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Luca Orellano Leads a Never Say Die Attitude from FC Cincinnati as They Hit Historic Milestone and Win in a New Way

May 26, 2024 - Major League Soccer (MLS)
FC Cincinnati News Release

TORONTO - Only four clubs have won seven games in a row since 2000. FC Cincinnati, needing every ounce of energy from every player on the roster, became that fourth team, coming back from a losing position or dropping points four times on Saturday night at BMO Field to defeat Toronto FC 4-3.

Everyone played a role. Sergio Santos and Yamil Asad (both substitutes) combined for the game-winning goal in the 90+3 minute. DeAndre Yedlin came on for Bret Halsey, both of whom were strong in defensive and offensive assignments. With three strikers out injured, the teenage duo of Kevin Kelsy and Gerardo 'Dado' Valenzuela made significant impacts as Kelsy scored, and a drawn foul from Valenzuela opened the space for FCC to score its first goal.

And, of course, there was Luciano Acosta, who had two assists in a night that felt like the spotlight shifted briefly off of him and onto his Argentine compatriot. (Which speaks to just how great Acosta has been in that a two-assist night is considered 'uneventful').

It was Luca Orellano, though, who stole the show in Toronto. Three times, Orellano didn't give up on a play that ultimately earned FCC a goal. When watching back at each highlight, one would understand how someone might stop playing or give up based on how the play was going, but that extra effort proved to make all the difference.

The first time came when Orellano picked up a loose pass that was played as advantage after Valenzuela was fouled at the top of the box. You'd hardly blame Orellano for halting play to take advantage of the dangerous free-kick opportunity, but instead, he finishes the play out and scores the goal.

The second time, the Argentine wingback turned on the jets to race past TFC's young attacker Tyrese Spicer (the first overall pick in the 2024 MLS SuperDraft, for context) after the Torontonian too casually chased back to try and collect a heavy touch. Orellano could have pulled up when it looked like the race for the ball was going to be close, but he pushed forward, won the ball, and put a shot on target that Kelsy was there to clean up the finish after an initial save.

The third, much like the first, sees Orellano play through a given advantage to score his second goal of the night. In this case, Sergio Santos had already been awarded a penalty kick based on the referee's signals, and maybe the stats might suggest that the PK is more of a sure thing than the attempt Orellano took. But we will never know that answer, as Orellano slotted in the finish that pinged off the inner post and rolled in.

He was the avatar of FC Cincinnati's performance. They could have held up. A point on the road from a draw against a much-improved, clearly talented Toronto FC team wouldn't have been the worst thing in the world. But The Orange and Blue wouldn't settle, like Orellano, they pushed and pushed and pushed and ultimately, thanks to Luciano Acosta, Yamil Asad and Sergio Santos, they got the last goal of the match and earned the win. Even with Toronto FC fighting back, FCC never lost faith and never stopped fighting.

"We knew coming in here tonight that it was going to be hard," Orellano said postgame. "We already knew it was going to be tough... So we just had to pick up our heads and continue to fight. It was a crazy game, and our opponent was strong, but we're just happy to come away with a win."

"He was certainly, probably, the most impactful player on the field in terms of our chance creation and our goals," FC Cincinnati Head Coach Pat Noonan said in praise of Orellano postgame. "Luca's comfort level working on that side and then being able to either dribble inside or combine and run off the ball. I thought, you know...I thought he did a really good job of that. He combines with Lucho [Acosta] on that play with a good combination and the way he takes the goals and you know, I've got to look back at it but I don't think the second one was an easy finish from my angle."

It was the first time this season that, in a significant way, Luciano Acosta was not the primary creator of goal-scoring opportunities and finishes, an important sign for FCC as they continue to try and solve some of their offensive woes. FCC had been able to generate offense in multiples this year but always needed the 2023 MLS MVP to work some magic to make that so. This time, though, the win came in a new way, and while Noonan said from the press conference desk that the performance wasn't ideal, proving that the team can find success in an assortment of situations is an important takeaway as to the potential of this group.

"It's hard to win in this league and it's hard to win consecutively like we've done," Noonan said, highlighting the seven-game win streak the club is currently on, which stands as a tie for the second-longest in modern MLS history. "I think what (we're) able to do is adapt in games and win in different ways."

"When we need to have the quality with the ball and score goals like tonight, we were able to do that. When our set piece defending was poor, and we were conceding goals, we've won where we needed to outscore a team. We've seen the one goal wins, (and) finally able to win a game by two goals last week (against St. Louis). So we can win in different ways, which is important."

As Noonan mentioned, FC Cincinnati's scoring bailed out the defensive side of the ball, which was the exact opposite of how most matches have been for The Orange and Blue this season. The defense has allowed the stagnant offense to work itself out while conceding a league-low 11 goals entering Saturday night. The three goals conceded in this match (bringing that total to 14, third-fewest in MLS after the matchday behind Columbus and Charlotte) represented 21 percent of all goals scored against FCC this season and was nearly 30 percent of how many they conceded before the match.

Granted. The three goals conceded were not exactly symptomatic of a shambolic performance. The first TFC goal came from a corner kick where 19-year-old forward Dado Valenzuela was beaten to a header by Honduran international Dieby Flores. This concession, Noonan said, would ultimately be a helpful learning experience for his young player rather than one that the Head Coach lamented over or lambasted in any way.

The second came from an unfortunate bit of luck. Lorenzo Insigne got behind the defensive line and simply wrapped a shot into the traffic in front of the net. Unfortunately, it hit Ian Murphy, who was helpless to avoid the cross as the ball bounced in off of him.

The third was from a penalty kick conceded by a Miles Robinson foul. It was an unfortunate mistake, but not one that the player voted best 1-on-1 defender in the league last season regularly makes.

It was a strange night in that sense. The defense needed some help, and the offense was there to help. So now, heading into FCC's next match, a quick midweek turnaround with Nashville SC at TQL Stadium, it will be the defense that gets some extra attention as the club looks to improve.

"We'll take it, learn from it and try to improve some things, certainly on the defensive side of the ball," Noonan said of the night's result in his opening statement. "It's tough to win on the road. And I think the Toronto group is playing with some confidence and some momentum and it was good energy in the building tonight. So, it made for an entertaining game.

"What I think you take away and say is getting those little things right maybe doesn't allow the game to look as crazy as it does. But you know, again, the guys went and won a game on the road against a strong team, so I'm pleased about that."

The resounding sentiment postgame was that while it may not have been pretty, it was three points. And three points are always three points, especially when playing on the road. Noonan called it a wild one, Orellano called it crazy, and Toronto FC Head Coach John Herdman called it "a hell of a game." The fans got their money's worth - another Noonan quote on the night - but FCC won't take solace in just a win.

They never do.

They'll regroup on Sunday, train on Monday and Tuesday, and look to win again on Wednesday. If they had two more days, they'd use them. But they don't, so they can't. But that self-reflection is, in a larger sense, how FC Cincinnati won on Saturday night, and that's how they won seven in a row.

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