"That was a hard-fought win" - Orange and Blue triumph over Union in tough home test

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FC Cincinnati woke up Sunday morning as winners once again, this time taking three points from the Philadelphia Union in an early season rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference Semifinal. The result keeps the Orange and Blue atop the Eastern Conference table for a second straight week.

“That was a hard-fought win,” said Head Coach Pat Noonan. “I think you saw a team in Philly that, because of their schedule, had to make some rotations. I thought their defending was really, really strong and they made it difficult for us to get into the box.”

Chances were limited for both sides all night, with Cincinnati and Philadelphia combining for just 18 shot attempts and each team setting season-lows in that department with eight and 10, respectively.

“It was probably going to be a matter of one moment to make the difference in this game and fortunately, we found it," said Noonan. "But I was really pleased with our guys’ ability to figure out a way to get a goal and see the game out and win against a very good team to keep the momentum going for our group."

And three more points at TQL Stadium on Saturday night for the Orange and Blue adds a fourth win to Cincinnati’s unblemished home record to start the 2023 season. FC Cincinnati are one of five teams yet to drop points at home (LAFC, Columbus Crew, Houston Dynamo FC, CF Montréal), though FCC and LAFC are the only two clubs to have played four home matches so far.

“It’s been great so far,” said Noonan on the atmosphere Saturday night. “Like I said last week, it’s expected we win here and now every win just adds to the confidence when we are on our home field, regardless of the opponent. It adds to the fans’ expectations and belief that our team is going to be ready to win games in front of them.”

While Philadelphia’s dangerous attacking trio weren’t part of the Starting XI, as part of a rotated starting lineup for Jim Curtin’s squad with Saturday sandwiched between two Concacaf Champions League matchups against LIGA MX side Atlas FC, Julián Carranza, Dániel Gazdag and Mikael Uhre all made second-half substitute appearances as the Union looked to steal points on Cincinnati’s home turf, with the match scoreless upon their entry.

“We expected them to play,” said Noonan. “It was just a matter of when – if it was going to be at halftime or if it was going to be later in the game. I’m sure the scoreline was going to be a factor and I think they were trying to stretch some of the other guys as long as they could.”

But it was Cincinnati’s star who shined brightest on the night with Luciano Acosta scoring his first goal of the season, converting from the spot in the 69th minute, which led to another 1-0 win for the Orange and Blue.

The captain’s fourth scored PK for FCC in regular season play, and his five across all competitions from the spot with the Orange and Blue, are the top marks in club history.

And while Noonan alluded to that the locker room wasn’t fully satisfied with the 1-0 win the week prior against Inter Miami CF, a night when the visiting Herons controlled possession nearly two-to-one, no bitter taste was left in the latest home victory.

“No disappointment here tonight,” said Noonan after the game. “This isn’t a team, an opponent where you can expect to get a bunch of chances and a bunch of goals. The guys should be happy about this one. I know I am because it was a tough opponent.”

FC Cincinnati continue to excel on the back of a strong defense record, having conceded just four goals across seven games this year, the fourth best mark in MLS and behind only LAFC, Seattle Sounders FC and Nashville SC.

“The boys played well across the board,” said Roman Celentano after tying a club record for career clean sheets at 10. “We did well tonight in mitigating chances and defending the box. Maybe it wasn’t the greatest performance from us but, we got it done, 1-0, we’ll take it.”

Celentano made four saves on the night in what was his fifth clean sheet in seven league matches this year. His five clean sheets are tied for the league lead in shutouts.

“We had a good flow defensively tonight,” said Celentano. “We knew about the quality they had coming in off the bench and so we needed to be a little more alert, but if the guys just keep doing what they have been all season, it’s going to be tough to break us down.”

Saturday’s meeting was the first between Cincinnati and Philadelphia since the Union ousted the Orange and Blue from the 2022 MLS Audi Cup Playoffs which set the stage for a big match for Saturday night’s encounter.

“It was a big game for us,” said Celentano. “We knew what this one was going to be about, and we knew the kind of team they have. But we came into this one just focused on us and focused on what we needed to do and not let them get into the game. This one was just another game for us.”

Nick Hagglund, Matt Miazga and Yerson Mosquera once again stood as the last line of defense for the Orange and Blue keeping Philadelphia from finding a late equalizer. FCC have not allowed a goal in 314 minutes of game action, the longest such streak in club history.

“Maybe three, four, five years ago we lose this game, but this is a different year,” said Nick Hagglund. “We knew coming into the season we were going to be good. Since, I don’t know, last summer we knew we hadn’t lost that many games, maybe three? So, there were expectations but we just need to keep putting positive results together and see where we are at the end of the season.

“This one felt a little better tonight. I thought we handled everything they threw at us pretty well. 1-0, a clean sheet, that’s a good result for us. I think the guys are ready for the next one.”

And the next one is yet another heavyweight battle. FC Cincinnati travel to face expansion side St. Louis CITY SC on their home field next Saturday, April 15 at CITYPARK (8:30 p.m. ET | MLS Season Pass on Apple TV). Despite dropping their last two, the league’s newest club is still one of great surprise – St. Louis maintain a 5-2-0 record and their 15 points are second-best in the Western Conference.