Needing only a point to advance to the MLS is Back Tournament Knockout Stage presented by Audi, FC Cincinnati beat the New York Red Bulls, 2-0, on Wednesday night, which clinched the second spot in Group E and bounced the Red Bulls from the MLS is Back Tournament.
Here are the takeaways from the win:
FCC earn big result in pivotal match
Yes, the Orange and Blue are in the early stages of a rebuild, and yes, it’s fair for head coach Jaap Stam to compare this tournament to preseason, but that doesn’t take away from Cincinnati’s impressive win over New York to clinch the second spot.
“Overall, it’s a very good performance from our side,” Stam said. “It’s again, a win. Three points gives us confidence going to the next phase. If you’re looking at the table, (the win) gives us six points, which is very positive.
“In the process that we’re in, we’re still like sort of in a preseason in week four. Already against these two very big teams, very big, very good opponents, getting this success tells you something about this team, as well as the mentality that’s in there.”
Cincinnati played in a similar style to last Thursday’s win against Atlanta by sitting deeper and allowing New York to have time on the ball, but Cincinnati kept compact and sprang forward when opportunities came.
Yuya Kubo scored the opener in the 43rd minute when FCC tried to hit the Red Bulls in transition, but lost possession. However, once the opposition gave the ball away 25 yards from their goal, Kubo seized possession and slotted the ball into the bottom left corner.
The lead doubled in the 56th minute when Haris Medunjanin whipped a corner kick toward the near post. Instead of clearing it, Florian Valot’s header directed the ball into his own net.
From there, Cincinnati held onto its lead and earned a second clean sheet in as many matches.
Entering the match with three points, Cincinnati was third in the group and would qualify for the knockout stage as a wild card team. New York would then claim second.
FCC never had any interest in playing for just a point, though.
“Today’s game was very important for us,” Przemysław Tytoń said. “We knew before the game that we needed to get points, and I don’t think anyone from the group even thought of draw. We want to win the game. After winning the game against Atlanta (United FC), we trained hard during the next days and we knew we can continue to group up. And, we did it today.”
Building off one win with another
This is only the third time since FC Cincinnati entered MLS that they’ve earned consecutive wins. The other two instances were in March 2019 and the following July.
But these wins were earned under extremely different circumstances.
Forget about the bubble momentarily. In those games, they were positive results building off one another – but the team had been playing a relatively similar style.
In this case, Stam went from an aggressive 4-3-3 that unraveled against Columbus Crew SC, to a compact 5-3-2. Total Football meets Catenaccio.
It turns out that the players have embraced the new identity – and it’s been incredibly effective in the short term.
“The guys, they picked it up very well,” Stam said. “The players are very positive. Everybody wants to play, which is very good. They’re sticking together. There’s communication, the work rate’s there, they’re patient at times as well, which you need to be against these teams that we’re playing. Everybody saw the work that’s been put in with the team, with the players. It’s looking promising.”
It shouldn’t be discounted that FCC just beat two teams it lost to earlier this season – when they were outscored by a combined 5-3 – by producing shutouts to beat Atlanta, 1-0, and New York, 2-0, in this tournament.
“We lost against Atlanta, then we lost against New York,” Tytoń said about results earlier this season. “Now, we get revenge.”
This team’s response is spectacular
FC Cincinnati’s tournament opening loss to Columbus was probably the worst possible start to Stam’s tenure.
Yes, there were positive moments early in the match, but they faded quickly as Crew SC piled on goals in the most lopsided #HellisReal Derby yet.
So, how did Cincinnati respond? With these two wins.
They went from the bottom dwellers of the group to beating two of the Eastern Conference’s best teams.
“In the beginning of the tournament, nobody gave us a chance,” Haris Medunjanin said. “We proved them wrong. We showed the league that we are a good team, especially when we fight for each other.”
What comes next?
FC Cincinnati’s next opponent isn’t finalized, but the next game is July 28 at 10:30 p.m.
The match will be on ESPN and pairs the Orange and Blue with the Group F winner.
The Portland Timbers (6 points) lead Group F, with LAFC in second (4 pts.). Those teams meet Thursday night at 10:30 p.m.