Togetherness key as FC Cincinnati looks to work past rare losing streak amid frustrating performances


MONTRÉAL –  It was a cold and rainy night at Stade Saputo. Under the watchful eye of the Olympic Stadium tower and the blinding floodlights surrounding the open-air grounds CF Montréal calls home, it rained for 90 minutes of soccer and then some. It started before kickoff, and the steady flow of water from the sky didn't let up until well after the final whistle. 

FC Cincinnati head coach Pat Noonan described the evening as perfect weather for a game and gave no credence to the game being played under a constant barrage of rain as any sort of excuse or solace to the performance his club put on display. Saying "If you're a player, that's great conditions."

It did though seem at times perhaps that FCC and their opponents were playing the same game under very separate conditions. The Orange and Blue bogged and beaten by the waves of wetness, and The Blu-Blanc-Noir lit by the fire of their home opener after months away from the friendly confines of their home grounds and supporters. 

FC Cincinnati fell 2-1 to CF Montréal Saturday night in Quebec, losing a consecutive match for just the third time under Noonan and dropping to 3-2-3 with 12 points and finishing the night in fifth place in the eastern conference. 

The frigid temperatures combined with the precipitation left most in the stadium gathered together for warmth, donning signature Canadian toques and scarves. But you would never know it was cold from the cheers of supporters sections and the fire that fueled CF Montréal was instantly apparent.

Right when FCC captain Luciano Acosta kicked off the game, rolling the pass back to Pavel Bucha before he touched it back to Matt Miazga, the CFM forwards came flying forward to pressure FCC's ball carrier. The backline held up for a moment, but the pressure became too much shortly thereafter, and before the clock had reached double-digits, FC Cincinnati had surrendered their opening possession, and CF Montréal was on the hunt.

And it would stay that way for most of the first half. 

"It was their opener. I anticipated, and we talked through as a group, that it might look a little different just with them wanting to set the tone early on," Noonan said postgame. So there was certainly a struggle about playing through that pressure; it took way too long to get into a rhythm." 

CF Montréal looked like an entirely new and different team that they had through the opening six matches of the season for them. The club who ranked fourth in possession and last in progressive passes and carries threw everything they had at FC Cincinnati from the jump and played fearlessly to push the ball forward and keep the pressure on. There wasn't a moment's peace for anyone with a Canvas kit who had the ball at their feet.

The French-Canadian hosts forced FCC to make the right decisions quickly and to have composure on the ball when playing out of the back, and when The Orange and Blue slipped up – even for just a split second – there was a pressure as constant as the rain to be ready to pounce on it.

"The inability to find the right pass or, at times, be able to dribble out of pressure," Noonan said of what caused that pressure to be so effective. "You're not always going to have options, and I think just the composure, when we don't see the first option that maybe we anticipate being there, then it leads to too many turnovers. I think we can be a little bit more composed and more patient. But their pressure was certainly causing us problems.”

"Even in the moments where we broke the pressure, and we were able to get it up to our front three, just the way in which we lose the ball is not enabling us to get support positions to play in their half of the field, we're just constantly defending because of turnovers where we just don't have the back to goal play to break some of that pressure and open up the game. We're really struggling in that area."

The loss puts FC Cincinnati in unfamiliar territory and looking for answers. It's been since May 2022 since The Orange and Blue followed a loss with a loss. A series of losses that also happened to include a defeat at the hands of CF Montréal at Stade Saputo after a loss at TQL Stadium. An ironic and completely uncomfortable coincidence. However, it highlights just how rare of an occurrence this has been for FCC. Only three starters (Acosta, Ian Murphy and Obinna Nwobodo) remained from that 2022 loss to CFM, and two more current players on the matchday rosters (Yuya Kubo and Nick Hagglund) featured in both games. 

The solution was not immediately made clear in the wake of the defeat. Noonan did though focus specifically on turnovers, both in their volume and in how the group would allow them in unstructured moments, allowing their opponent to capitalize on what should be advantageous moments for FCC yet end up conceding. 

"It's disappointing because it's a fair result, credit to Montréal," Noonan said in his postgame statement. "There were some moments (from FCC) where there's still too much uncertainty about some of the responsibilities in how we wanted to go to the ball. 

"The second goal is a perfect example. We're trying to step up our pressure, they're down a man and for some reason, we're dropped off and they're able to play through a switch. You know, at that moment, I can't explain how that happens when you're with a man advantage and knowing we want to step up to the ball. (These are) things we’ll talk through and look through…I think it's hard to find a rhythm in the game because of the way we turn the ball over. Too many careless turnovers when we're trying to play through pressure." 

What is evident, though, is the locker room is united in how they intend to break out of this slump and return to the form they know they not only are capable of playing but have played at this season. 

"The most important thing is everyone has to stick together. We can't start pointing the finger at the guy next to you because as soon as that happens, think things can go south quickly," goalkeeper Alec Kann said postmatch, making his 2024 debut after a hand injury in 2023 left him unavailable for the start of the season. "It's not gonna get any that's a big challenge, but I know this group is up for it. We're tough. We've been through tough stretches before always had a way to get the job done and I think this will be no different."

"We just have to continue to work and continue to put our heads down and (winning) performances will come," Miles Robinson added. "The seasons so long and it's filled with ups and downs, it's just a matter of staying even keeled...and continue to grow and continue to learn from moments like this together." 

The challenge will continue though as FCC next will have to prepare themselves for a visit to an extremely talented Atlanta United FC side that in tandem with being extremely explosive on offense has been one of the best pressure building teams in MLS this season. 

The season is still extremely young. With much of the 2024 schedule still remaining on the calendar, development, patience and collective unity are top of mind for coaches and players alike. 

But concern is there, and it is being addressed. 

"Tough little stretch here for the group, just in terms of performance and confidence. Something we're going to have to work through, but another performance where we weren't great," Noonan said postgame. "It's correctable. I mean, I wouldn't say I'm overly concerned because of where we're at…but to say there's no concern would be false.” 

"It's trying to find our best group, with our 11. It's trying to find the relationships, it's trying to put guys into a position to succeed, that starts with me. That isn't happening consistently enough. It's stuff that isn't just on the players where I'm trying to find solutions. We as a staff are and I know the players are. We haven't seen a stretch like this in a while, and that's why it's going to be dissected a little bit more. So it's part of it; we're going to struggle; teams go through these phases. I'm interested to see how we battle through it.”

"But we know we're far off from where we want to be."