Near misses and close calls define FC Cincinnati loss to CF Monterrey, but reasons for optimism emerge

20240307 FCCvsMTY Match JG 273

For the balance of the match, FC Cincinnati looked the better side. They pressed play forward, locked down counter attacks effectively, served chances into the box regularly and maintained composure for the full 90 minutes.

And yet, it didn't matter. 

Liga MX leader CF Monterrey tallied the only goal on Thursday night, a finish by Brandon Vazquez in what felt like an inevitable moment, and FC Cincinnati found themselves scoreless at TQL Stadium for the second time in this young season. 

But not for a lack of opportunities. FCC put on 12 shots, four on target, had three more blocked, led the match in corners with seven and had multiple shots called back due to being offside, including one that found the back of the net from Corey Baird. 

All night, from opening kick to closing whistle, FCC found themselves within inches, even centimeters from glory.

“We just missed on some really good chances,” head coach Pat Noonan said. “We played a really strong team, and I thought we played really well. The obvious was the play in front of goal. …That was the deciding factor in the result. But if we perform like that, I think we'll be okay.”

Rayados, the nickname for the Monterrey, Mexico based club meaning The Striped Ones, entered the Round of 16 match in the Concacaf Champions Cup match in excellent form. Undefeated in the Clausura season, in the middle of their calendar, and as the top club in the confederation, the giants of Mexico entered the continental tournament among the favorites to win the Cup outright.

And FC Cincinnati, despite all the disadvantages the calendar holds and other intangible differences between Liga MX and MLS, The Orange and Blue proved what they already knew. Not only did FCC belong, but they can, and maybe even should, win.

“We obviously felt confident in our performance,” defender Matt Miazga said. “There were some things that we can improve, obviously, but I think if you look at the big picture here, I thought we played a good game.

“Monterrey is a really good team … and for us to play them here, and really well, it gives us a lot of confidence going into the second leg.”

“We are obviously disappointed, not just me, everyone on the team, especially this kind of game. Where we create so many chances to score,” midfielder Obinna Nwobodo added. (But) this gives us the confidence knowing fully well that if we play this game now in their home, (we are) definitely going to get something and then we will take it from there.”

The lack of scoring does standout as a tad concerning for onlookers this early in the season. The FCC defense has been stout, conceding just two goals on the year, with one coming on a penalty kick, making this match the first goal allowed from open play in five contests.

But the concern is limited. FCC defenders made clear after the match they have all the confidence the offensive finishes will come.

“Look at last year, in the beginning season, we didn't score as much,” Miazga said in support of his forwards. “But after that, we started flying. So I think we just gotta keep moving forward. It's still early, but we're confident.

“I think we're playing well, we have a lot of things that we can build from and we just have to be ready for Sunday now (against D.C. United).” 

Through March in 2023, FCC had potted seven goals in five matches to start the season, all in league play. In 2024, that figure is eight goals through five matches, though the fifth match has come nearly a full month early. Not horribly different, leading to cause for optimism on another front that this group understands how to build on a slow start. 

Noonan has used chance creation as a barometer for success in the past, occasionally dismissing high goal counts by his club as either misleading or a misdirection to the performances he sees. It’s undeniable the chance creation was there for The Orange and Blue, leading to more optimism, and Corey Baird’s opportunities also signal hope.

“The first 20 from our front three were poor in terms of possession and allowing us to move up the field. But from that moment on, I thought they did a really good job, Corey especially,” Noonan said of his attacking core. “He did a good job of finding some spots to be able to break some of that pressure and get us moving to goal.

“He was running behind, I thought, on a couple of moments that caused them some problems. But defensively, I thought our front three, for a majority of the game, did really well, outside of the moments where we turned the ball over and couldn't get immediate pressure. I thought they guided the ball in ways where we forced them to play direct, and Corey was a part of that certainly.” 

Baird had yet to have a true “debut” moment for FC Cincinnati since his arrival despite quality performances through the first month of play. This match had all the trappings of such and while and he never truly got his moment Thursday night, Baird’s output showed a sneak peek as to why he was a marquee addition in the offseason. 

With the 1-0 loss, FCC now have to go to Estadio BBVA, one of the most beautiful backdrops for soccer and a host site for the 2026 FIFA World Cup, and win outright while scoring multiple goals to secure passage to the quarterfinals. A 1-0 away result would require extra time, but any other winning scoreline would advance FCC to the next round on the away goal tiebreaker, highlighting the importance of the strong defensive performance at home.