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With Focus Now Singularly Placed on MLS Competition, FC Cincinnati Look to Improve on Weak Spots in Training

March 20, 2024 - Major League Soccer (MLS)
FC Cincinnati News Release

FC Cincinnati is out of the Concacaf Champions Cup. A blessing and a curse.

On the one hand, Pat Noonan and his squad set the goal of winning every trophy available to them at the start of the year, and the Champions Cup is no exception. There is disappointment in being eliminated, while, in reality, pride in the performance despite elimination.

On the other hand, FC Cincinnati are now free and focused on prioritizing every MLS matchup without considering alternative competitions-a luxury that The Orange and Blue didn't have in 2023 when they still won a Supporters' Shield.

With FCC unable to enter the U.S. Open Cup in 2024 and Leagues Cup coming with a full break in the MLS schedule, FCC have no other matches interfering with the regular season. Once Leagues Cup comes, they can focus on that exclusively for the month duration it's played over, but it won't require a sacrifice of rotation or selection of priorities in the same way the Champions Cup or the Open Cup have in the past.

So now, the attention turns to the next 21 regular-season games before Leagues Cup kicks off for The Orange and Blue on August 1.

FCC have fared well early in the season, collecting eight of a possible 12 points through four matches. While the two wins have not come at home, FCC has essentially kept the pace of the "win at home, draw on the road" motto that has become a guideline for success across MLS. But the quality of such home performances has left players, coaches and fans frustrated.

With two home nil-nil draws to open the season, a third scoreless game in the Champions Cup at home, and just four league goals scored, it has not been the offensive start anyone has hoped for, especially after such a hot preseason that delivered 12 goals in four matches. Preseason is preseason, so the stock is hard to take seriously. Still, it's certainly been a slow scoring start to the season.

Fortunately, this stretch of games has given the coaching staff an opportunity to identify issues, key players, best XIs, and combinations that either don't work and aren't worthy of further consideration or do work and should be implemented more.

"It's given us a lot of answers of what we think might be our strongest group and how some of the new faces look in different positions or within our group," Noonan said of the opening month. "In-game is the best way to analyze those things. So the early schedule congestion has given us a lot of answers about our group where I think now when we have a little bit more time to focus on some things in training, we have a better idea of what to work on and how to approach it."

FCC enter the fifth matchweek of the season with the 10th fewest goals scored in the league, but also tied for first in fewest conceded. However, another perspective on the offense is that FCC are 13th in MLS in expected goals (5.77) with a game in hand over leaders Inter Miami CF and tied for third in on-target scoring attempts (23) with Columbus Crew.

Generating chances has not been a point of concern, clearly. Luciano Acosta leads MLS with 18 key passes (also identified as 'total attack assists,' meaning a pass that leads to any attempt on the net). Seven FCC players have multiple shots on target, ranking among the top in MLS.

With so many games to consider and opponents to scout and prepare for with recovery and regen sapping away time from the training grounds already, FCC have hardly had time to work on themselves since breaking from preseason training camp. Now, with the calendar freed up, Noonan believes that the finishing touch - or rather the lack thereof - can be addressed and corrected.

"I think our final third play. You don't want it to be an excuse (but) you don't get a ton of time to work on some of the final actions because sometimes what we do is with an intensity that you can't replicate when guys are tired and in recovery mode," Noonan said of what he hopes to work on after a month of evaluation. "So I think we can get better in front of goal with not just the final action, but what leads up to it, how we move with the ball, with space, how we run off the ball, how we get in behind, how we move together as a group.

"There were a lot of things I think we can improve with the ball, because defensively I thought for a lot of this stretch, we defended pretty well. When we're not giving the ball away carelessly, I think the ability for guys to be clear with what their roles are and how we need to defend has been pretty good. So I think a majority of what I take away is some of the stuff with the ball that we can improve to be better on both sides."

When considering this perspective, that the team has been unable to work on its greatest issue for over a month, FCC are truly now just getting started.

As the schedule currently bears out the next few matches, FCC have different challenges, but now full weeks to prepare, make adjustments and work on themselves. New York City FC present a physical challenge, entering the upcoming weekend fixture as the team with the fourth most fouls in MLS. Charlotte FC have a new coach, new roster and new defensive swagger, as they've only conceded four times in four games thus far. The New York Red Bulls present their usual challenges in the tactics and style they have become known for ... in addition to their premier DP signing of Emil Forsberg, adding a degree of talent this season they did not have in 2023.

But now, FCC are no longer treading water, they can look forward. And given the position The Orange and Blue have put themselves in thanks to the hard work from the first month, the sky's the limit.

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