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FC Cincinnati Earn a Challenging Road Win and Snap Losing Skid by Prioritizing Performance and Playing with Joy

April 21, 2024 - Major League Soccer (MLS)
FC Cincinnati News Release

FC Cincinnati has set a high standard over the last three seasons, and that expectation has fueled the club's success in such a short period of time. To win trophies and see season-long success, you must be emotionally committed to not accepting less than your best over a very long season.

The other edge of that blade, though, is when you stumble, or rather, fail to live up to your own expectations... that can hit you more dramatically than it should when judged in a vacuum.

FC Cincinnati entered match day nine, an away match with a dangerous and deservingly well-regarded Atlanta United FC side, on a two-game losing streak. While for many successful teams, a two-game losing streak may not be the end of the world, for this team, who had not lost consecutive games in nearly 24 months, it cast a long shadow over every part of the team.

Matt Miazga, for example, a summer transfer window addition from Premier League side Chelsea FC in 2022, who won MLS Defender of the Year in 2023, had never lost back-to-back games with FC Cincinnati before the last fortnight of play.

But what struck The Orange and Blue hardest wasn't the results, though those certainly didn't help the situation; it was the results in tandem with the performances. FCC hadn't played like themselves, and to get back into the win column - which they did in dramatic and empathic fashion Saturday night at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in downtown Atlanta, Georgia - they first and foremost needed to get back to being themselves.

"We had the outcome or the potential outcome in the back of our head and we wanted to win. But it wasn't really about that right now. It was about getting back to being ourselves," Miazga said from the FC Cincinnati locker room after securing the 2-1 victory with a clearance in the final moments to avert danger. "Relentless, pressing, hard to beat, everyone covering for each other, everyone putting in 100%. Every action, every tackle we are alert, focused and winning our duels and I think you can see how we started. We said if we start strong and fast and be ourselves, the result will take care of itself."

The result ultimately showed resilience and determination by all involved, but the pathway wasn't clear until late into the game.

FC Cincinnati knew they needed to come out and put their best foot forward. They started the match by dominating the pace of play, pushing forward, and finding each other for dangerous opportunities to go to goal. When Atlanta recovered and made an attempt of their own, the defense quickly swallowed up the attack and pushed play back toward Atlanta's goal.

For all intents and purposes, it was a return to form for FC Cincinnati. The performance matched the expectations. All that was left was securing a result.

So when Argentine World Cup Champion and Atlanta United FC superstar Theigo Almada uncorked what Pat Noonan described as an "incredible" shot that curled past Alec Kann for the game's first goal, the result was now in question.

The strong performance to this point, the performance FC Cincinnati looked to rebound with after being extremely disappointed with their performance a week ago in Montréal, was now no longer "taking care of itself."

"That could have broken us," Miazga said, "I think that just shows the character we have. It's not easy to be in a situation where we're down and at the back of the mind, you're like, 'damn, is this gonna be our third loss in a row? This can't happen.' So we just continued to believe."

But instead, minutes later, FC Cincinnati broke out on the counter from an Atlanta corner kick and Luciano Acosta feathered a through ball to Luca Orellano, who ran nearly the entire distance of the field in a dead sprint, got the final touch and put it on home equalizing the game at one goal apiece.


Two minutes after that, Miles Robinson fed a pass to DeAndre Yedlin, who put as perfect a crossing pass as possible over the head of Brooks Lennon and onto the foot of Acosta, who wrangled the service and tapped in what would wind up being the game-winning goal past a frozen Brad Guzan standing in net for Atlanta.

After earning the equalizer a week ago, FCC conceded a go-ahead goal to CF Montréal on a breakout sequence that frustrated all involved. This time, they made sure to keep the pressure on so as to not only equalize but also take the lead despite the unfriendly atmosphere and conditions.


"You know, we spoke before the game, (and I said) try to find some joy in playing the game," Noonan said of his message to the team. "I know the results haven't been there. I know, maybe our performances haven't been great. But you can still find joy in playing the game and playing alongside your teammates in ways where when you have moments of struggle and you have these ups and downs, think about how fortunate you are to be in this position of doing what you're doing."

Finding joy in their game clearly helped loosen the offensive capabilities and creative flow that may have been bogged down by the pressure of their own expectations and anxieties. In the past few weeks, Noonan had highlighted that he felt the team was playing too tight and trying to be too fine, especially in the attacking third of play.

From the opening whistle, FCC looked freer and more connected in the midfield than they had in weeks. The Orange and Blue nearly tripled their expected goals (xG) from the week before, tripled the xG from their match before that, and clear and away set the season high water mark for that stat by registering 2.5 xG. The 18 shots FCC tallied also represents the season high away well. However, with only four making it on target, that is the fewest on-target shots this season.

Improvement, yes. Definitively and imperially so. Both the analytics and the visible evidence clearly show that FCC looked like a much better team than it had been over the last two weeks. But it's far from perfect. There will always be things to work on.

But those imperfections can be put aside for this night to celebrate the result.

"It was good to see (the guys) enjoy a win against a good team in a tough atmosphere after a couple of poor performances and results," Noonan said in summary. "So credit to these guys for really grinding in a lot of ways to pull out a victory... they get to enjoy a win tonight. (I) thought there were a lot of good things that contributed to the win. But certainly, it wasn't easy.

"I think just a lot of guys stepped up their performances. You know, we talked in (the locker room) and asked how many guys had a good game? How many guys had a bad game? And we have a lot more guys that performed tonight in a positive way. I don't think we could have said that in the last two games the same way."

The seeds for the pregame messaging of 'find joy in the game,' were laid well in advance of the final chat before kickoff. Noonan highlighted the importance of communicating with players in the lead-up to the match as being more key than any Xs and Os for the game. He talked about checking in with players to help find where they're at mentally and then addressing the club's needs from that perspective. So when training called for a bit of joy, he opened a session with a game of handball that encouraged his players to have fun.

The message resonated clearly. Postgame, Miazga highlighted the trust he felt between teammates in the dying moments of the match when fatigue was setting in, and Atlanta was pressing for their equalizer. This trust was fostered by the work done away from the pitch, knowing that everyone wanted to do their part to win.

"I looked at everybody and I'm like, 'Alright, I see in his face, I see in his face. We want it,'" Miazga said. "You could feel it. I could look into each of their eyes, and I knew they wanted it... we've suffered a bit, but we stick together."

"We all kind of realized we are a top team. With big personalities, big characters, and it's time to show up in big moments and I think today was a big moment."

Milestone Moments

The win over Atlanta stopped the losing skid and provided a handful of moments for the record books.

With the goal in the 64-minute, Acosta tallied his 43rd career goal for FC Cincinnati across all competitions, equaling Brandon Vazquez for the most in club history. Acosta's 37 MLS goals are already a record. Still, with his third goal of the season in league play and a goal in the Concacaf Champions Cup, "Lucho" is just one more finish away from being the definitive all-time leading scorer. With the assist tonight as well, Acosta tallied his 49 assists for FCC, twice the next-highest passer.

With the assists on Acosta's goal, Robinson earned his first assist with FC Cincinnati, and Yedlin earned his second, making the newcomer tied for 17th in club history in assists.

Orellano also earned his first goal with FC Cincinnati, becoming the sixth player to earn his first goal with the club this season. This is the most since 2022 when only four newcomers scored. Last season, seven members of FCC tallied their first goal for the club.

Alvas Powell, who came on in the 89 minute as a sub, also made his 200th career MLS appearance and his 70th with FC Cincinnati. He joins an exclusive club at FC Cincinnati, joining only Acosta (227) and Nick Hagglund (207) as the only active players at the club to hit double-century appearances.

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