FC Cincinnati earned yet another win Saturday night at TQL Stadium against an in-form D.C. United side, 2-1. The Orange and Blue extend their unblemished home record at home to 6-0-0 while snapping D.C.’s four-match winning streak.
“A good battle,” said Pat Noonan after the match. “We played a good team tonight. D.C., you can see, is moving in a good direction, difficult to play against. We had a feeling that the chance creation was going to be difficult if we weren't decisive and if we didn't move the ball quickly.”
Much like Cincinnati’s previous matches at TQL Stadium, the Orange and Blue got off to a quick start, generating chances early. Sergio Santos, who leads FC Cincinnati in goals with four, had a great look seven minutes into the match after Alvas Powell attacked down the right wing. His pass picked out Santos in the box, but the Brazilian couldn’t connect on the attempt.
“I thought the first 15, 20 minutes, we did a good job of finding some longer switches of play and specifically with Alvas [Powell],” said Noonan. “We had one good moment with one of these cutback crosses. But then they got control the rest of the half.”
A late lineup change for D.C. United saw Ruan earn his seventh start of the season and nearly put the visitors ahead in the 24th minute. Belgium striker and former Premier League forward Christian Benteke, a constant threat for D.C., occupied the eyes of Cincinnati’s defense before putting Ruan in behind. A well struck shot was met with an even better save from Roman Celentano.
“I think we struggled to get pressure to [Lewis] O'Brien and [Mateusz] Klich in the spaces when they were able to switch play,” Noonan analyzed. “And so, we tried in the second half to get Alvas and Álvaro [Barreal] at times, releasing more central, and then have Yerson [Mosquera] and Nick [Hagglund]) deal with the wingbacks.”
D.C. continued to apply pressure in the first half, with another opportunity for the Black and Red coming in the 42nd minute. Benteke once again created the chance, but this time the imposing, physical forward took it upon himself to get his team on top. A hard low drive from inside the box looked dangerous, but Celentano once again rose to the challenge keeping Benteke and United at bay.
Celentano finished the night with four saves and surpassed Przemysław Tytoń for the club record in career saves (118).
Scoreless at the break, the Orange and Blue found themselves in another battle in front of a sold-out crowd at TQL Stadium and a raucous Bailey. It was the fifth sell-out in six matches this season.
FC Cincinnati didn’t disappoint in the second half. Luciano Acosta brought that crowd to life in the 59th minute with his second goal of the season, and what a goal it was. Acosta raised his hand as he stood over a corner kick in front of the Bailey and curled a dangerous-looking ball into a crowded box. The corner was short and took a bounce at the near post before finding its way through the legs of Tyler Miller for a rarely seen “Olimpico” goal.
Álvaro Barreal opened his 2023 scoring account 14 minutes later with a left-footed rocket to double the Orange and Blue’s lead.
“Live, it felt like a pretty good goal,” said Noonan. “Good switch of play where I think it gets to Lucho’s feet and he provides the final pass. That’s what we ask of him in those moments and trust that the ball is going to be delivered, and we got the right guy delivering the ball in that moment.”
In addition to holding a perfect home record, the Orange and Blue have never trailed at TQL Stadium this season.
“Playing with a lead is important,” said Noonan. “Our ability to see out games, although tonight, we let one in there late, but I think we've been able to see games out in a strong way. And like you said, the energy that we get at the end of these games when we're protecting a lead, the crowd really does make a difference.”
That late goal for D.C. United came from star forward Taxiarchis “Taxi” Fountas, his third of the year, in the 90th minute. Despite the goal, the Orange and Blue saw the match out through the final minutes of stoppage time.
“It feels different when we're closing out games,” said Noonan. “We know it's not easy, and they were pushing and pushing. It's a combination of the atmosphere and certainly the guys understanding of different ways that we try to see out the game. When you need that boost of energy or just hearing them, and I think the players feel that a little bit more now than in the past. I thought the crowd was electric.”
All of Cincinnati’s wins this season have come in close, one goal games. But for Noonan any company, the way the wins come isn’t as important.
“It's hard to win,” said Noonan. “Blowing teams out is not easy to do, and I don't think that we're going to step on the field and blow out anybody. You have to be really productive to be able to finish off all your plays and score three, four or five goals. Maybe we saw a couple of those games last year and outside people expect that, but that's hard to do.”
The result sees the Orange and Blue keep pace with New England Revolution atop the Eastern Conference as the Rev’s picked up three points against Toronto FC Saturday night. FC Cincinnati also remain tied with the Rev’s for the Supporters’ Shield race.
“We don't need to validate our positioning by scoring five goals in a game and blowing a team out. I don't feel that way,” said Noonan. “But we're certainly looking at ways to have better control of games for longer stretches. We keep winning one-goal games and 1-0 games. I'm OK with that. Yeah, we would love to win by multiple goals every game, but that's not going to be the case.”
The Orange and Blue will have the chance to advance to the Round of 16 of the U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday, May 10, as they take on New York City FC at TQL Stadium at 7 p.m. ET. Tickets for the match can be purchased at FCCincinnati.com/Tickets or by calling (513) 977-5425 (KICK).