CINCINNATI – Once again FC Cincinnati proved they can run with the Major League Soccer powers, passing the eye test in a penalty kick loss to Minnesota United FC in the fourth round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
FCC outplayed the Loons for long stretches of the second half but couldn't push a goal across before Minnesota goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth came up with two big saves in the penalty kick shootout to put the Loons through to the next round.
It was just a year ago FC Cincinnati made a historic run to the semifinals of the Open Cup, knocking off MLS powers Columbus Crew SC and Chicago Fire before falling to the New York Red Bulls in extra time.
"We are yet to lose a game in 90 minutes to a MLS team," FCC coach Alan Koch said. "Try to put that in perspective. How do you equate that in the American environment to a second-tier team beating or not losing to an NFL team?"
Buoyed by the recent success and aided by a rabid fan base, MLS has now tapped FCC to become the next team to join the league, where they'll begin play in 2019.
Koch acknowledged after Wednesday's loss his team is in good shape to finish out the United Soccer League regular season and prepare for MLS play in a year.
"We're a second-tier club, and to be quite honest, to go play like that against an MLS group where I don't think you could really tell the difference who was in the first tier," Koch said. "A lucky bounce here or there and who knows, maybe we win the game in 90 minutes or 120 minutes. (Our players) are fighting for us right now in the USL and they are obviously fighting to be part of the journey with the club as we move forward."
Count Minnesota United FC coach Adrian Heath as a believer FCC belongs in the MLS.
"It was a very difficult environment," Heath said of FCC's play and their intimidating fan base. "I thought the crowd was terrific. This is the first time I have been here. As I say, it's going to be a great environment when they eventually get into MLS. That team will be a great addition to MLS."
Shuttleworth, the star of the game, agreed wholeheartedly with his coach FCC is ready for MLS play.
"I was impressed," Shuttleworth said. "They made it difficult for us. They have some guys who have played in the (MLS) before. They are really well coached and play really, really good."