Let’s not mince words: Cincinnati are on fire right now. The team is an otherworldly 7-0-0 at home in all competitions, and have the second-best record in MLS on goal differential. But Cincinnati have never defeated New York City.
Read on to see what Weigel has to say in this NYCFC vs Cincinnati game preview.
Hudson River Blue: FC Cincinnati have gone from perennial Wooden Spoon contenders to a team vying for first place in the Eastern Conference, and even the Supporter’s Shield. What’s the feeling at TQL Stadium these days?
Bryan Weigel: The vibes at TQL Stadium are back to the days when FC Cincinnati was dominating the lower division USL and making a deep US Open Cup run. FCC had six total home wins in MLS in their first three seasons. The club now hold six total home wins this season through all competitions. General manager Chris Albright and head coach Pat Noonan have changed the culture and are delivering a quality product on and off the field.
HRB: The club sold Brenner to Udinese in April, but he will remain with Cincinnati through the summer. How did that deal go over with the fanbase?
BW: FCC sold Brenner in April for what will amount to around an $11 million sale to the Serie A side. While many are sad to see him leave, there has been a bit of a love-hate relationship with Brenner in the Queen City. The young Brazilian struggled in 2021, but then was one of the hottest strikers in MLS during the Summer of 2022, scoring 18 goals after the beginning of June.
Discontent with Brenner began in the Spring of 2022 when he publicly submitted a request to be dealt back to Brazil. Things seemed to be looking great between the club and player but mid-preseason, the forward chose to sit out trying to force Cincinnati’s hand in a Winter deadline deal to Nottingham Forest. He recently missed three MLS matches so that he could finalize his Italian move.
Many in the fanbase do appreciate the talent that Brenner brings and his high work rate when on the pitch. Looking at this weekend as an example, he won possession in the midfield, did a cheeky backheel to spring an attack, and ultimately linked up in the final combination to spring Alvaro Barreal on goal. His talent is still a rarity in MLS and Cincy will surely miss him this Summer.
Overall, I think the fanbase is energized to see who Albright brings in this Summer. Albright has had a very high success rate with new signings (Obi Nwobodo, Yerson Mosquera, Júnior Moreno, Matt Miazga), but he has never organized an incoming transfer with a $10+ million fee or this much of an impact on a roster.
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HRB: The team this season is built around the same core that finished in fifth place last year. What’s different about this season? Which players have notably improved?
BW: Cincinnati was an offensive juggernaut on the break last season. Brenner, Lucho Acosta, and Brandon Vazquez were pumping out goals, but the FCC defense was notably porous. Albright went out and signed DP defensive midfielder Obi Nwobodo late in the Spring of 2022 along with Matt Miazga on the last days of the Summer transfer period. FCC immediately began to improve defensively which carried over into this season.
Left wingback Alvaro Barreal is a converted winger that made the transition to defender in mid-2022. Add him with Wolves loanee Yerson Mosquera and you may have one of the most talented and athletic left-sided defenders in MLS. They both generate offensive threats and have been very difficult to break down. While Lucho, Brenner, and Vazquez have lessened their production in 2023, they are still very dangerous and have created opportunities for scoring through other players.
Another improvement is the depth built out. FCC can bring on Sergio Santos, Yuya Kubo, Dom Badji, Ray Gaddis, Alvas Powell, homegrown Malik Pinto, and U-22 signing Marco Angulo, and not lose a beat. In many cases, the depth and high-talent level of that depth has allowed FCC to remain in control and close out matches.
HRB: Who is Cincinnati’s dangerman? Who should NYCFC fear?
BW: As this is a US Open Cup match, I will bet that FCC and NYCFC will have some roster rotation. Do not expect to see Brenner, but I think it is very likely that Vazquez and Acosta will make appearances, at least off the bench. FCC do not have an MLS match this upcoming weekend, so Albright might have the ability to play more normal starters.
My biggest two dangermen are the left wingback Barreal and forward Sergio Santos. The speed of Santos and his ability to stretch defenses will be needed in the midweek match. I’d also expect to see Dom Badji up top with Santos. Badji has not seen consistent time due to the assortment of riches in the forward group, but his hold-up play and ability to connect with Santos will generate opportunities.
Barreal will create off the left and should have freedom to dip inside if Lucho is not on the pitch. His link-up play, free-kick skills, and final product are all there offensively, and look for him to send balls into space for Santos to run on. I also think Barreal is the next big young star to be transferred out of the league for a good price. We had much fondness for former left-back Ronald Matarrita, but Barreal filled that role and improved upon his production.
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HRB: What’s the X-factor that could decide Wednesday’s game?
BW: The X-factor is how many youngsters play for Cincinnati. If the Orange and Blue run out a unit similar to their last US Open Cup match, I’d expect it to be a rough watch. FCC do have some promising young talent led by Pinto, Angulo, and Quimi Ordonez. The group has shown flashes, but overall consistency is lacking in the young group.
My normal answer: Lucho Acosta. Cincinnati will normally go where Lucho Acosta takes them. While they could be without him for a time, I think that when Lucho steps onto the field, things will change. The offense is more free-flowing and chance generation drops off without the creative Argentine.