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Oppo Research: 5 Things about FC Cincinnati

Laurel Pfahler of Queen City Press tells us why she thinks a depleted Cincy squad will manage to draw New York City.

Luciano Acosta's ankle injury could be an X-factor in Saturday's game | Courtesy of

In this edition of Oppo Research, Hudson River Blue spoke with Laurel Pfahler of Queen City Press to learn more about FC Cincinnati, New York City FC's road opponent on Saturday. Here is your NYCFC vs FC Cincinnati preview.

1. Competing for MLS Cup once again

Hudson River Blue: FC Cincinnati won the Supporters Shield last season but lost to Columbus in the conference finals. With some new additions and many players returning, what are the team’s goals and expectations this season?

Laurel Pfahler: The expectation is to be competing for more titles. After losing in the semifinals of two Cup competitions last year (U.S. Open Cup against Inter Miami and the conference final/MLS Cup semifinals against Columbus – both games they had leads), many players have said they have “unfinished business,” and so, winning a Cup of some kind is definitely a goal. Obviously, the team exited CONCACAF Champions Cup already so MLS Cup is the top tournament left on the table for 2024.

FCC coach Pat Noonan said at the beginning of the season he wants to put the team in a position to compete for the Cup again, but he doesn’t plan to approach league play any differently to be more successful in the playoffs. He felt like FCC still did good things in the playoffs and the loss against Columbus wasn’t a result of putting too much focus on the Supporters Shield and being worn down. I think that game just exposed some areas where the roster needed to be deeper.

2. New signings still gelling

HRB: Cincinnati lost Brandon Vazquez but brought in key additions such as Corey Baird and Miles Robinson. How has the team looked without Vazquez and how have the new signings started the season?

LP: FC Cincinnati’s offense looks like it is still missing an important piece. Corey Baird, I think, is a solid addition, but outside of his breakout eight-goal season last year with Houston, he hasn’t established himself as a consistent finisher, and that’s what this team needs right now. Aaron Boupendza is capable of scoring a lot of goals, Luciano Acosta has shown he is as well, but the offense as a whole just doesn’t seem to be clicking with that final pass. I guess it’s encouraging they’ve had a lot of shots and chances created, so perhaps it’s just a matter of time before the goals start pumping in. For now, it looks like a team adjusting to five new starters.

Almost all of the signings this offseason brought more attack-oriented players to the lineup, aside from center backs Miles Robinson and Kipp Keller. Those two individuals have been solid, and I would say Keller has proven, for the most part, to be a pleasant surprise as a depth piece after struggling with Austin FC last year. Robinson is away with the US men's national team for Nations League semifinals, but has been a rock on the back line.

Pavel Bucha is an upgrade offensively to his predecessor Junior Moreno, but he is not as strong defensively so that’s something he’s working to improve. He seems to still be adjusting but shows moments of promise for sure. Luca Orellano, who replaced Alvaro Barreal at left wingback, is a newly converted winger so he’s also going through quite the adjustment, settling into a new culture, club, and position. He played as an inverted right winger with Velez and more recently Vasco da Gama. DeAndre Yedlin should end up being an upgrade at right wingback in terms of availability, and providing what the staff wants going forward in the attack and being a capable defender. Santiago Arias, who was outstanding when healthy but had injury concerns, left this offseason after his option was declined.

And then, going back to Baird, I think he’s just being asked to do some different things right now. He’s a great facilitator in an attack, but ultimately, the club still wants another striker and his role likely will be changing at some point this season. He was supposed to be a Dom Badji replacement, someone who can start games and fill a void when needed.

3. Midweek games take a toll

HRB: Cincinnati have had a strong start to the season, but goalless draws at home against Toronto FC and DC United are definitely points dropped, especially in a crucial Supporters Shield race once again. How have you assessed the team’s start to the season?

LP: I think some of the struggles early on have to do with FC Cincinnati putting the emphasis on the Champions Cup. FCC played eight games in 19 days. The MLS opener against Toronto featured six new starters on the field together (Matt Miazga was suspended so Kipp Keller got the start), and the team was coming off a quick turnaround from playing Cavalier FC in Jamaica. There were a lot of chances in that game but obviously, the finishing was not there. Against DC United, the Orange and Blue played with a rotated lineup. Sergio Santos started in place of Aaron Boupendza, and Santos has just struggled early this season. Last year, he had four goals in nine games to start the season and then injuries took a toll. He seems to be having trouble getting back on track.

Now that there is a break from midweek games, I would expect the team should start settling into a better rhythm. Defensively, FCC has been solid and hard to break down in the box. Getting a win at New England on Sunday was huge, especially coming off a really tough trip to Monterrey, Mexico, and straight to Foxborough but with some travel delays. Pat Noonan rotated that lineup and brought Luciano Acosta on to start the second half and change the game, and the Orange and Blue walked away with a 2-1 win. I think that’s a positive sign and a good result to build off this weekend.

4. The X-Factor: Cincinnati's defense and injuries

HRB: What’s the X-factor that could decide this game?

LP: NYCFC could benefit from a somewhat depleted FCC defense. Not only is Robinson unavailable, it’s possible defensive midfielder Obinna Nwobodo could still be out due to a leg contusion he suffered against DC. It’s still early in the week as I write this, but it didn’t seem like he had made much progress from the reports coming out of training Tuesday.

Acosta also has been dealing with an ankle injury and the broadcasters from Sunday’s game were surprised he had 45 minutes in him. So, the X-factor could just be whether NYCFC can take advantage of some key players missing or not fully 100 percent and whether FCC can overcome deficiencies. I still think the left side of FCC’s lineup has some weaknesses defensively, so that’s an area that can be exploited, especially if Nwobodo isn’t there to help, as he tends to cover a lot of ground.

Luciano Acosta's solo goal CF Monterrey in the CONCACAF Champions Cup

5. Predicted Starting XI

HRB: Prediction time: Starting XI? Final score?

LP: NYCFC perhaps turned a corner last weekend with the result against Toronto, but while I think this won’t be FC Cincinnati’s strongest lineup, the Orange and Blue don’t lose often at home. I’m predicting they manage a 1-1 draw.