Given how this season’s gone, when Joseph-Claude Gyau and Roland Lamah were both red carded three minutes apart before halftime, it seemed certain FC Cincinnati would be in for another match played in difficult circumstances that’d finish with a lopsided score line.
After all, the nine-man FCC had to play the last 50 minutes outnumbered against a team needing a win to secure home-field advantage in the postseason.
But that’s not what happened.
Instead, in one of Cincinnati’s most admirable and courageous performances of 2019, they finished the inaugural MLS season with a 0-0 draw against D.C. United at Audi Field.
Here are the takeaways from Decision Day presented by AT&T:
“The boys are heroes today.”
Those were the first words from Head Coach Ron Jans following Sunday afternoon’s clean sheet.
“I think they played great with a lot of heart,” Jans said. “The longer they lasted, we got more excited. Great work.”
FCC started the game in all-out defense, but that started to change deeper into the first half.
But when Gyau was red carded for a serious foul in the 41st minute, and Lamah was also sent off in the 44th for violent conduct after a VAR review, it became clear the match was less about Cincinnati earning three points and more about simply surviving.
Outnumbered and playing against a team desperate to score, Cincinnati played resiliently in a season finale that can only be seen as a positive.
“The second half was disruptive, it was a monster, but we loved it,” Jans said of playing 9 vs. 11. “They did everything to get a result out of here, so I think today we are heroes - not because of the beautiful football, but because we showed some passion and teamwork and team spirit. I think we can be proud of that.”
FCC finished the last month of the season strong
Following the dismal 5-1 home loss to Toronto FC on Sept. 7 at Nippert Stadium, the club gathered together to map out how they wanted their season to finish. The goal was to show improvement.
The Orange and Blue showed that and more.
In the final five games of the year, they earned points in four out of five games. The lone loss came against the reigning MLS Cup champions, and Josef Martínez, the reigning league MVP, said after the game that if FCC continued playing that way, they’d be a playoff contender.
In the final five games, they earned three clean sheets. Before that Toronto loss, Cincinnati only had two clean sheets all year, and both were in March.
“Those are things we have to look forward to and to try and build off us, even with this postseason training in a week,” left back Greg Garza said. “Just to go ahead and try and keep building that new philosophy and look forward to whatever’s to come.”
With the 0-0 draw, FCC end 2019 with 24 points
The scoreless match ended Cincinnati’s inaugural MLS season and brought the end of a campaign that started back in early March - and preseason training even earlier, In January.
During that span, the Orange and Blue had three head coaches, and allowed more goals than any club in MLS history (75). They only scored 31 goals.
But most of those outlier numbers focus on what happened before the Sept. 7 loss to Toronto, when the club’s playing style and mentality changed. The change brought points and success.
That the difficult season ended positively should only be seen as a success and something to build from entering the offseason.
What comes next
With the season complete, some players have played their final matches with FC Cincinnati. In the remaining days and weeks, the future of FCC will be revealed when the club announces which players will be part of its future.
In addition, there will be postseason training sessions for that group of players to grow comfortable together. In many ways, the end of 2019 is foreshadowing the beginning of FCC’s 2020.
The club won’t play a competitive match again until late February or early March 2020.