Bottom of the pile in their first MLS season and kicking off the MLS is Back Tournament with a 4-0 defeat to Hell is Real rivals Columbus Crew, few gave FC Cincinnati much of a chance of making it to the Knockout Stage in Orlando. But after two hard-fought wins over Atlanta United and New York Red Bulls, that's exactly where Cincinnati are heading with six points and a second-placed finish in Group E.
"In the beginning of the tournament nobody gave us a chance, we proved them wrong," midfielder Haris Medunjanin said after Cincinnati's 2-0 win over the Red Bulls on Wednesday. "We showed the league that we are a good team, especially when we fight for each other. In our team we don't have star players like others, we need to do it as a team and that's what we did today and we showed that we can battle with any team in the league."
The six points and progress in the tournament are a major early boost for new Cincinnati coach Jaap Stam as he looks to put his stamp on the team. The former Dutch international defender acknowledged that the defeat, and the manner of it, to the Crew provoked a tactical rethink and a return to basics, ensuring that they solidified defensively. And his players fully brought in to the changed approach.
"After that we picked it up, changed the system a little bit," Medunjanin added. "And when everybody is all in we, can do a lot of good things in this league. The confidence is back in this team. Last season for Cincinnati was a difficult season and now when you start to win you start to believe in each other. "I'm looking forward to the knockout stage and we can prove to the MLS that they can count on us."
In that Knockout Stage, it's now win or go home, with 16 teams just four games away from winning it all and claiming a place in the Concacaf Champions League. Cincinnati know that nobody expects that team to be them, but after the past week they now believe anything is possible.
"We took six points in this group, you know, nobody expected that from us," Medunjanin said. "We proved everybody wrong. Now it's anything can happen in the knockout phase, it's one game and it's possible. Especially if we play like this, compact and we fight for each other, we can make it difficult for any team to get through us."