Short break in schedule allows FC Cincinnati time to regroup from first home loss

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FC Cincinnati’s only home defeat of the season left a disappointing taste and sting to everyone.

Prior to falling 1-0 to Orlando City SC on Saturday night, FC Cincinnati held an undefeated home record of 12-0-1 and scored in every game this season at TQL Stadium. 

But all hope was not lost. FCC was still able to generate multiple chances despite Orlando moving to a more defensive structure and seeing out the game with rhythm-disrupting tactics that stalled The Orange and Blue.

Outproducing Orlando in shots on goal, 4-1, while earning 0.9 more xG after allowing the first goal does not replace or give any comfort for the loss. But it does point to the underlying success and dispel cause for long-term panic in the offensive system.

“It’s always important to be in position to score goals. If we weren’t able to break them down in ways where we couldn’t get into the box, couldn’t find our shots, yes, that’s concerning,” FCC head coach Pat Noonan said after the match. “But there were enough moments there for us. I don’t think it’s been a challenge or a concern for our group as far as creating goal-scoring opportunities.”

FC Cincinnati just completed a challenging stretch of five games in 14 days, leading to a 2-2-1 record with emotional outcomes and hard pills to swallow. Given the importance of some fixtures along the way, i.e. Hell is Real, U.S. Open Cup semifinals, and a road match with Atlanta United FC, every game carried a labor that left FCC battered and bruised a little bit more as time passed. 

“We just didn’t have that final quality tonight,” Noonan added. “I think you saw a tired group that put everything into it. (FCC) just didn’t have the legs or that final bit of quality to break them down. 

“You can see when you’re so physically tired, the mental side becomes a challenge, as well, and just making the right pass or being able to provide the right cross, final shot, all of that was just a little bit off.” 

“We felt really good as we worked together; we were creating goal chances,” striker Sergio Santos said. “Every team has a day like this where you’re not just scoring, and today was our day.

“We have a really, really good connection, and it doesn’t matter who’s coming in, who’s coming out. … We take (the loss) with a free, open mind and a focus on moving forward.” 

Long break ahead 

The Orange and Blue now look forward to a 14-day break between fixtures, one of two seven-plus day rests they will have before the end of the MLS regular season. 

While recovery, both mentally and physically, is welcome, some players do not want to sit on the Saturday loss for two weeks. 

“I don’t like it personally,” Santos said. “For me, I just want to get that game rhythm to continue. I don’t like having that break because I don’t want to have a fall off like it may have happened in the past.”

The last time FCC had two weeks off between matches was between elimination from Leagues Cup and a league match at Columbus Crew, which saw them fall 3-0 to their rivals. 

The performance against the Crew has stuck with the team. On multiple occasions, FC Cincinnati players have mentioned the poor performance as one they wish to rectify and never repeat. Though they have not specifically mentioned the break as a cause or factor, they are mindful of it. 

“As we head into the break, we look to regroup and then come on the back end of it strong in preparation for Philly,” Noonan said of the plans for the break. “Disappointing result (against Orlando) and a strange feeling, but the guys gave everything.”

FC Cincinnati will play four of its final seven games on the road to close out the 2023 regular season. Every point will be valuable with only three more regular season matches at TQL Stadium. The Orange and Blue will next travel to face Philadelphia Union (Sept. 16) and CF Montréal (Sept. 20) before returning home to take on Charlotte FC (Sept. 23).

What to watch this weekend

FC Cincinnati will not play this Saturday, getting a much deserved rest for the stretch run, but there is still plenty of soccer to watch that will directly impact The Orange and Blue’s chase for the Supporters’ Shield.

Two league games in particular could be huge for FCC’s chase.

On Saturday night, New England Revolution visit Minnesota United FC at Allianz Field. The Revs have a game in hand on FCC and this match would bring them even in games played this season. With 47 points, New England sit in a three-way tie for second in the Supporters’ Shield chase with Orlando City SC and St. Louis CITY SC, with all three clubs trailing FC Cincinnati by 10 points in the overall standings. Minnesota enter the New England matchup battling to stay above the playoff line and reside in  seventh place in the Western Conference.

On Sunday night, Supporters’ Shield contender and Western Conference leader St. Louis CITY SC head west to take on the LA Galaxy. The Galaxy are in 13th in the West, but only five points out of playoff position, and have earned points in 10 of their last 11 matches.

St. Louis is the only club who won’t be impacted by the international window, as New England (2), LA (2), and Minnesota (3) will all lose players to their national teams while the clubs continue league play.

Both matches will be available via MLS Season Pass on Apple TV.