FC Cincinnati bullish on future despite playoff exit: "I believe in this team"

Luciano Acosta - FC Cincinnati

Barely three days removed from their stunning Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs elimination, the wounds are still fresh for FC Cincinnati.

“I’m having trouble sleeping, I’m having trouble waking up,” playmaker and captain Luciano Acosta admitted to reporters Tuesday during the Orange & Blue’s end-of-season media availability. “And I think about the game and what I could’ve done, but what’s done is done. Nothing can change the result and what happened.”

What exactly happened Saturday night at TQL Stadium in the Eastern Conference Final remains a delicate subject for Cincinnati. Minutes away from hosting MLS Cup presented by Audi on Dec. 9, the Supporters’ Shield winners blew a late, two-goal lead before Christian Ramírez completed the 3-2 Columbus Crew comeback victory in extra time.

Despite its heartbreaking end, Acosta declared 2023 a banner year for a club that completed the transformation from perennial Wooden Spoon contender into MLS powerhouse in just two seasons.

“I believe in this team,” the Argentine No. 10, named Landon Donovan 2023 MLS MVP last week, stated. “I’m proud of everything we did this year.

“Obviously we’re going to lose some important pieces and new players will arrive,” Acosta added. “They’re going to have to learn to adapt to what it means to play for Cincinnati and this club.”

Potential departures

Brandon Vazquez, rumored to be among the possible departing pieces, also labeled the year a success on a personal level despite seeing his offensive production slip from 18g/8a in 2022 to 8g/4a this season.

“Sometimes I did feel a little underwhelmed with the goals that I was able to provide, but at the same time we were still winning all these games,” Vazquez said. “Sometimes I had to do the dirty work in the defensive side of things that sometimes put me in situations where I wasn’t scoring, but at the end of the day, if we’re winning, that’s all that makes me happy.”

As for making a hypothetical move to Europe during the offseason, the 25-year-old striker declared himself ready to take on the next career challenge.

“My personal goals, my objectives, my dreams have always been to play in Europe. And right now I’m thinking I gotta fight for a spot on the US national team roster for the [2026] World Cup coming up,” Vazquez said. “So I think the best way to achieve that would be playing overseas, in Europe. Try to grow to take my game to the next level.”

In addition to Vazquez, there is reportedly growing interest across the Atlantic for Álvaro Barreal, the club’s rising 23-year-old wingback who contributed 5g/9a for the second-straight season.

Also, Yerson Mosquera’s loan from Wolverhampton Wanderers concludes at year’s end and doesn’t include a buy option. The Colombian center back anchored Cincinnati’s defense in their last two playoff games after Matt Miazga was suspended by the MLS Disciplinary Committee following their Round One, Best-of-3 clincher over the New York Red Bulls.

“I want to take responsibility obviously for what has happened,” the 2023 MLS Defender of the Year said. “ … My intentions didn’t really play out to what has actually happened and I take full responsibility.”

While Cincinnati fell short of the Supporters’ Shield-MLS Cup double, Miazga is taking consolation in the fact that they were the best overall team of 2023.

“The reality is we had an incredible season,” Miazga said. “We won the league and we won it pretty comfortably. You know, we made the playoffs I think in August, we won the league at the end of September. So, that’s an incredible achievement in of itself.”