FC Cincinnati reclaim Shield lead over Inter Miami: "We deserve this"


CINCINNATI – The marquee matchup of Matchday 25 is in the books, and the reigning Supporters’ Shield champions are back on their throne.

FC Cincinnati took a dominant 6-1 win over Inter Miami CF on Saturday evening at TQL Stadium, putting them back in the driver’s seat to defend their regular-season title.

“This team, these fans, we deserve this tonight,” Cincy captain Luciano Acosta told MLS Season Pass following the victory. “The truth is, a victory like this makes me so happy for this team and this group.”

The job was straightforward coming into the contest: Win and you’re back in control.

“There are times I don't need to tell them. I think they were up for this game," head coach Pat Noonan said postgame. “Of course, they understand the magnitude and the implications, but you still have to have a level of focus and understand how we're trying to approach this game to have success.

“They've been pretty consistent about that all year. It hasn't always looked like tonight. We know that. But the one thing you can say about them is they're consistent in being able to step on the field and expecting to win games. So, credit to their consistency over the course of two-thirds of the season thus far.”

Unsurprisingly, Acosta produced a show-stopping goal in the first half, his 50th all-time in Orange and Blue. The Argentine playmaker followed it up with two assists, complementing Yuya Kubo’s brace.

When asked if the lopsided win should serve as a message to Inter Miami, Acosta kept his emotions in check.

“They were missing some key pieces tonight, everyone should know that,” said the reigning Landon Donovan MLS MVP. “The best in the world [Lionel Messi], Luis [Suárez] up top, and Jordi [Alba] wasn’t available for selection.

“But, we came to play our game, they played theirs. No message or anything like that. We’re just us.”

Tata Martino’s group wasn’t the only one adapting to absences, though. Cincinnati center backs Matt Miazga and Nick Hagglund were both placed on the Season-Ending Injury List in recent weeks – leaving the club thin at the back.

Nonetheless, Cincy are top of MLS with 48 points (15W-4L-3D). They're playing at a 2.18 points-per-game pace, exceeding last year's 2.03 PPG pace.

“It’s just taking it game by game and step by step,” said Acosta. “For us, thinking about this group, we don’t have guys like Matt and Nick and a win like this is for guys like them who we obviously miss a lot.”

Before this top-of-the-table clash, Inter Miami put together a four-game winning streak with Messi and Suárez away for Copa América duty. They kept finding ways to grind out 2-1 wins, making them the league’s team to beat.

FC Cincinnati accomplished exactly that, giving Noonan's side 12 wins in their last 14 matches.

“You have to beat good teams if you want to be at the top of the table, at the top of the conference, and playing home games in the playoffs," Noonan said. "Guys stepped up tonight with both teams missing key pieces. We won't look past that.

"We'll see them at the end of August. It'll look entirely different based on likely personnel. So, they still have a very strong team. And that's why I'm very pleased about the performance."

The Supporters’ Shield power struggle will rage on in the coming weeks, and the reverse fixture at Chase Stadium on August 24 is set to serve as another pivotal moment in the sprint to Decision Day.

"Everybody knows in our locker room where we're positioned in the moment and what the potential of our group is," Noonan said. "So yes, we know we can push for that, but we don't get there if we're thinking about it at this stage."