National Writer: Charles Boehm

FC Cincinnati notch statement win over Seattle Sounders: "We need more games like this"


Heads up, MLS: The Knifey Lions are ready for the spotlight.

FC Cincinnati marked another milestone on their dramatic surge into the league’s elite on Saturday evening, edging the previously-undefeated Seattle Sounders, 1-0, on a crisp night at sold-out, raucous TQL Stadium via Brazilian star Brenner’s first goal of 2023.

After starting life in the top flight with three consecutive wooden spoon campaigns, Cincy are now a force to be reckoned with under head coach Pat Noonan. This latest victory arrived almost exactly a year on from the Orange & Blue’s first win on his watch, and posting a second straight clean sheet, this one against the reigning Concacaf Champions League title-holders, suggests they’re addressing the defensive frailties that forced them to be such a run-and-gun outfit last year.

“We've won enough games against quality opponents, and in different ways, that the standard for us is to win games, and to do it in a way where we're creating chances and we're tough to break down. That's what you want all the time,” Noonan told reporters after his side created and exploited a Seattle turnover for the game’s only goal, then weathered the Sounders’ furious late flurry.

“But I think we found early in the season some consistencies on the defensive side of the ball that maybe we didn't have early last year, where we needed to score a lot of goals. Well, now we’ve shown we can win some games where it's just one goal, if we can continue to defend like that.”

Crackling with intensity, the match could have broken in either direction and referee Joe Dickerson and his crew had plenty to do, particularly in the middle phase of a breathless second half which ran well past the 100-minute mark thanks to added time upon the already-ample added time.

Tight Video Review decisions had to be made on a potential Cincy handball in their own penalty box, a DOGSO red card ruling on Nick Hagglund that forced the hosts to finish the evening with 10 men and a late equalizer by Yeimar Gomez Andrade waved off for his foul on fellow Colombian Yerson Mosquera seconds before his back-post header past Roman Celentano.

It all could have left Brian Schmetzer fuming as his team’s perfect start to the season vanished into the Ohio air. But Seattle’s boss kept an even keel, with an eye on the bigger picture.

“It's three games into the year. We knew this was going to be a tough test. Let's just see how the season the early part of the season rolls out,” said the veteran head coach when asked to compare this setback to last year’s bevy of galling one-goal road losses, including four in the campaign’s first two months as they hunted, and eventually secured, their historic North American title.

“I don't think these guys in the locker room are going to throw in the towel. They are discouraged, yes. They put a lot of effort in the game, yes. But I don't think it's anything like last year.”

The Sounders are accustomed to wearing a target on their backs wherever they go, and Saturday’s occasion was a reminder of what a yardstick they are for ascendant clubs.

From the energy in the stands to the tight margins on the pitch, it was an evening reminiscent of the postseason. And if FCC can extend their current levels of performance, they will undoubtedly have the chance to host an Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs match, or four, at their downtown palace come autumn.

“It did have that feel tonight,” said Noonan. “But that's brought by, I think, the two teams as well as the fans. Tonight was a really cool atmosphere. That was a fun game to be a part of. It's always better when you're winning. But as the game was playing out, I do think that both teams could feel that this was a good early test for each one of us, and the fans obviously play a huge part in that. And you could feel them for the 90 plus however more minutes there were. They were excellent. So it had a really good feel to it.

“We need more games like this.”