PREVIEW| FC Cincinnati visit Charlotte FC looking to keep perfect road record in tact

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With an undefeated record intact and a perfect 2-0-0 record in road matches this season, FC Cincinnati heads to the Tarheel State for a Queen City Darby, taking on Charlotte FC at Bank of America Stadium. 

In their way of improving that exemplary road record is a new look Charlotte FC team still looking to prove themselves and find their peak. With a new identity of defense leading the way, CLTFC is coming off of a confidence-building 2-0 victory over Columbus Crew and has conceded just four times in five matches. 

"​​Defensively, (Charlotte) is a very organized team. In watching a lot more of them over the last couple days having been unfamiliar with a new coach and some new personnel and some pieces that departed, you see a very organized team," FC Cincinnati head coach Pat Noonan said. "I think, defensively, they are tough to break down. They recover well in transition, I just haven't seen a lot of teams being able to put them under consistent pressure and create a lot of chances because of their strengths defensively." 

FC Cincinnati has been a stout defensive side, earning three clean sheets and conceding just twice on the road and only once from open play. This suggests a struggle defensively is in store for Saturday.

However, FCC's offensive woes were not due to a lack of opportunity. With nearly seven xG through five games, some would suggest that FCC has been one of the league's more 'unlucky' teams by the ratio of xG to goals scored. With 29 shots on target this season, The Orange and Blue rank fourth in MLS despite ranking tied for seventh lowest in actual goals scored. 

A challenge that presents itself for FC Cincinnati is the host venue of Saturday's match. The playing surface, artificial turf, presents match issues with how the ball will physically move as turf typically bounces more radically and passes move quicker, but also with the home environment Charlotte FC has cultivated. Which stands out to many as one of the best in MLS despite playing in an NFL Stadium. 

"It's a great atmosphere," Noonan said. "When you have a slow start, and you allow that team, on their home field, and that crowd to get into it, you can feel it…I think the biggest takeaways (from the) last couple matchups have been us chasing the game. Hopefully we can find a way to get the first goal."

When scoring first, FC Cincinnati has dominated regular season MLS play since the start of 2023. The Orange and Blue are undefeated, a combined 20-0-4 in such matches, including a 3-0-0 record in 2024. 

With a win, FC Cincinnati would remain top of the table after retaking the Supporters Shield lead last week. With 11 points through five games, FCC is on the same points pace as in 2023, when The Orange and Blue lifted the Shield after 31 games.

FC CINCINNATI at Charlotte FC – Saturday, March 30, 2024 – 7:30 p.m. ET – Bank of America Stadium

Stream: MLS Season Pass on Apple TV
TV Talent (English): Tony Husband (PXP) & Ross Smith (Analysis)
TV Talent (Spanish): Diego Pessolano (PXP) & Daniel Chapela (Analysis), 

Radio: Fox Sports 1360

Radio Talent: Tom Gelehrter (play-by-play), Jimmy McLaughlin (analyst)

Be sure to follow @FCCincinnati on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for live updates from the game.

All-time versus Charlotte FC

The trip to Bank of America Stadium has been difficult for FC Cincinnati through two matches. In both trips to Charlotte, since the club debuted in MLS in 2021, FCC has had to grind out performances on the artificial turf that CLTFC plays on. In The Orange and Blue’s first trip to the Tarheel State, FCC fell 2-0 after falling behind in the first half. The second trip saw FCC in a similar situation. Still, this time, The Orange and Blue battled back to earn a tough 2-2 draw, overcoming a 75-minute red card to earn the road point. 

FCC has a 2-1-1 record against CLTFC overall, with two wins at TQL Stadium and a combined +3 goal differential. 

The challenge of turf becomes a conversation for the club to navigate, as the match with Charlotte will be the second road match in a row on artificial turf. All time in road matches on turf, FCC is 3-6-6 on artificial playing surfaces, but since the club'sclub's 2022 trip to Charlotte, The Orange and Blue are undefeated with a 2-0-6 record. 

FC CINCINNATI NOTES

60 & 80 – Last Saturday, Luciano Acosta joined elite company by scoring his 60th MLS goal to add to his 80 assists, making him one of just seven MLS players all-time to reach those plateaus. By doing so in his 224th appearance, he became the fourth fastest. Acosta has scored in back-to-back games, and should he score again, it would mark the fifth time in his career and the tenth time in club history that a player earns a three-game scoring streak. 

250 incoming – FC Cincinnati enter Saturday’s matchup with 247 all-time goals since joining MLS in 2019. Aaron Boupendza scored the 200th in club history with his late closer against Nashville on July 15, 2023.

Stout Defence – The FC Cincinnati defense has been dominant to start league play in 2024, registering a league-high three clean sheets through five games and conceding a league-low two goals and only one from open play. FCC has also not trailed in a MLS game this season. 

Miles with the Gold – Defender Miles Robinson returned to Cincinnati with a trophy, playing a key role in the US Men’s National Team’s Concacaf Nations League winning effort, playing a full 120 minutes in the semifinal win over Jamaica. Robinson’s 90th-minute header ricocheted off a Jamaican defender and in for the equalizer, allowing the Stars and Stripes to score twice in extra time and earn passage to the final.

SCOUTING Charlotte FC (2-2-1, 7 points, 7th in Eastern Conference, W-L-L-D-W)

It has been an offseason of great change in Charlotte, as the club turned the page on 2023 and their first real "era" of play after joining MLS in 2022. By sending out designated players Kamil Józwiak, Karol Swiderski and others down the roster, CLTFC effectively flipped their squad to accommodate newly signed head coach Dean Smith in his first MLS season. 

Smith, a highly touted English manager who was head coach at Leicester City, Norwich City, Aston Villa and Brentford before his move across the pond, has The Crown playing a very direct style of play that allows for quick transitions and forward-thinking passes. However, Smith's ability to adapt defensively has made Charlotte successful early in the season. In CLTFC's win over Columbus Crew last week, Smith had his squad playing a tight midfield-oriented shape that allowed for compact passing through the Columbus defense. 

Fortunately for Charlotte, Columbus took a red card early and gave them the man advantage for over a full half of soccer, but the point remained the same. With a new group, under a new coach, Smith has shown an ability to get his squad together for big games.

Though with roster shuffling sending players out, new players have stepped in to fill those spots, with young talent being the theme of their additions. 

Towering French midfielder Djibril Diani has stepped in now for two matches and, at 6'5", has been a noticeable influencer after coming over from Ligue 2 side SM Caen. 23-year-old Patrick Agyemang has stepped into a starting #9 role while DP Enzo Copetti deals with an injury and has performed admirably, scoring in CLTFC's 2-0 win over Columbus. 

The club is also waiting on newly signed Young-DP winger Liel Abada to make his debut after a transfer with Scottish side Celtic earlier this month. Abada, 22, has been with the Israeli national team as they looked to qualify for EURO 2024. However, with qualification now over, he is expected to report to the club and likely make his debut this weekend. 

Formation-wise, The Crown has rolled with a 4-3-3 formation that places captain Ashley Westwood in the center of the midfield, with the aforementioned Djini and Canadian international Scott Arfield on his wings.

In net, Croatian keeper Kristijan Kahlina is the definitive starter for the third consecutive season. In five games this season, the keeper has conceded four goals on 14 shots and earned his first clean sheet last week. In his previous two seasons with Charlotte, Kahlina started 31 and 24 matches, making him the most capped player in club history. 

Also of note on Charlotte FC, 2022 first overall pick Ben Bender has yet to appear in 2024 due to a knee injury. Bender was taken one pick ahead of FC Cincinnati keeper Roman Celentano in the 2022 MLS SuperDraft, ahead of current FCC defenders Kipp Keller (pick 5, Austin FC) and Ian Murphy (pick 14, FC Cincinnati).