Strong mentality pushed FC Cincinnati forward, earning three points at home on milestone night for club and players

baird celly

CINCINNATI—Pat Noonan and his team went into Saturday's match mindful of the need to perform well at home. While the team had snapped a mini-two-game losing streak a week ago in Atlanta with a statement performance, it had been over a month (34 days to be exact) since The Orange and Blue had delivered a victory to their supporters at TQL Stadium. 

The mindfulness about the team wasn't anxious or panicked, but thoughtful about what it meant to win at home and put on a performance that entertained and energized their home fans.

In many ways, FCC did just that Saturday night. 

The Orange and Blue scored twice (nearly three times) and had cathartic, emotional performances from all eleven starters on the field and the five subs who came on later. When the final whistle blew, FCC won 2-1 over the Colorado Rapids - won their second game in a row, won at home and sent the fans home happy by giving them a victory worth celebrating.

With very few exceptions, FC Cincinnati dominated the match, pushed play forward, and enforced their will on a Colorado Rapids team that had entered with an equal record to them and thus represented (in many ways) an equal opponent thus far in the season. 

"Really pleased with the overall performance," FC Cincinnati Head Coach Pat Noonan said in an opening statement at the postgame press conference. "Maybe the score line, based on how I thought we played, was not as good as you'd like. But it's hard to be critical…really pleased with the group and having another overall strong team performance."

They dominated possession, earning 57.7 percent, just shy of a season high. They tied a club record in shots with 25 and peppered the one-time first-choice goalkeeper for the US Men's National Team and three-time winner of the Premier League, Zach Steffen, with 12 shots on target. For all but three 5-minute intervals, the balance of the match was played in the Colorado Rapids defensive zone. 

"I think it's just about our mentality," now all-time leading goal scorer for FC Cincinnati Luciano Acosta said postgame. "I think we lost those two games and it was a bit of a punch that woke us up. But now it's about the mentality and getting back to it." 

In the 42nd minute, Acosta earned his 44th career goal with FCC across all competitions—the most of any player in club history—solidifying him even more in the club's lore and further extending his legacy. More importantly though, the goal gave FC Cincinnati the lead in the first half and capped off the first 45 minutes of the match with an exciting moment. 

The play, created by Acosta and Corey Baird, had the duo execute a seamless give-and-go passing scheme that provided Acosta the space to curl a shot to the back post past a diving goalkeeper. The quick pass to Baird, followed by a one touch return to Acosta, gave Acosta just enough time and space to hit the shot unabated. A rare moment of reprieve that the 2023 MVP made sure to capitalize on.

"I think what makes it more impressive is teams are going to try to prevent him from having an impact," FC Cincinnati Head Coach Pat Noonan said from the podium at his postgame press conference. "When you're a key player and you're able to do what he's doing with the focus on stopping you in a lot of ways, that's what is unique and what makes him special. I thought the goal was outstanding." 

The goal, Acosta's fourth of the season, was also his ninth goal contribution. Nine of the 12 goals scored by FCC this young season have come directly from Luciano Acosta's actions (the 12th being a goal that came later in the evening). As FCC have struggled offensively to start the season, a storyline that has – to this point – overshadowed every conversation about the club to date since starting the season, Acosta has buoyed the offense and provided the lift it has needed to keep getting points…despite the attention he gets from opposing defenses. 

"He's stepped up in I would say the first quarter or third of the season when we're struggling to score consistently," Noonan added about his captain. "He's been the guy that can contribute goals and assists right now. His consistency is also pretty impressive, but certainly a nice accolade for him being the top goal scorer."

The strong mentality that persisted and helped FC Cincinnati could not have been more present though in the eventual game winning goal. 

Baird, who started the season without a goal despite regularly putting himself in a good position to finish, got the monkey off his back by scoring his first goal for FC Cincinnati. 

"It's a credit to Corey. He's continued to put his head down and work," Noonan said postgame. "I don't think he's ignoring the fact that the goals haven't been there. He wants to contribute, but I don't think he's trying to do more than he needs to, which is a credit to him because the chances that he's getting are him just playing his position and not trying to shoot when it's not on or dribble, when it's not on. He's just doing simple things that are continuing to put him in a position to finish off plays, and that's the missing piece. (I am) Really pleased that he found the goal tonight to help us win a game."

The emotion in the aftermath of that Baird goal was pointed out by Noonan as well in his press conference. Not only could you see how much it meant to Baird, but also his teammates that he could get that goal. Everyone on the field and on the sidelines waited to get one extra moment to congratulate or celebrate. Hugs lasted an extra second. High fives were a little bit harder and the cheers a little bit louder. 

"Just look at the reactions of his teammates. Everybody was waiting for the moment, including him," Noonan said. 

FC Cincinnati finished the evening in a tie for second place in the Supporters' Shield standings and outright second place in the Eastern Conference with 18 points from 10 league matches. Considering some of the challenges FCC have faced, they are primed for success moving forward. 

As The Orange and Blue continue to figure themselves out on the pitch and string together more and more positive performances and through those performances, results, you can begin to see the collective cohesion of the group coming together.

"In its simplest form, individual players are performing. And so, the group looks a lot better," Noonan said. "That's probably the thing that sticks out."

FC Cincinnati return to action with another two road matches before returning to TQL Stadium next. The club will travel to Orlando next for a matchup with Orlando City SC at Inter&Co Stadium on May 4. They will then head up I-70 for the Hell is Real darby with Columbus Crew on May 11 at Lower.Com Field.