By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (Mar 16, 2022) US Soccer Players – It seems strange to say after just three weeks of the new season, but FC Cincinnati’s first win of 2022 was a long time coming. That’s how it feels when you haven’t won a game in 180 days.
FC Cincinnati’s 2-1 win over Orlando City in Florida on Saturday ended a losing streak the likes of which MLS had never seen. In the process, it lifted a cloud that had loomed over the club since September of last year. That 14-game losing streak followed the team from one regime to a new one. The win means hope that the skies are finally clearing.
Brandon Vazquez scored both goals for Cincinnati and offseason signing Alec Kann preserved the lead with top-class saves. Cincinnati’s veterans played significant roles in the win. It wasn’t a comprehensive performance that will convince anyone that Cincinnati is a playoff contender in 2022, but it didn’t have to be one to represent progress.
Picking up those three points was important for the new leadership at FC Cincinnati. General manager Chris Albright will need multiple transfer windows to remake the squad into a contender. Right now, every round of games that ends with FC Cincinnati not on the bottom of the standings will help build confidence.
That’s even more true for head coach Pat Noonan, Albright’s choice to lead FCC on the field. Noonan arrived in Cincinnati with a stellar reputation and the makings of an excellent head coach. Like any first-time head coach, he needs to validate those perceptions.
“I think it’s important for this group to win early,” Noonan said after the match in Orlando. “It wasn’t so much myself. It’s nice to get that out of the way, of course, but it was important for our group to understand what it feels like, winning and winning on the road and winning against a good team. It’s a better feeling than the last two weeks, that’s for sure.”
Noonan, like all coaches, will analyze every aspect of the game in Orlando in a bid to determine how Cincinnati can get better. He shouldn’t be too concerned about how his team managed to pull off a road victory in a league where any point away from home is a bonus.
The win immediately releases some of the pressure on the new field boss. Pressure applied by Cincinnati fans desperate for any success who are closely watching Noonan judging if he’s the right man to turn around a perennial loser, and pressure Noonan applied to himself.
Cincinnati’s problem isn’t a lack of spending. The club’s ownership has committed resources to turn the club into a winner. Only FCC breaks up Atlanta’s domination of the list of the most expensive incoming transfers in MLS history, thanks to the reported $13 million Cincinnati spent to acquire Brenner in 2021. FCC hasn’t been shy in the marketplace.
Brenner wasn’t in the squad in Orlando, picking up an injury late in the week. Instead, it was Vazquez and MLS veteran Dominque Badji leading the attack. That pair combined on the second Cincinnati goal.
What that showed was that other players may be in the position to step up in Cincinnati. In a league where depth and optins are always at issue, Cincinnati may have some.
MLS is a strange beast. Spending the most money doesn’t guarantee success. Signing the most famous names doesn’t ensure…anything.
Putting together a good season can sometimes come down to a healthy dose of luck combined with smart recruiting of players who won’t lose their heads during difficult stretches of the season. It can happen thanks to unheralded players coming into their own when given the trust of a coach who has the freedom to play them.
A handful of upgrades at a handful of positions can mean the difference between last place and a season that keeps the playoffs in sight for most of the campaign. “Upgrades” can mean new signings, like Alec Kann in goal, as well as the improvement of players already in the squad. Vazquez is just 23 and is coming off his first season as an MLS starter. He’s almost certain to be better for the experience. It can mean veterans, like fullback Ray Gaddis, who Albright and Noonan coaxed out of retirement to be part of their project.
Few saw Colorado’s 2021 1st-place finish in the Western Conference coming. The club lacked a single big-name star, but head coach Robin Fraser’s squad clearly understood how to work as a unit. Fraser made sure that a shared sense of responsibility kept the group on an even keel.
Cincinnati won’t be the 2022 version of the Rapids. There’s too much structural work to do for Noonan to pull off that sort of miracle. Instead, in his first year on the job, he has management’s backing in an organization that already knows not to expect a quick turnaround. What he’s doing right now is making FC Cincinnati a competent Major League Soccer team.
There’s a lot of room between the Wooden Spoon for last place and an MLS Cup title. Beating Orlando despite being out-possessed, out-shot, and generally outplayed is exactly the kind of thing that clubs good enough to avoid finishing last sometimes do. Saturday’s win is progress. With a bit of pride and the confidence that comes from a little winning, FCC might surprise us all.
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- MLS, American goalkeepers, and the transfer market
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- Jesse Marsch at Leeds United is another opportunity
Photo by Nashville SC