The Orange & Blue are mathematically guaranteed to finish as regular-season champions after beating Toronto FC, 3-2, on Saturday evening. They have secured the Eastern Conference's top seed and home-field advantage throughout the Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs, plus will compete in the 2024 Concacaf Champions Cup.
“What a special moment for our club. This was a really, really neat moment to experience and share with the players and staff members who are here,” head coach Pat Noonan said postgame at BMO Field.
“For Carl [Lindner III] and the entire ownership group and the support this club’s been given to the staff members, the players, and the fans, this is really neat. I want people to really enjoy this … we look forward to sharing this moment with our fans on Wednesday.”
Cincy have charted a remarkable turnaround after losses piled up in the Queen City during the club's first years in MLS. Upon entering the league as an expansion side in 2019, they finished bottom of the overall table for three straight seasons (2019-21).
But since ex-Philadelphia Union duo Noonan and general manager Chris Albright took over before the 2022 campaign, the club has undergone an on-field transformation, qualifying for the playoffs for the first time last season.
In 2023, Cincy have taken 65 points (19W-4L-8D record) and can set a new single-season points record by winning their three remaining games. They're chasing the 2021 New England Revolution (73 points).
“I just think over the two years we’ve become so strong as a group that this is a possibility,” said Noonan, reflecting back on his tenure. “Hopefully it’s the beginning of more success and more trophies for this club.”
“We’ve been through a lot,” US international forward Brandon Vazquez told MLS 360 postgame after scoring a brace at Toronto. "I’ve been here since the moments we’ve been at the very bottom, so this moment means everything to the team, everything to the city. I know we’ve worked so hard to be here, so we’re super, super happy.”
Cincinnati have led the Supporters’ Shield race since May and have become the first team in league history to clinch the No. 1 seed with three matches still to play.
Landon Donovan MLS MVP frontrunner Luciano Acosta, who currently leads the league in goal contributions (28) and is tied atop the Golden Boot presented by Audi standings with 15 goals, has been immense all year. The Argentine No. 10 was recently rewarded with a new contract.
“His growth as a captain and his performances have led this team to a championship,” Noonan said of Acosta. “It’s nice to see that – not just the growth of him as a player and him as a leader, but to now have a championship attached to that, that means a lot. I’m really happy for him and the rest of the group that they’re champions. That doesn’t happen often.”
Acosta is joined by forward Aaron Boupendza and defensive midfielder Obinna Nwobodo as Designated Players, while US internationals Vazquez and Matt Miazga are other key pieces of the starting XI. Boupendza, who scored the winner at Toronto, was signed midseason after Brenner’s big-money transfer to Italian Serie A side Udinese.
With the Supporters’ Shield locked up, Noonan may elect to rotate his squad down the line, but there is still plenty of history for the Orange & Blue to chase.
Cincy will host the New York Red Bulls on Oct. 4 and Atlanta United on Decision Day (Oct. 21), needing two wins to set the MLS single-season record for home wins (15). Both 1998 D.C. United and 2018 New York Red Bulls won 14 home games; Cincy hold a league-best 13W-1L-1D record at TQL Stadium this season.
But the club has their sights sight on an even greater prize: MLS Cup presented by Audi on Dec. 9.
“The job’s not done,” concluded Vazquez. “We turn the page quickly. We enjoy this small moment, but we're back in Cincinnati tonight and we'll be recovering and preparing and focusing completely on what's next.”