Signature FC Cincinnati persistence leads to a positive road result, but offensive frustrations leave a continued topic for focus


Common wisdom in MLS suggests that wins at home and draws on the road are the keys to success in league play. Given the variables presented, the challenges of playing on the road are great, possibly greater than in any other league. Thus, earning a point, regardless of the opponent, is a positive outcome. 

But as FCC head coach Pat Noonan has said, some draws feel like wins, and others feel like losses. Saturday's in Charlotte, a 1-1 draw in Bank of America Stadium where a 90+2 minute goal from Aaron Boupendza gave FCC the equalizer, somehow felt like both and neither at the same time. 

After a slow start, FCC grew into the game and looked like the superior side for the end of the first half and most of the second half but went down in the 60th minute due to what Noonan called an "unnecessary challenge," resulting in a penalty kick that gave CLTFC a 1-0 lead deep into the second half. 

So, The Orange and Blue found themselves in a unique yet all-too-familiar situation. FCC was the better side and had created high-quality chances to score, but they couldn't find their way into the lead with an early finish. The frustration brought by this early-season trend isn't new, but the specifics were that for the first time in MLS play, FCC was playing a deficit. All other situations like that had resulted in nil-nil draws or protecting a narrow lead. For the first time in 2024 league play, FCC had to fight back to earn a point. 

"The guys kept going," Noonan praised his team postgame. "I liked the way we found the equalizer late… (it was) a good push from the guys to find the late goal." 

"You know that Cincinnati's never out of the game," wingback newcomer DeAndre Yedlin said after the match, highlighting the perseverance the club has shown not only since he's been a member but also the reputation the team has earned over the last couple of years. "That's what this team has. Playing against this team last year and the year before… it's annoying to play against, but it's nice to play with because everybody's honest and just keeps going together." 

It was a battle to get to that point, and one that substitutes played a major role in achieving. A clutch tackle in the box from substitute Bret Halsey started the breakout from the FCC defensive zone that allowed fellow substitute Dado Valenzuela to bring the ball up and use his creativity to find a hard-running and fresh-legged Sergio Santos with a spectacular right-footed trivela pass, who crash into the box before centering it to Yedlin who provided a final special touch of magic on the pass to Boupendza. Boupendza finished it off, earning the point. 

A full team effort. 

But in the postgame press conference, it became clear that earning the one-point draw felt more like a relief than a victory despite the heroics it took to earn it. It was as if there was more on the table for them to take, with victory and the additional two points left on the table. 

The FCC defense has been stout. With only three goals conceded across six games and only one goal from open play, the defense has carried The Orange and Blue to success this season. This effort is not isolated to the arbitrary number of defenders one may assign to this club. Whether it's the standard three center-backs, the goalkeeper, the wingbacks, defensive midfielders, or anyone, all FCC players will echo the understanding that defense is an eleven-man game and thus an eleven-man accomplishment. 

However, the lack of success on the other end in terms of goal-scoring has cast a shadow over the success defensively. One that Noonan is acutely aware of and intently looking to remedy. 

"The final third play is certainly still lacking," Noonan said bluntly in his opening statement to the media post-match. "The way we got into the box I was pleased with (but) it was just the lack of decisiveness and real quality to find more goals.”

"It's concerning when you're not getting results. I would say we're defending well enough to still be able to walk away on a night like tonight and get a point. But we've played enough games now and seen enough actions in front of goal that we need to get better. There's no two ways about it. So, for me, maybe I'd be more concerned if the results weren't there in terms of wins or draws, but we need to get better, we know it."

The solution is not exactly simple because if it were, this early-season struggle would be a thing of the past. Players feel the pressure of a cold streak or a team that is battling to score goals at every turn, and no luck or fortunate occurrences help them break out. 

To that effect, there is a natural inclination for players to press to try and break the streak or spell. Most would suggest that is a positive trait for a locker room as it directly points to desiring team success. However, when that inclination reaches a point where the press alters the decision-making or rushes the opportunity so as not to put FCC in the best position to succeed, that generally positive attribute can make things harder, not easier, for the group as a whole. 

"You can see with certain guys… it's not desperation, but they want to get on the scoresheet with goals and assists," Noonan said of what he feels to be the biggest problem facing the offense right now. "They want to help the team, and sometimes when you're looking to help the team so much by providing the goals and assists, you may be make the wrong decisions and I think that's an issue with our team as a whole in the moment because I think all the guys have been getting themselves into pretty good spots and haven't been able to capitalize."

The paradoxical challenge Noonan identified in solving this problem is that the third-year FCC head coach feels his team needs to do the opposite of press for goals.

"We need to be less urgent," Noonan said, rejecting the notion that they need to be more urgent in the final third. "We need to be more patient in the right moments to find the right pass. We need to be more decisive in how we run to goal and how we create a shot. We're getting into good spots, but now we just need to talk through and keep looking at how we can be better with the decision making in those moments. But the guys have created enough and consistently enough where we shouldn't be urgent to change anything."

The paradoxical aspect of this comes from the difficulties of not doing something. You can always be more of something; intentionally, being less is difficult as the longer a non-ideal outcome persists, the harder it is to do less of something.  Instinct will encourage you to pursue harder, even if less is exactly what you need.

Noonan highlighted a key example with the performance of wingback Luca Orellano, who, despite continuing to show signs of looking more and more like a game-breaker for FC Cincinnati and the kind of talent that can redefine matchups for opponents, clearly pressed in difficult situations, ultimately sacrificing quality for opportunity. 

It was disclosed postgame that The Orange and Blue felt the wingbacks were at a place where they could attack the Charlotte FC defense effectively and got excellent results. Earning opportunities from the dribbling forward and passing from both the young Argentine and the veteran Yedlin on the other side of the field. But final actions, like over-hitting crossing services or taking a shot from further out when he could have advanced the ball closer to net for the opportunity, show signs of desire but are clouding the decision-making, and the better opportunity is being missed in favor of a more immediate one. 

“Trust the process” can be a loaded phrase in sports thanks to its more common connotation with losing. Still, in this situation, the solution Noonan is appealing to is just that. Generating offense and creating chances hasn't been the problem, so reacting radically after six games isn't how Noonan wants his locker room thinking.

"It's going to come for a lot of these guys, and you hope it's sooner rather than later so the frustration doesn't build up and it leads to the wrong decisions," Noonan said. "But it's still good to talk through why we're not able to score more goals with the chances that we’re creating."