Hell is Real Buckeye derby won by FC Cincinnati
By Abel Folgar
FC Cincinnati had its humble MLS beginnings back in 2019. Humble and quite frankly, less than impressive. But fast forward to the present season and it's a night and day change for the Orange and Blue who now boast an MLS-best nine wins and top the Supporters' Shield standings.
This is a far cry from a team that struggled to bag ten wins in its first two years, but this is 2023 and anything's possible, like the fact they've only dropped one L thus far and have 30 points in 13 matches.
Their latest victory, a dramatic 3–2 over the Columbus Crew in the Hell is Real Derby, was extra special for the team.
"I'd be lying if I said it wasn't," said head coach Pat Noonan alluding to the Ohio rivalry. "This was a neat experience and a neat win. You knew it was going to be difficult, and it was, but to be able to win against that team, in front of our fans, was important," he added.
This latest win, sealed with a 67th minute goal by Junior Moreno, was reminiscent of their 2017 U.S. Open Cup upset over the Crew and highlighted an incredible performance by attacking midfielder Luciano Acosta, who with a brace, brought his season total to five goals.
But it wasn't easy for Cincy who were up two–nil by the 23rd minute against a tough Crew that battled back to level it up by the 52nd minute with a Malte Amundsen goal. However, a gaffe by goalkeeper Patrick Schulte – perfect fodder for gif-making minds – under pressure by Acosta, led to Moreno's strike.
"That was a great win. What an atmosphere. What a game," said Noonan. "I thought both teams played really well in different phases of the game. High energy, the individual quality that you saw on the field on both sides to be able to open the game up and get each team attacking … it made for an entertaining evening, and I'm really thrilled for our guys to come out on top, against a very good team.
"Started off very strong, lost some momentum right before the break and then they carried that momentum out into the second half. But the guys showed a lot of character in being able to get past that tough stretch and find the third goal and then hold them off."
High Presses Yield Results
The home crowd was on point, lending that 12th man energy that brought the lads back up from the tie and highlighted one of the more pleasurable attributes that MLS rivalries bring to the table – don’t let anyone tell you, MLS stadiums have atmosphere.
Crew coach Wilfried Nancy's system of possession-centered play was in full effect and he stood by his keeper in a post-game presser.
"I'm not surprised that we were able to come back [to] 2-2 because we showed personality," he said. "After that, the third goal, this is difficult for everyone, but at the same time, I ask my goalkeeper to play also. Now he was almost crying, because he knows that this is something he's usually pretty good at.
"The fact that he made this mistake, I think that he's going to be better for that. Because it cannot be fair from me if I'm telling my goalkeeper now to try to put the ball away all the time. This is not the situation. He has to go through that, we have to go through that and find the nuance in the game. It's all about nuance."
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Acosta has been an integral part of this year's success and a dogged persistence up top to press hard. The third goal momentarily brought up memories of D.C. United, as Acosta and Moreno shared the locker room there for a pair of seasons.
"Expectations are always high because of what he's capable of," Noonan said in a press conference. "And you see when he's engaged – I just talked about it a second ago – when he defends the way he did tonight, in helping us apply pressure and how he communicates with his teammates, it's so important for our group.
"Because he's a very smart defender. He's a smart player. And so he understands how to go to the ball. He understands when to go to the ball. And so he was really important – and we had a good conversation, the two of us, in the leadup to this stretch, of how important his leadership was going to be, and his play was going to be, and he stepped up tonight. He was a captain."
Cincy faces the New York Red Bulls on Tuesday for a U.S. Open Cup match before heading to Colorado for the weekend, where they'll hope to continue good results against the 12th spot sitter of the Western Conference.