Call it a warning shot. Call it a statement game.
FC Cincinnati earned the right to call its 6-0 rout of San Jose Earthquakes Saturday at TQL Stadium whatever it likes, and the meaning will be the same: The rest of the pack chasing an Eastern Conference playoff spot should be aware that FCC is not going to go quietly in the postseason race.
In fact, Cincinnati is in the driver's seat with four matches to play by virtue of its 10-8-12 record and 42 points in the standings. Add to that playoff rivals New England Revolution, Inter Miami CF and Orlando City SC all lost Saturday, and FCC's message to the rest of the conference couldn't be conveyed in stronger terms.
Beating San Jose allowed FC Cincinnati to jump Columbus Crew in the east standings and pull even with fifth-place Orlando on points.
FCC also pulled its goal difference – an important statistic of goals scored versus goals allowed that factors into tie-breaking procedures – to a club-record plus-five after beginning the night at minus-one.
All of this came after shaky performances earlier in the week, although Cincinnati managed seven of a possible nine points from the three matches it played in eight days.
"I don't think you ever expect to win 6-0," FC Cincinnati head coach Pat Noonan said afterward. "What we expected was a strong response to a poor performance (against NYCFC). The point was good, yes, but we didn't perform. I think that's a sign of a team that's continuing to mature and grow and find ways to improve and respond in a really strong way."
A historic scoring spree
Brenner Souza da Silva scored a hat-trick in the second half to help FCC’s goal-difference equation. His first tally in the 47th minute put FCC ahead 2-0 and seemed to wrest control from the Earthquakes.
Brenner followed up with goals in the 90th and 95th minutes to complete his trio of scores, which gave him 12 for the season.
Alvaro Barreal scored a much-needed opener with the last kick of the first half as San Jose threatened to take control of the contest. The score was his fifth in league play and his eighth in all competitions.
Luciano Acosta scored in the 71st minute from the penalty spot after a foul against him was correctly called following a video-assistant referee (VAR) review.
The score was Acosta’s eighth of the year.
Yuya Kubo replaced Acosta and proceeded to score his first goal since the 2020 season six minutes later.
Back-stopping FC Cincinnati in the defensive end was Celentano.
"We were going into this game knowing that we needed a result and a smashing like 6-0 is just what we needed. It's great for the spirits," Celentano said. "Maybe it's not totally reflective of how the whole game went but at the end of the day, we helped our goal differential and got the three points. That's all that matters."
The playoff picture: Four games to play
This is it – FC Cincinnati’s home stretch in the 2022 season is underway. Four matches and a maximum of 12 points are still available to FCC, meaning they could finish with as many as 54 points. It’s unlikely they’ll need that many, but the intent to take all 12 will be obvious.
As things stand, FC Cincinnati is joint-fifth place with Orlando City SC. The real factor to be concerned about for a Cincy club just trying to reach the playoffs by any means necessary after three straight last-place finishes is the cushion between it and eighth place. As of Saturday, FCC had a four-point lead over eighth-place New England Revolution.
New England lost earlier Saturday to New York Red Bulls, 2-1.
"It feels good but we've been saying it for quite some time now," Noonan said. "We need to take care of our situation, our own performances ... We can't rely on other teams and (their) results, so, I think tonight, we get three points and we'll see how everything else plays out but we've been able to create separation because we took care of what we needed to."
Cincinnati will benefit mentally from having restored some of its margin for error considering the next two league matches are Sept. 17 at Real Salt Lake and Sept. 27 at Seattle Sounders FC.
After that, FCC closes out its slate of home matches Oct. 1 against Chicago Fire before Oct. 9’s Decision Day match at D.C. United.
FC Cincinnati’s lost just once in the last 16 matches. That’s been a stretch comprised of many draws, some desirable and some not. There was plenty of frustration during this period, too, but avoiding losses has put Cincinnati in as good of a position as it could have hoped for with just four regular season games left.