag, where Barreal served a high curling cross that Nick Hagglund tracked down, but it too bounced wide.
Montréal gets a rare one
CF Montréal earned a rare second half goal when they opened the scoring in the 53rd minute. It was only the 10th time in MLS play that FCC had conceded a second half goal, which still stands as a league best.
The opener was earned after Kwadwo Opoku found himself in open space outside the box looking dead on to the FCC goal. A curling shot ducked around Celentano’s dive and gave the hosts the lead.
“I think in those moments we'd like to not let him get the space there,” Celentano said of the play. “It's a shame that the real one chance they get is the one that they score, but on the night, I would say we defended really well.”