By Mike Rice.
Three straight years with Major League Soccer’s wooden spoon is hard to take, and FC Cincinnati have provided their loyal home support with little to cheer about.
Since their expansion year in 2019, Cincinnati have registered the fewest points in MLS in each of their three seasons. A frequent turnover of coaches and players has not helped.
This season sees the turn of head coach Pat Noonan to try and get the Ohio side off the foot of the table. Some poor recruitment from other teams and their general chaos may help in this matter — eyes go in the direction of Inter Miami, San Jose Earthquakes and Charlotte FC.
But despite other teams worsening, or being an expansion side in the case of Charlotte, there are also reasons to be positive for Cincinnati themselves this year.
They may still be a way off being a playoff side but the first goal they need to achieve is to not take home another wooden spoon.
Noonan has brought in his players and made some interesting changes to the starting 11.
Despite their opening day calamities — a 5-0 defeat to Austin FC — they have gradually improved over the next games. They registered their first win under Noonan’s management against Orlando City FC, 2-1, after losing 1-0 to DC United.
Today they dispatched one of those aforementioned struggling teams, Inter Miami, with a 3-1 home win.
The connection that just keeps on giving. @MatarritaRonald bends it in like Beckham, and @Brvndonv dunks it home 🔥#CINvMIA | #AllForCincy pic.twitter.com/BYvh0eiZXc
— FC Cincinnati (@fccincinnati) March 19, 2022
So, what has changed? Notably, Noonan has looked at the front line and dropped record signing Brenner.
The young Brazilian is a natural finisher, and his talents were being monitored by clubs around the world before his move to MLS.
Last season Brenner managed 11 goals and three assists in his 33 games, though has only managed 28 minutes off the bench in Cincinnati’s opening three games.
Brandon Vazquez is the striker who has kept his role from last year and he is trying to repay the faith that has been put in him.
Scoring both goals against Orlando and a man of the match performance against Miami with two goals and an assist — a contribution to each of the three goals — Vazquez has already equalled his four goals from last season.
The change from Brenner has come in the shape of Dominique Badji. The Senegalese forward has plenty of experience in MLS though goals have never been free-flowing.
His most prolific season was in 2018 where he scored eight goals in 33 games and has since scored one less consecutively, finishing with five last season for the Colorado Rapids.
What Badji brings to the side though is his athleticism and physicality which puts defenders under intense pressure. This was exactly what helped Nashville SC in their expansion season with Badji leading the line.
Vazquez and Badji already combining well (again) today. If you aren’t buying stock in that front partnership, you are late — but still time to get in.
— Pat Brennan (@PBrennanENQ) March 19, 2022
His work rate not only means his side can win the ball back higher up the pitch but also makes opposition build-up play harder to start, a great way of defending from the front.
When he wins the ball, he is direct and with a good strike partner, in this case, Vazquez, there is the opportunity for goals.
The second in the game with Orlando came with Badji putting right-back Ruan under pressure and knocking him down fairly to attack the box and cross for Vazquez to head in.
The signing of Luciano Acosta from Atlas in Liga MX has provided some creative energy, his assist led to the opening goal against Orlando, with a well-weighted pass through the defensive line to Vazquez to run onto.
The goalkeeper has been a persistent issue for Cincinnati, but Alec Kann has been brought in from Atlanta and at the age of 31 is finally having the opportunity as a clear number one.
He is providing some excellent individual performances as well as providing the defence with some much-needed confidence boosts to start working together and improving.
There’s still a way to go and two wins don’t make a season, but Cincinnati fans might finally be able to look at themselves, and around the league, and think: “we’re better than them”.