FC Cincinnati may be eliminated from contention for the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs, but that doesn’t mean the expansion club won’t impact the race. Look no further than last weekend’s 1-0 win at the Montreal Impact, the club’s first since mid-July, as they embraced the role of spoiler and hurt the Impact's hopes of vaulting into the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Let’s take a look at the club’s four remaining games and what could be at stake before their offseason officially gets underway and the page turns to 2020. The Orange and Blue play three of those matches at Nippert Stadium.
Sept. 18 vs. Atlanta United (7:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US, on DAZN in Canada)
The Five Stripes are nine points off first place in the East, though enter Wednesday night’s clash with the ability to start making up ground on New York City FC and the Philadelphia Union. What’s at stake, exactly, for Atlanta? A first-round bye, homefield advantage in the first round and preferential seeding.
These two clubs played to a 1-1 draw way back on March 10, thanks to a late equalizer from Roland Lamah, though that was two coaches ago under the guidance of Alan Koch. There was some new-to-MLS buzz about Cincy, too. They’re now led by Ron Jans, who could also be looking to get one over on Atlanta manger Frank de Boer, who he has plenty of history with.
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Sept. 21 vs. Chicago Fire (7:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US, on DAZN in Canada)
The Fire face long odds to sneak in as the No. 7 seed in the East, though their postseason hopes aren’t yet done and dusted. This will mark their third-to-last regular-season game, plus they’re riding plenty of momentum. Chicago knocked off FC Dallas, 4-0, last weekend on the back of news that Joe Mansueto is now owner of the club as they near a move to downtown Chicago. The Fire are hoping to get nine points from their last three games and vault into playoff positioning.
From a Cincy perspective, there’s some optimism in the fact they already beat Chicago, 2-1, back on July 13. Will Fire coach Veljko Paunovic know how to solve the Orange and Blue puzzle this go-around? He better if Chicago wants to make the playoffs for the third time this decade.
Sept. 29 vs. Orlando City (5 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US, on DAZN in Canada)
Just like Chicago, Orlando are chasing to sneak into the East playoffs, most likely as the No. 7 seed. But when this game rolls around, there’s a chance the Lions could be mathematically eliminated – or close to it. That won’t take away from the intensity at Nippert Stadium, as the Lions could be in desperation mode and needing help elsewhere in the standings. There’s a chance FC Cincy could help make it five straight years without a playoff appearance.
Another layer to the plot will be the Orange and Blue looking to send their fans home happy one last time. They're just 3-10-1 at home so far this season, but a positive momentum swing could do wonders heading into the offseason
Oct. 6 at D.C. United (4 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US, on DAZN in Canada)
To wrap up their first season in MLS, FC Cincy have a big one on Decision Day presented by AT&T, even if their own playoff game won't follow. Their visit to Audi Field could shape what seed Ben Olsen’s team gets, and there’s also the chance it’s Wayne Rooney’s last game in D.C. proper before he heads to become a player/coach at Derby County. Should D.C. qualify, they're likely on the road during the East playoffs and Ron Jans' team could help ensure that.
One other element is Cincy fell, 4-1, to the Black-and-Red back in mid-July. It'd surely feel sweet for Ron Jans and co. to end their season by exacting some revenge.