FC Cincinnati's story has been marked by more lows than highs during their four-year existence in MLS.
On Saturday night, though, the Orange & Blue's stunning 3-1 win over the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia Union at TQL Stadium may have served as the biggest sign yet the 2022 edition of FCC is far removed from the ones that struggled mightily across 2019-21, finishing bottom of the league each time.
Not only was it Cincinnati's first win over Philadelphia in eight tries, but it snapped a five-match Union winning streak that saw the visitors outscore opponents 18-2. The Union's league-leading defense hadn't allowed more than two goals in a match all season prior to Saturday night's defeat.
More importantly, FC Cincy are in sixth place in the Eastern Conference standings with 32 points and remain on pace for a first-ever Audi MLS Cup Playoffs appearance.
"It was an important win at an important time," said first-year FCC head coach Pat Noonan. "I think based on our home form and our opponent, I don't think I would have expected us to create as many chances against a very good defensive team as we did. I was really pleased with that."
In the midst of the action were Brandon Vazquez and Brenner, a forward duo that has scored 22 of Cincinnati's 40 goals this season. Vazquez, who scored his 14th goal of the season in the 50th minute before Brenner's eighth of the year made it 2-0 in the 55th, remained well in the 2022 MLS Golden Boot presented by Audi race (second place behind Austin FC's Sebastian Driussi).
The 23-year-old striker's latest performance comes days after being announced as Taty Castellanos' replacement on the 2022 MLS All-Stars roster for Wednesday's game vs. Liga MX's All-Stars.
"The first two seasons were very frustrating. Barely winning any games, it's hard," said Vazquez, who was traded to Cincinnati from Nashville SC in November 2019 after the ex-Atlanta United youngster was picked in that year's Expansion Draft. "Turning the page to where we are today, it's incredible the way this team has grown and the hunger this team has grown to have, and I'm ecstatic where we are today."
Noonan pointed out the importance of the on-field partnership Vazquez and Brenner have developed. After ranking at or near the bottom of the league in goals scored between 2019-21, Cincinnati are currently tied for sixth in MLS with 40 goals.
"I think they work well off of each other. Brandon, when he's got to play with his back to goal, [and] Brenner, in his high soccer IQ, how he finds pockets to receive balls to switch play, which is something we talk about a lot, how he receives balls to be able to run at defenders," Noonan said. "I think they're doing those things well, and then their movement in the box right now is outstanding. I think they're hungry to score goals."
FC Cincinnati, with an even 4W-4L-4D record at TQL Stadium, now turn their attention to a key portion of the schedule where three of their next four matches take place in the Queen City.
Kicking off that stretch is Atlanta United on Aug. 13 (7:30 p.m. ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+), with Noonan and his team looking to push further up the East table. Only 10 games remain in their season.
"We know when we step on the field in this building, that we can play and beat anybody. We've shown that," Noonan said. "It's doing it on a more consistent basis that allows you to be more confident, players, coaches, all of us. So, hopefully, this strong performance can carry over now into a stretch run where we have three of the next four at home, and we can pick up some very important points."