20230930 TORvsFCC Locker Room 152

As Matt Miazga would remind you, FC Cincinnati had won games in all sorts of ways this season. They’ve won convincingly. They’ve come from behind. They sweated out one-goal margins and earned victory in the final moments. 

So why not save one more unique way to win a match to earn a title? 

The Orange and Blue earned a thrilling 3-2 victory in Toronto to become champions for the first time since joining MLS in 2019. 

“What a special moment for our club,” head coach Pat Noonan said from the press conference desk, dressed in his championship tee shirt drenched in some combination of champagne and beer (and, depending on where he was standing, maybe chocolate milk). “This is a really neat moment to experience and share with the players, the staff. Certainly, there are a lot of people to thank for a lot of work that’s gone into this. All those people will be recognized in the coming days.” 

Noonan had just emerged from the locker room to speak to the media gathered in the depths of BMO Field and on Zoom after the decision was made to quickly leave Toronto to return home and celebrate with their family, friends, fans and supporters back in Cincinnati.

Moments before taking the stage, the FCC head coach who helped lead a historic season, was hoisted into the air and onto the shoulders of his players, with Roman Celentano, Luciano Acosta and Miazga leading the charge. 

“I just think over the past two years we’ve become so strong as a group that this is a possibility,” Noonan said. “So hopefully it’s the beginning of more success and more trophies for this club.” 

The gaffer wasn’t the only one lifted off their feet in celebration. With the bubbly popping and more Rhinegeist beer than one can fathom being sprayed, every team member got their moment in the center of the celebration.

Inside the FC Cincinnati Supporters' Shield winning locker room

Acosta, the Landon Donovan MLS MVP frontrunner, and provider of the trophy-winning assist, was lifted and carried throughout the room on the shoulders of Miazga and Obinna Nwobodo. Aaron Boupendza carried a wireless speaker through the room while leading the dance circle in the tarp-covered visitors’ locker room. Nick Hagglund, Yerson Mosquera, Santiago Arias and Marco Angulo were the stars of said circle. Alvas Powell took on the responsibility of ensuring that all FCC players and staff alike were thoroughly drenched and involved in the party (this writer included). At the same time, Àlvaro Barreal went person to person, requiring them to provide their greatest “VAMOS,” a rallying cry for the club. Ray Gaddis, now a two-time Supporters’ Shield winner, spent his time teaching younger, less experienced champions the finer points of popping champagne bottles. “You gotta use your thumb,” and “aim up first,” he would tell them before quickly getting out of the way so the popper could spray the group without targeting a cork at a teammate.

Somewhere in the madness Co-Ceo Jeff Berding emerged in a rain jacket with a phone held high. A facetime call filled the phone with CEO & Controlling Owner Carl Lindner III on the other end of the call, the phone made its way around the room with players giving its best cheers, ‘Vamos’, and ‘Campeones’ into the call.

The only protection provided to players from the wrath of sprayed Truth IPA, Cincy Light and Veuve Clicquot, which were meant for consumption but quickly conscripted for spraying duty, were custom orange Oakley snow goggles that were emblazoned with the FCC crest and each player number. Vazquez (number 19) became a victim of unfitting goggles as Junior Moreno (number 93) had accidentally taken the goal scorer’s goggles, leaving Vazqez with a size too small to fit. It wasn’t until halfway through the celebration that the pair rectified the issue before embracing in a hug.

“They are champions.” Noonan said.

“I’m so happy. We’ve achieved what we set out to achieve,” Acosta said in a side session with the media. While FCC, MLS and Apple TV cameras were on hand for the session, Acosta went live on his Instagram to speak directly to his fans.

“I am just totally happy with how this entire season has gone and to achieve what we’ve achieved. When I came here, it was clear this was a club that was just beginning so now I am so happy to achieve what we set out to achieve when I came and knew what the project would be. So I’m just incredibly happy.”

The captain recently signed a three-year contract extension with the club, making Cincinnati his home. In a message to fans, he expressed that the city, supporters, teammates and everyone in the club were a part of his family.

“This is my second family,” Acosta said, fighting back tears that he later promised were not the result of champagne in his eyes. “This city, this club … I don’t have the words.”

Acosta had been at the core of the soccer success and cultural reset FC Cincinnati has undergone since arriving at the club in 2021. Like many in this group, he has now seen the depths of the league and has emerged on the other side a champion.

Vazquez, who provided the game’s first two goals, is another member of this team who has seen the full spectrum with this club.

“We’ve been through a lot. I’ve been here since the moments we’ve been at the very bottom,” the 24-year-old American striker told Apple TV’s MLS 360 in a postgame interview. “Last season, I saw the quality and depth that we had in our squad, and from that moment, I knew this team was special.

“The past two years, the experience of being able to play with these players around me, it’s really built a chemistry that you can’t get anywhere else. … It’s been incredible to be a part of this group and just grow with this group. We started from the bottom.”

FC Cincinnati return to heroes welcome

Fitting Drake reference aside from Vazquez, the decision to return to celebrate expedited a departure from Toronto’s BMO Field, but did not hamper the party. The wireless speaker Boupendza had carried in the locker room was commandeered by Acosta and taken on to the bus to continue the party before being loaded into the back of the plane where the captain’s favorite hits rang out of the back of the aircraft while a disco ball lit the the plane the whole flight home. 

A mob of FCC Supporters was waiting for The Orange and Blue at the airport. Players poured off the buses, ready to join the party of fans who chanted their names and songs. Hagglund, the Cincinnati native and only remaining player from the first MLS team in 2019, rushed the fans and leaped into their arms to embrace them. He was met with the chant, “He’s one of our own!” 

Each FCC player was sung for one by one, and eventually, the buses departed, and the crowd dispersed. It was nearly 3:30 a.m. when the final players, coaches and fans left the CVG parking lot that hosted the welcome party.

The celebration had died down, but what remained was true. 

FC Cincinnati are champions. A fact every player, coach, staff member and fan can remember. And nothing can, or will, change that.