Takeaways from win over Chivas include how to play against Liga MX clubs

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The multi-day performance from FC Cincinnati in their second match of Leagues Cup earned much praise, with head coach Pat Noonan calling it one of their best performances of the year.

There was still plenty to learn from FCC’s 3-1 win over Liga MX side Chivas Guadalajara, lessons that could factor into how The Orange and Blue play in the rest of the tournament.

“We had to watch a lot of video. It wasn’t like I had prior knowledge,” defender Nick Hagglund said of the experience playing a team from another league. “When guys came in, I knew them more by their number, not by their last name.”

Noonan warned heading into the match that playing a team you had little familiarity with could pose unique challenges. Not being aware of particular players’ skills, tendencies or speed could catch you in an off-guard position and allow for an advantage. The problem goes both ways; Liga MX sides are also unfamiliar with MLS teams like they are familiar with their league. But when one moment can burn you, those moments become amplified.

“(It was hard) trying to figure out if they’re left-footed or right-footed,” Hagglund said. “There’s just an unfamiliarity of playing against these guys and what they’re about. So (we needed) extra preparation for a team like this when you don’t see them week in and week out or watch all those games.

“I don’t think it affected us in a way where we lost our head and lost our cool,” Noonan said of the surprises Chivas had for FCC. “Very pleased with the response.”

While there is a chance (albeit small) FC Cincinnati doesn’t play another Mexican team in Leagues Cup, the experience gained from taking on one of Liga MX’s top clubs is invaluable to both its quest for a trophy this month and then returns to MLS league play.

FC Cincinnati also won despite having their starting XI altered at the last minute. The injury to Sergio Santos in warmups, along with other players away from the club, forced Noonan to play another unique lineup.

The rotating starting XI has become a feature of FCC’s success this season rather than a challenge to overcome. The lineup was their 23rd unique one of the season.

“I think there’s a lot of confidence to be taken from guys stepping up,” Hagglund added. “It’s how we’ve been all year. So I think it’s just another reiteration of guys being able to do the job no matter who’s available.”

Improving play with a man advantage

The Thursday/Friday match was the third in as many games where FC Cincinnati played with a man advantage. When a red card was issued to Chivas defender Gilberto Sepúlveda, FC Cincinnati went up a man for the final 45 minutes of the match.

FCC’s play in 11-on-10 scenarios has come into question of late. After being threatened in the final minutes by Nashville SC (who played with nine men against FCC) and conceding a goal to Sporting KC while playing a player up, Noonan indicated frustration with the performances despite the advantages.

But in this case, against Chivas, The Orange and Blue are trending upward. With the lone goal coming to the Mexican side in an awkward throw-in right off the restart, FCC defender Matt Miazga feels the improvement has come from attention to detail and intention.

“I think we just kept our composure,” Miazga said. "We didn't get too complacent in terms of let's just not let our main habits slip or start doing flicks and tricks, and you lose passes.

“I think that was the most important thing, staying composed and not getting too complacent. Knowing that we're up a man and think it's going to be easy because you can get caught.”

“We managed it better,” Noonan said of the play. “I think we can always be a little bit better in how we move forward as a unit and how we position ourselves behind the ball … but (this game) was an improvement.”

Miazga’s performance particularly was highlighted in the second half as his possession and management on the back line contributed to the building of FC Cincinnati’s third goal.

“Strong players typically make their teammates better,” Noonan said of the center back. “With positioning, with communication, with the way they provide passes, (Miazga) does all of that in a really good way.”