With plenty to play for still on the line, FC Cincinnati reset for return to MLS play 

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The defeat to Inter Miami CF in a penalty kick shootout Wednesday left a mark on the club that was hard to shake. The aftermath of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup semifinals was filled with disappointment and frustration that carried over into the next morning at training. 

It was palpable enough that head coach Pat Noonan noticed the low spirits and knew he needed to refocus the group on the battles ahead to help them breakout of the funk.

“You could tell the group was down and rightly so,” Noonan said. “We let an opportunity slip away. So the conversation was about the fact that despite being eliminated … we still have a little less than a third of the season to play, and in meaningful games. So we need to put that competition in the past.”

FC Cincinnati still sit atop the Supporters’ Shield table with a seven-point lead, and own a eight-point lead in the Eastern Conference with 10 matches remaining in the regular season. Trophies are still on the line and every game matters.

“It's a quick turnaround, and I thought the response was very good,” Noonan added. 

Full team training resumed Friday morning at Mercy Health Training Center, but given all the factors involved, it was a lower intensity practice than usual for a day before a matchday. With temperatures in the mid-90s and the humidity reaching over 60 percent, consideration for players' health and energy was top of mind as The Orange and Blue recover from playing extra time Wednesday and the heat that factored into that match.

“That game took its toll,” Noonan said. “A lot of the last 24 hours, even up until the start of training, was just having conversations with guys to see how they came out of it to make sure that we're putting in a strong and fresh squad on the field. I think some guys have recovered better than expected.

“We were very light on the field today. A lot of it was more of a walkthrough than what we typically do just to save the legs and shorten the durations just because of the temperature. So I think by Saturday evening, they'll be in a good place, but certainly there was fatigue over the last 24 to 36 hours.” 

Given the fatigue placed on some who played as many as 120 minutes Wednesday, in addition to yellow card suspension and previous injuries, Noonan noted there may be personnel changes to allow for continued recovery as the staff looks to manage not only the game Saturday, but the stretch run of the regular season. 

In the midst of managing the body in preparation for Saturday’s fixture, managing the mind has not been a problem. The combination of hunger and solace that came from Wednesday’s result is both motivating and reassuring. 

“I think the players recognize they performed well and we lost out on a result because of two moments,” Noonan said Friday. “We have to be able to look past that and say, what did we do well, and what didn’t we do well, and I thought there were a lot of good things in the game.” 

What to expect from NYCFC 

The tight time between games has not stopped the FC Cincinnati coaching staff from getting enough preparation heading into the third meeting between New York City FC and FCC this season. Immediately following the Inter Miami CF match, their attention shifted to hosting NYCFC in league play.“Right when the game is done you have to be thinking, despite the disappointment, of your next opponent,” Noonan said. “Looking at new additions to their team, what their shape has looked like in our previous games, but also some of their more recent matchups, we tried to get as much information as possible over the last two days to prepare our guys.” 

It is the 13th time in club history The Orange and Blue have seen an opponent three times in a calendar year, and it could be the first time FCC have defeated a team in all three meetings. FC Cincinnati beat NYCFC the first time this season 1-0 in the round of 32 at the Lamar U.S. Open Cup on May 10, three weeks later The Orange and Blue again beat The Pigeons 3-1 at Yankee Stadium.

“They’re a motivated team,” Noonan said of FCC’s opponent Saturday. “Maybe the results haven't been there. If you just looked at the Minnesota game, I think that kind of sums up this stretch for them.”

The Pigeons fell to Minnesota United FC 2-0 Sunday on an evening where they controlled most of the match. 

“I think they're a very good team and just haven't been able to finish plays off and finish teams off,” Noonan added. “They played a really good game, and I think that's been the case for a lot of their results. They are a very, very dangerous opponent.” 

With 10 matches to go and half of them coming at home, taking care of business at TQL Stadium is vital for The Orange and Blue. In league play this season, FCC have earned 34 of 36 possible points at home (11-0-1). But it has been awhile since a league match has been hosted at TQL Stadium, with Saturday marking 42 days between MLS fixtures at home.