The busy schedule FC Cincinnati’s coping with right now isn’t normal, and it only figures to get more complicated and challenging in the coming weeks.
FC Cincinnati is dominating in Major League Soccer and progressing in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. But the cost of succeeding on multiple fronts is increased player workloads with a long season ahead, and winning in the Open Cup is complicating matters in a way because it’s adding more matches to the schedule.
FCC’s played three consecutive weeks with multiple matches and a win in Tuesday’s Open Cup Round of 16 against New York Red Bulls at Red Bulls Arena in Harrison, New Jersey (7:30 p.m.) would mean a month straight of two games per week.
FC Cincinnati for now has a full week to prepare for its June 10 road match against the Vancouver Whitecaps but a quarterfinal-round Open Cup fixture at TQL Stadium would populate schedules for Wednesday, June 6, if the team progresses Tuesday.
“This is the craziest schedule I’ve ever had in my whole career. I’ve never had anything like this,” said 30-year-old FCC forward Dominique Badji, an MLS veteran of a decade.
Here’s what FC Cincinnati’s looking at schedule-wise as it continues the ongoing busy period:
- At least five matches through June 10.
- A three-match stretch of road games in Newark, New Jersey, Colorado and New York City through May 31.
- Two matches multiple time zones away including Colorado on Saturday and Vancouver, British Columbia on June 10.
- Five of the next seven matches scheduled are on the road, where the club has posted a 1-1-3 record in 2023.
Cincinnati’s already played 15 times in 2023. If no further matches were added to the schedule from this point on, FCC would still play a single-season club record 39 games across all competitions (including the group stage of this summer’s Leagues Cup competition).
More:Analysis of FC Cincinnati win over Columbus Crew in MLS ‘Hell is Real’ match
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Some players, including Cincinnati captain Luciano Acosta, say they prefer playing at the current, steady clip.
Another factor weighing on FC Cincinnati’s personnel decision makers is that the club chasing its first major trophy, as well as CONCACAF Champions League qualification for next year. The Open Cup is a prime avenue to accomplish both feats.
Some credibly suggest the Open Cup might be the easiest path for MLS clubs to reach to the Champions League, which produces a club champion for this FIFA region and then feeds that team into the Club World Cup.
FC Cincinnati will likely be favored by many pundits on Tuesday, and a home match with a semifinal berth on the line would be the reward for a win. Suffice it to say the pace of the 2023 season isn’t slowing down anytime soon.
The latest on the Red Bulls
The Red Bulls flirted with the Eastern Conference basement for weeks prior to the exit of now-former head coach, Gerhard Struber, on May 8. Since the embattled Struber’s departure, “RBNY” is 3-0-1 with Troy Lesesne leading the club.
It hasn’t been a run of heavy-hitting opponents for RBNY, which won its first of the three matches post-Struber against D. C. United in the Open Cup on May 9.
The Red Bulls then beat archrival New York City FC May 13 and CF Montreal on Saturday. There was also a draw against Toronto FC sandwiched in between those games. Of those four clubs, all but United is above of playoff cut line in the east but any four-match unbeaten run is noteworthy, regardless of where opponents sit in the standings.
Omir Fernandez, a 24-year-old midfielder, has two game-winning goals during New York’s four-match unbeaten run.
Another factor not to be overlooked in this match: RBNY won’t have forgotten FC Cincinnati ended their season last year with an MLS Cup playoff victory at Red Bull Arena. The Red Bulls were culpable in their elimination after taking an early 1-0 lead in the second half before FCC rallied to a late win. That should serve as motivation for the hosts.
New York, while winless on the road in 2023, is admirably protecting Red Bull Arena this season via a 3-1-3 record, too.
Can FC Cincy find rest for some players Tuesday?
The deeper Cincinnati goes in the Open Cup, the higher the stakes get. Higher stakes demand the strongest possible team on the field from head coach Pat Noonan, but Noonan is managing the workload of an entire roster as FC Cincinnati could conceivably play close to 50 games this year.
The hope ahead of Cincinnati’s “Hell is Real” triumph was that Sergio Santos could return from injury this week. That would alleviate pressure on Badji, who performed well but was the only true striker available to play alongside Brandon Vazquez with Santos, Brenner Souza da Silva (ankle injury) and Arquimides Ordonez (international call-up) all out.
Alec Kann has two shutouts in FCC’s Open Cup matches this season and is likely to start again. The club should also be able to rotate some fresh legs in on the back line and in the midfield.
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m., Saturday | Red Bulls Arena; Harrison, New Jersey
Stream: Bleacher Report Football YouTube Channel (free)
All-time series: The Red Bulls lead the all-time series against FC Cincinnati with five wins, three losses and three draws (5-3-3).
Cincinnati.com prediction: FC Cincinnati 2, New York Red Bulls 0.
Record: 11-1-3 overall (9-1-3 in MLS; 30 points, first in MLS)
Goals for: 20 (all competitions)
Goals against: 12
Coach: Pat Noonan – second year at FC Cincinnati
Projected starting XI:
Alec Kann, goalkeeper
Alvas Powell, right back
Alvaro Barreal, left back
Yerson Mosquera, center back
Matt Miazga, center back
Ian Murphy, center back
Junior Moreno, defensive midfielder
Malik Pinto, defensive midfielder
Yuya Kubo, midfielder
Sergio Santos, forward
Brandon Vazquez, forward
New York Red Bulls
Record: 4-4-7 overall (3-4-7 in MLS; 16 points, 11th in MLS Eastern Conference)
Goals for: 11 (all competitions)
Goals against: 12
Coach: Troy Lesesne, interim head coach
Projected starting XI:
Ryan Meara, goalkeeper
Andrés Reyes, center back
Hassan Ndam, center back
John Tolkin, center back
Cameron Harper, left back
Peter Stroud, right back
Daniel Edelman, midfielder
Cristian Cásseres Jr., midfielder
Omir Fernandez, midfielder
Tom Barlow, forward
Dru Yearwood, forward