FC Cincinnati players and technical staff reported back to Mercy Health Training Center this past Sunday to begin preparations for the 2023 Major League Soccer season. The Orange and Blue will train at MHTC over the next week before heading to Clearwater, Fla. for this year’s preseason camp.
The energy in the building is palpable after last season was, by about every statistic and vantage point, the best season for the Orange and Blue since joining MLS. Head Coach Pat Noonan and his staff are ready to improve on last year’s successes.
“We have a year under our belt of preseason training with this group,” said Noonan. “The focus can be more on the training and how we improve on last year as opposed to setting standards and expectations.”
FC Cincinnati will have the core of the last season’s playoff squad returning. The entire Starting XI from the Eastern Conference Semifinal match against Philadelphia Union is back, and 62 of the 64 regular season goals from last season were scored by players on the returning roster.
The difference is that this year will be the first preseason camp with FC Cincinnati for three key contributors acquired in the 2022 season: Matt Miazga, Obinna Nwobodo and Junior Moreno. And various issues delayed two more players with big roles from last year, Álvaro Barreal and Brenner, from a full preseason with the Orange and Blue. It was not until April 30 at Toronto FC for Barreal, and even later for Brenner (June 29 vs New York City FC), that they saw a full 90 minutes in regular season play.
“Having this returning group puts us in a better position on day one,” said Noonan. “But we’re looking to improve the roster and figuring out how to incorporate some different players in the preseason. We’ve got some new faces, and this will be an opportunity to evaluate those players."
Some of those new faces include Marco Angulo, a U22 initiative player acquired from Ecuador’s Independiente del Valle this offseason, and Isaiah Foster, who was recently acquired from Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC. First-round MLS SuperDraft selection and Generation adidas player Joey Akpunonu also joins the squad.
Former Academy products Malik Pinto and Stiven Jimenez are new faces to the first team roster, but not to Noonan’s coaching staff. Each has significant experience with the team in training sessions and in the Academy, and for Jimenez, it will be the second preseason camp for the young 15-year-old. He was with the team last year in Clearwater ahead of a big year which saw him represent the Youth National Teams for both the United States and Mexico.
Brandon Vazquez, who enjoyed a breakout 2022 campaign, gets set for his fourth preseason with the club after joining Cincinnati prior to the 2020 season.
“We’re all excited to be back out here,” said Vazquez. “We’re trying to build on what we did last year and there is a familiarity between the guys that we didn’t have last preseason. That chemistry you build is happening faster and we’re off to a really good start.”
Vazquez’s Best XI, All-Star-caliber 2022 season was key in the Orange and Blue’s first berth in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs. So too was the standout play of rookie goalkeeper Roman Celentano. The former first-round SuperDraft selection is ready for his second year with FCC.
“It’s fun to be back out here and getting the work in ahead of the season,” said Celentano. “It’s kind of the same group, the same mentality as last season. The goals we have and the baseline for what we expect is a lot higher than it was last year. There is a better feeling coming in this year, the guys are all positive and optimistic to get back out there.”
The Orange and Blue depart for the Sunshine State on Jan. 23 and will play five friendlies against various MLS and collegiate competition. The team returns to Cincinnati on Feb. 17 for final preparations for the club’s first-ever season opener at home against Houston Dynamo FC on Feb. 25 at TQL Stadium.
More information on FC Cincinnati’s 2023 preseason slate can be found here.