WASHINGTON, D.C. – FC Cincinnati’s turnaround in 2022 was polished off by clinching the club’s first Major League Soccer postseason berth on the final day of its fourth season in the league.
FC Cincinnati’s attack left room for little doubt Sunday at Audi Field against D.C. United.
Cincinnati led 3-0 by the 24th minute, 4-1 at halftime via a hat trick by Brenner Souza da Silva and eventually won, 5-2, before a sold-out Audi Field crowd on MLS Decision Day.
After starting the day in a win-and-in situation relative to the playoff picture, FC Cincinnati’s best ever regular season campaign wrapped up on a 12-9-13 record. That was good enough for 49 points in the standings and a fifth-place finish in the league’s Eastern Conference.
Consequently, and after the other matches in the east went final, FCC earned a first-round playoff match against New York Red Bulls, a team it twice tied with in the regular season, next week at Red Bull Arena.
MLS officials announced later Sunday that FC Cincinnati would face the Red Bulls Saturday at noon, and FCC can be confident of its chances as the No. 5 seed.
For now, though, the club is savoring simply reaching the playoffs.
“It’s a neat moment for the group, for the players, staff,” FC Cincinnati head coach Pat Noonan said. “Certainly everybody that’s involved in the club and the fan base. This was a special day. We’re going to try to enjoy the heck out of it because these players, staff have worked so hard to get to this point. Our goal wasn’t just to get here. Hopefully, we can do something special now that we’re here but a lot of people put in a lot of hard work and they’re enjoying the moment. It’s well-deserved.”
Star power won the day for FC Cincinnati
The offense came early and often from FC Cincinnati. Its biggest, highest-paid stars were directly involved, too.
Captain and former D.C. United star Luciano Acosta opened the scoring for FCC in the sixth minute. Two minutes later, Brenner tapped home his first score of the afternoon.
In the 17th minute, Brenner was on the scoresheet again, and FCC appeared to by cruising.
Ravel Morrison rocketed a shot past FC Cincinnati goalkeeper Roman Celentano to put the hosts on the board, but Brenner responded by completing his hat trick in just the 37th minute.
That allowed FCC to go into the intermission ahead, 4-1, behind Brenner’s latest scoring outburst and three assists from Brandon Vazquez.
A sleepy start to the second half by FCC saw United halve its deficit at 4-2 in the 47th minute through Kristian Fletcher, but a goal by Vazquez restored Cincinnati’s three-goal cushion.
Brenner and Vazquez finished the match tied for the team lead in scoring for 2022 on 18 goals apiece. Acosta’s goal was his 10th of the season, giving the club three double-digit scorers for the first time in its MLS history.
In the end, and after a season of contributions from unexpected members of the team, FC Cincinnati got its playoff push across the finish line through the play of its most potent scoring options.
“They all stepped up. They’ve stepped up the majority of the year,” Noonan said of Acosta, Vazquez and Brenner. “And they weren’t alone.”
The combined performances of Acosta, Vazquez and Brenner underscored a promising, new reality for the club: That it is one of the best attacking teams in MLS.
Among the many franchise bests achieved by FCC in 2022, their 64 goals were the most in single-season history, and more than the club tallied in the 2021 and 2020 seasons combined.
The 64 goals also ranked second-most in the Eastern Conference, and fourth-most in all of MLS.
Its plus-eight goal difference was also a franchise best.
The postseason outlook
FC Cincinnati joined a seven-team playoff field in the east headed up by Philadelphia Union, which locked down the No. 1-seed and a first-round bye with its 4-0 win Sunday against Toronto FC.
Here’s how the first-round playoffs matchups turned out after other action across the east on Decision Day:
- No. 4 New York Red Bulls vs. No. 5 FC Cincinnati
- No. 3 New York City FC vs. No. 6 Inter Miami CF (at Red Bulls Arena)
- No. 2 CF Montreal vs. No. 7 Orlando City SC
Philadelphia awaits the winner of the four-five matchup between the Red Bulls and Cincinnati. So, as if winning one playoff game to start isn’t enough of a daunting task, success for FCC in the postseason would mean an encounter with the east’s top side.
It’s a tough road in the MLS Cup playoffs for a No. 5 seed, but there’s seldom an easy path to a championship.
FC Cincinnati’s self-described quiet confidence entering the postseason was evident almost as soon as the final whistle blew on Sunday’s game.
Loud music emanated from Cincinnati’s team locker room at Audi Field afterward. There was celebrating and yelling, and a modest assortment of beer available to players and staff. Most chose not to imbibe, though, and the overall tone of the celebration was a bit muted.
FC Cincinnati knows bigger accomplishments are attainable, hence the absence of champagne showers and a more joyful dressing room.
“It’s not like everyone’s like ‘oh, we won the World Cup,’ ” FC Cincinnati goalkeeper Roman Celentano said. “It’s an accomplishment to have won this game and made playoffs but we’re not gonna act like, I don’t know. You can’t just act like it’s the biggest thing ever because we have bigger fish to fry next week with Red Bulls. We’re gonna focus on that game and go from there.”
To continue Celentano’s fish-fry analogy, FC Cincinnati is capable of frying the bigger fish.
In addition to posting a 3-2-7 record against the other six teams in the Eastern Conference playoff field, FC Cincinnati’s lost only one of its last 13 games.
FCC’s also lost just twice since July 17. That’s the kind of run teams make when they’re well-situated to do big things in the playoffs, and especially in the MLS Cup playoffs.
Most importantly, Cincinnati recaptured momentum after a disappointing 3-2 loss to Chicago Fire FC Oct. 1. The nature of Sunday’s dominant, attack-fueled win was such that FC Cincinnati has renewed confidence at the outset of the postseason.
“Winning the game – it helps with the feeling right now of how we get into the playoffs,” Noonan said. “We weren’t relying on other people or results, so the guys stepped up tonight.”
As for next week’s opponent, FC Cincinnati twice played New York Red Bulls to 1-1 draws. New York’s only goals in the matches came via penalty kicks, meaning FCC defended well against them for the most part.
Replicating that feat, combined with the potential of FCC’s explosive attack, should hold Cincinnati in good position in the match.
“It’s interesting. I was just thinking about it a little bit ago,” Cincinnati center back Nick Hagglund said. “They got two penalty kicks against us and that’s kind of the two ties. Hopefully we can avoid those mistakes and put a couple away and we’ll let at them as it comes. I think the guys will be ready. With Red Bulls, it’s about urgency. It’s about coming to battle, and if you win those battles, anything can happen.
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WASHINGTON, D.C. − Welcome to Cincinnati.com’s live coverage of FC Cincinnati versus D.C. United on Decision Day, the final regular-season match day of the 2022 Major League Soccer season. Refresh this page throughout the match (2:30 p.m.) for live updates and analysis from Audi Field, and follow Enquirer FC Cincinnati reporter Pat Brennan on Twitter (@PBrennanENQ) for further updates.
- Final: FC Cincinnati 5, D.C. United 2.
- 53rd minute – GOAL, FC Cincinnati (2-5): Brandon Vazquez’s side-footed effort with United’s defense ripped wide open was his 18th goal of the season.
- 47th minute – GOAL, D.C. United (2-4): Kristian Fletcher.
- Halftime: FC Cincinnati 4, D.C. United 1.
- 37th minute – GOAL, FC Cincinnati (1-4): Brenner Souza da Silva smashed home his third goal of the game from the top of the box. In the span of 37 minutes, he’s overtaken Brandon Vazquez as the team’s leading scorer in 2022.
- 26th minute – GOAL, D.C. United (1-3): Ravel Morrison.
- 24th minute – GOAL, FC Cincinnati (0-3): Brenner Souza da Silva. Brenner’s 17th goal of the season tied him with Brandon Vazquez for the club’s 2022 scoring lead.
- Eighth minute – GOAL, FC Cincinnati (0-2): Brenner Souza da Silva was credited with his 16th tally of 2022 after his delicate shot on goal appeared to be kicked across the line by a D.C. United player.
- Sixth minute – GOAL, FC Cincinnati (0-1): Luciano Acosta scored his 10th goal of 2022, tapping home from close range after a long ball by Matt Miazga was flicked on by Brandon Vazquez. Acosta became the third double-digit scorer of the year for FC Cincinnati – a club first.
- Game underway at 2:55 p.m.
- All matches in the Eastern Conference will kick at 2:55 p.m. despite the announced start time of 2:30 p.m. In MLS, matches on Decision Day, the season finale, are synced and start simultaneously to preserve the competitive balance of the final round of regular-season games.
- FC Cincinnati starting XI: Roman Celentano (GK), Alvaro Barreal, Matt Miazga, Geoff Cameron, Nick Hagglund, Alvas Powell, Junior Moreno, Obinna Nwobodo, Luciano Acosta, Brenner Souza da Silva, Brandon Vazquez.
- Cincinnati bench: Dom Badji, Allan Cruz, Ray Gaddis, Alec Kann (GK), Yuya Kubo, Ronald Matarrita, Ian Murphy, John Nelson, Quimi Ordonez.