FC Cincinnati rue playoff exit: "The goal was to win the trophy"

1020 CIN sider

FC Cincinnati's first taste of the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs hardly left them satisfied after Thursday's 1-0 loss at the hands of the Philadelphia Union in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. In fact, it left them hungry for more.

Head coach Pat Noonan said as much following a hard-fought 90 minutes at Subaru Park that couldn't extend the club's best-ever season in MLS.

Even after dispatching the New York Red Bulls in Round One and giving the East's top seed a run for their money, the first-year manager wasn't about to pat himself on the back for an incredible turnaround for a club that finished dead last in its previous three seasons.

"The goal wasn't to get to this point, the goal was to win the trophy," Noonan said post-game. "Whether people on the outside felt that way or not, once we got into the playoffs that was our goal.

"That didn't happen, so we're disappointed."

Arguably the main cause of Cincy's disappointment was Andre Blake. Fresh off winning his third Allstate MLS Goalkeeper of the Year award, Philly's man between the sticks put on a heroic display by blocking five shots and preserving Leon Flatch's lone goal in the 59th minute.

"When they needed Andre to step up he made some really big saves," Noonan said. "We threw everything we could at them and their defensive record this year is for a reason."

That defensive record included a +46 goal difference that saw the Union put together a series of dominant displays and blowout wins throughout the season. And yet, they struggled mightily against Cincinnati, who earned a 1-1 draw at Subaru Park over the summer while easily defeating them, 3-1, at home later in the campaign.

Thursday night could've seen the Orange & Blue pull off another upset against one of the most dominant MLS sides in recent memory.

"It hurts, but that's a good team that won the game tonight," said Noonan, who, along with general manager Chris Albright, joined Cincinnati in the offseason from Philadelphia and is a close personal friend of Union boss Jim Curtin.

"We wish him the best in the next one or two games," he said.

There'll be no more games this year for Cincinnati, so 2023 can't come soon enough for their coach.

"We want to be playing the last game of the year for the trophy. It's as simple as that," Noonan said. "That'll continue to be our goal and we'll continue working hard to get there."

With one of the league's most dynamic attacks led by 2022 assist king (19) Luciano Acosta and the striking tandem of Brandon Vazquez (18g/8a) and Brenner (18g/6a), not to mention a defense that was improved with the midseason acquisition of Matt Miazga, Cincy will look to be in the MLS Cup conversation by building on that in 2023.

"There are no guarantees in this line of business, but you've got to continue to find ways to be better," Noonan said. "And, if we can be better next year, that'll be a team that's competing for trophies."