1. Cincinnati has had one of the rougher seasons in the league this year. With so little of the season left and the playoffs twenty points away, is Cincinnati still giving a 100% on the pitch, or have they reserved themselves to letting the season run out?
That is a great question and one that I have been asked toward the end of the past two seasons. Towards the end of 2019 and 2020, FC Cincinnati players were attempting to impress their new Dutch managers (Ron Jans and Jaap Stam). Both of those squads were incomplete teams lacking solid leadership and who truly deserved their place at the bottom of the table. The 2021 squad has more talent and leadership in my opinion. The big issue with this side is they look in control of the match at one moment then, have conceded goals out of nowhere, dropping easy points throughout the year. This group should be somewhere around 28-31 points due to these instances. The leadership shown by Geoff Cameron has been sorely needed and the talent and drive of Lucho Acosta will still provide fire that in my opinion will carry them through the end of the season. That and the necessity to prove their worth to new FC Cincinnati general manager Chris Albright.
2. Which part of Cincinnati’s game is their best? On their good days, where do they challenge teams?
Cincinnati lives and dies off of the play of Luciano (Lucho) Acosta. The Argentine playmaker has played a part in assisting or scoring 15 of FCC’s 28 goals in 2021. I would have a feeling a key pass or two likely contributed to the rest. He and young Designated Player, Brenner like to connect quick and successive passes to one another to slip through to goal. There have been some amazing sequences between the two this season and I truly believe that if Albright can bring in a playmaking winger in the offseason, this could be a very potent attack. Most in the national media have written off the Brazilian forward, mostly fixating on his transfer ($13 million), and only logging 7 goals. The truth is, he has had 2 goals called off that likely shouldn’t have been and several other opportunities that just didn’t come off. I think he will be a big force in the Eastern conference if FCC can control possession and increase his chances. I agree with Andrew Wiebe that he is one of the 10 most talented U22 players in the league.
3. What are your lineup and score predictions, plus any absences.
Cincinnati will be missing our lone international call-up left back Ronald Matarrita. He has been instrumental coming off the left with inconsistent wing play this season. He will likely be replaced with Edgar Castillo. Joe Gyau did return to training this week, but it is unlikely we will see him. I’d guess that center back Nick Hagglund will continue at right back, but you could see youngster Zico Bailey. Interim head coach Tyrone Marshall has reverted more to a traditional 4-2-3-1 since taking over for Jaap Stam. The biggest change he has made was placing forward/winger DP Yuya Kubo back to left wing from the #6 role Stam had him at. Cincinnati has probably the poorest midfield in the league and it is possible we could be without Haris Medjunanin after picking up a knock last week. Marshall has been speaking to the media recently about how the traditional starters have been complacent, so watch for a shock name in the XI. With the amount of call-ups Philly is experiencing and the likelihood a young roster will be employed, I could see this being a 2-2 draw. Cincinnati has won just one game at TQL stadium. I think the midfield will be overrun or the press of Philly will lead to some easy chances for the Philadelphia Union. Fortunately we have Lucho and he can create opportunities out of nowhere.
Starting XI - 4-2-3-1
Kubo - Acosta - Atanga/Barreal
--- Stanko --- Cruz ---
Castillo - Vallecilla - Cameron - Hagglund