FC Cincinnati won’t change mindset heading into clash with CF Monterrey in Concacaf Champions Cup 

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FC Cincinnati will face an entirely new challenge Thursday night when they take on Liga MX-leading CF Monterrey in the second leg of the Concacaf Champions Cup Round of 16. The Orange and Blue are down 1-0 in aggregate scoring and need to earn a winning result to advance in the tournament. 

Playing must-win games in the club's history hasn't been uncommon. Time in the MLS Cup Playoffs, Leagues Cup, U.S. Open Cup and even the MLS is Back tournament have put The Orange and Blue in positions like this. But those games have entered kickoff at even footing, not down a goal. In Round One, FCC put Cavalier FC in the position, taking a 2-0 lead into leg two, but now see the shoe on the other foot. 

Fortunately for FC Cincinnati, the calculus of advancing is very simple. A win moves you on. There is no other aggregate math or complicating scoreline watching. If FCC earns a win, they're onto the quarterfinals; anything else than that, and they go back to regular season play, and extracurricular matchups pause until the summer for the Leagues Cup. 

"We understand the scoreline, but we have to win a game," head coach Pat Noonan said of the match. “We'll navigate (the aggregate), but we understand that if it's a scoreline other than one-nil, we need to win the game to advance. So it's pretty straightforward, but it won't be as simple once the game starts and how we get there." 

It is comforting to know that some Herculean effort is not needed to advance. It will just take beating the best Liga MX side in the league and the top club in the Concacaf Club Index in their stadium to advance. Simple … right? 

Obviously, not so much, but the performance in leg one warrants optimism. Despite the 1-0 loss a week ago, FCC looked the stronger side for most, if not all, of the match, creating chance after chance but finding themselves unable to finish a goal. Rayados, on the other hand, had few chances, but capitalized on the one they got, connecting a full-field counter to score on a Brandon Vazquez shot inside the penalty area.

That balance makes a winning result not only feel possible, but also in reach.

"I think the performance from the first leg was really strong," Noonan added, highlighting how much of the squad he would utilize in leg two, which got FCC to this point in leg one. "The big moments where we are in good spots to score goals is where we're lacking and where we are accustomed to seeing those plays being finished off … that's the missing piece." 

The solution of winning on the road, though, has not been simple for MLS clubs. Orlando City SC and Philadelphia Union both bowed out of the tournament earlier this week with brutal results. Union was thrashed at Estadio Hidalgo by CF Pachuca 6-0 after a nil-nil draw in Philly. Orlando City SC was similarly toppled by Tigres UANL at Estadio Universitario 4-2, with the MLS sides' only goals coming on penalty kicks.

The blowout losses have rocked the MLS community regarding how the two leagues match up. But the external dialogue has not leaked into the FC Cincinnati locker room. FCC represents themselves and only themselves in this tournament. 

"We're not playing for pride, we're playing to win a game," Noonan said of speculation that FCC is to carry the banner for the league. "We're always hoping for good results for our league in this competition. Hopefully, we can find a way to get a good result tomorrow. But it won't be for pride, it's with an expectation to go in and play well and advance in the competition." 

The challenge is daunting. Estadio BBVA, the home of CF Monterrey, seats 54,500 people (more than double the capacity of TQL Stadium) and expects at least 36,000 supporters Thursday night, a home where Rayados is unbeaten in their last 11 dating back to October 23, 2023.

"We have to be focused on ourselves, play our game, and be confident," midfielder Pavel Bucha said. Bucha, a newcomer to FC Cincinnati from the Czech Republic side FC Viktoria Plzeň, has experience in big games like these. With his old club, he helped them qualify for the UEFA Champions League and played in continental competitions with some of the biggest clubs in the world at their stadiums. 

"I think tomorrow Monterrey will have (a lot of) support and there is going to be a good atmosphere. I love these kinds of matches," the midfielder added. "I just think about our opponent and what we have to do tomorrow. So I don't care where we are, we are going to play and just try to be successful." 

A win is all they need, and FCC has done all it can to win games of late … except scoring goals. Given the performance in the first leg, if FCC can break through and get back to their scoring ways, a win is in sight. 

It's easier said than done, but it's win or go home, and FC Cincinnati knows what it needs to do to win. 

"It's important how we navigate a 90-minute game and understand the need for a goal," Noonan continued. "But the need to be defensively very strong in the early stages (is also important) so we can get into a rhythm and get a feel for what the game is going to look like."