With two first half goals by a pair of Argentine stars and a late goal to secure a brace and punctuate the night, FC Cincinnati secured a 3-nil victory in their Game 1 match against the New York Red Bulls in Round One of the MLS Cup Playoffs at TQL Stadium. With Sunday night’s victory, The Orange and Blue earned their first MLS postseason win at home and first clean sheet in the playoffs.
“A good start to the postseason and a very physical game. A lot of duels and just a game where guys just needed to roll up their sleeves and battle,” FCC head coach Pat Noonan said of the victory. “Very pleased with the overall performance from the guys and starting off with a strong win.”
Goals in the 23rd, 35th and 89th minute were more than enough thanks to a stout defensive effort in the second half that absorbed all the pressure the Red Bulls had to offer by limiting the xG by the visitors to just 0.6 for the entire match despite 16 total shots. When a stray chance would come his way, Roman Celentano left no doubt, making five saves on the night.
“One of the most important things was to have a good start to the playoffs,” defender Matt Miazga said. “Playing at home is always important and we have an amazing crowd that helps us, but the main focus is to start off strong.”
In their first MLS Cup Playoff match at TQL Stadium, The Orange and Blue did not disappoint the near capacity crowd of 24,022 who braved the rain and cold. The win also marked the first time the club had beaten the Red Bulls at home regardless of competition.
“It's a really big game from us. We did not play the way that they wanted to play which I think was key,” FCC captain and Landon Donovan MLS MVP finalist Luciano Acosta said. “I think we've shown all season that we're prepared for anything, so we were prepared for this game.”
“Over the past month, we haven't been our strongest,” Noonan said. “Maybe it was what was at stake and the start of the playoffs, but they stepped up and knew the challenges that were in front of them, and I thought they managed the game in a pretty strong way.”
FC Cincinnati will now travel to Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey for Game 2 of the Round One Best-of-3 series on Saturday with an opportunity to punch their ticket to the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Blondes have more fun
FC Cincinnati opened the scoring in the 23rd minute after dominating possession for the first portion of the match when Álvaro Barreal placed a picture perfect left footed curler from the left side of the box into the side inside netting past a statuesque goalkeeper.
Junior Moreno provided the catalyst for the opener, rolling a perfectly weighted pass through the enemy line to find a streaking Barreal and Dominique Badji. Badji realized he may have been running from an offside position and held up to let the clearly onside Barreal make the chase, saving the opportunity.
“They are a really, really tough team to play. They're very physical, and they press a lot. So it is really important to get that first goal because it allows you to push forward a little bit and for us to find those spaces,” Barreal said of the early goal.
“I think recognizing the importance of getting the first goal at home, playing with the lead, that matters, and we didn't talk about what their record was conceding,” Noonan said, highlighting the stat that when conceding first, RBNY has won just one time this season. “I think if you just look at the history in terms of scoring first or conceding first, what those numbers look like to go and win a game, but the focus was more on us getting the goal and how strong we are when we have a lead.”
Prior to the game, both Moreno and Barreal debuted new hairstyles to mark the occasion of MLS Cup Playoff. The typical brunettes shocked their hair and debuted as bleach blondes, making for a perfect pair to create an opening moment.
The goal marked the first time in the club’s MLS history that they scored first in an MLS Cup Playoff game. It was also Barreal and Moreno’s first goal contribution.
Acosta from deep
Acosta doubled the lead for The Orange and Blue in the 35th minute, capitalizing on a RBNY miscue by launching a memorable strike from just inside the midfield circle (estimated at 44 yards) onto an open net.
After a poor RBNY clearance attempt back to their goalkeeper, Badji once again played the catalyst without getting goal contribution credit. The striker relentlessly chased down the flubbed pass in no man's land and forced the keeper to chase out to thwart Badji’s breakaway opportunity. The keeper slid in to clear the ball, but his clearance landed on the foot of Acosta, who saw his opportunity and fired away at an empty net as a helpless RBNY could only watch as his strike rolled into the New York net.
“I just saw the goal was open and had to hit that,” Acosta said. “But it all came from great pressure from (Badji).”
The goal was Acosta’s 20th of the season across all competitions and his second ever in the MLS Cup Playoffs.
Barreal punctuates the win
With the clock running to an end, and the Red Bulls pressing to get back into the game, Barreal earned his second goal of the night with another spectacular strike on net. By controlling a flick pass from Acosta, Barreal took a single touch before rifling a volley on target past a helpless keeper.
Mathematically the goal was a stunner, registering just 0.06 xG per MLSSoccer.com.
“On both goals, the moment just came to me and struck it,” Barreal said. “I am really happy to score two goals and happy with the way the team played.”
The goal gave FCC a 3-nil lead in the 89th minute, sealing the victory. It also marked the first time in club history that a player earned a brace in an MLS Cup Playoff game. With Acosta’s goal earlier, this finish also tied Barreal with Acosta for the most postseason goals in club history (2).
With the series guaranteed to go at least one more game, FC Cincinnati needed to manage walking the hard line of being physically and mentally feisty enough to not be pushed around by a sometimes overwhelming Red Bulls side, but not allow RBNY to push their buttons enough to lose composure. In this new playoff format, yellow and red cards carry over to Game 2.
“You’ve got to control what you can control,” Miazga said. “That's getting the game today and making sure we get good performances.
“A lot of teams when they play Red Bull, they kind of play (RBNY’s) game, which is credit to Red Bull, because they play a difficult game. … Once you get stuck in it, it's hard to get out of it. But I think we were able to focus on some tactical tidbits with the ball that we did today that we practiced in training.”
FC Cincinnati were mostly able to see out the game with little problems that would carry over to next weekend. Barreal, Miazga and Aaron Boupendza were the only ones to find themselves with yellow cards by night's end, securing their availability for Game 2.