FC Cincinnati take league lead as "expectations and belief" grow for 2023


Quietly, and without much fanfare, FC Cincinnati ended MLS Matchday 7 by vaulting into the way-early Supporters’ Shield lead.

That arrived via the Eastern Conference leader’s fourth 1-0 win of the year, this time beating a rotated Philadelphia Union side Saturday evening behind a second-half penalty kick from Luciano Acosta. Philadelphia went to Ohio in between a Concacaf Champions League quarterfinal series with Liga MX's Atlas FC.

The Orange & Blue aren’t blowing the doors off any opponent just yet, but rather pragmatically grinding out results to sit on 17 points (5W-0L-2D).

“It was probably going to be a matter of one moment to make a difference in this game and fortunately we found it,” said Cincy head coach Pat Noonan. “But I was really pleased with our guys’ ability to figure out a way to get a goal and see the game out and win against a very good team to keep some good momentum going for our group.”

Heading into the weekend, the Shield’s No. 1 spot belonged to St. Louis CITY SC. Then the expansion side couldn’t withstand a second-half blitz at Seattle Sounders FC and suffered a 3-0 loss, allowing Cincy to move ahead.

While some observers may expect more dominant performances from a club that seems primed to compete for MLS Cup and Supporters’ Shield silverware in 2023, Noonan will take these grind-it-out displays without hesitation.

“I'm very pleased with our ability to win the game on a night where we weren't our sharpest and [Philadelphia] were really strong in keeping us away from goals,” said Noonan. “Guys should be happy about this one. I know I am because it's a tough opponent.”

Cincy are one of two unbeaten teams left in MLS, with the other being defending champions LAFC (4W-0L-2D). Minnesota United FC were in that category as well entering the weekend, but exited with a 2-1 defeat at Chicago Fire FC.

Noonan’s team, with a co-league-leading five clean sheets this season, has won all four games at TQL Stadium this year. That home foundation, before sell-out crowds of 25,000-plus fans, supports growing confidence around the club.

“Regardless of the opponent, it adds to the fans' expectations and belief that our team is going to be ready to win games in front of them,” said Noonan. “… I think I said this maybe last week: If we want to be playing here in important games at the end of the year, we have to continue to find ways to win at home.”

The Shield conversation returns next weekend, as Cincy visit St. Louis CITY on Saturday evening (8:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass) with another big opportunity. They might be without Acosta, as Noonan fears a shoulder injury could rule their captain out for “a week or two.”

If DP defensive midfielder Obinna Nwobodo (hamstring) returns after missing the Philly match, that’d massively improve their outlook. So would getting strikers Brenner and Brandon Vazquez firing consistently, as both strikers have scored just once this year after Best XI-caliber form in 2022.