Luciano Acosta leads FC Cincinnati to fourth-straight MLS win with late, deciding goal
CHICAGO — FC Cincinnati head coach Pat Noonan wanted a response from his club following its midweek loss in a rout in the U.S. Open Cup against New England Revolution.
Noonan got the desired response from his players even if it might not have been entirely what he envisioned. It was still a winning response, and on the road, against Chicago Fire nonetheless.
Just moments after Chicago brought itself level at 1-1 following a goal by Jhon Durán in the 83rd minute, Cincinnati’s Luciano Acosta coolly slid the ball past Fire goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina at his near post for a 2-1 lead.
The 85th-minute goal was Acosta’s fifth of 2022. It was also decisive as FC Cincinnati defeated Chicago, 2-1, before an announced Soldier Field crowd of 14,049.
The goal was the second late winner in as many weeks for Cincinnati after Brandon Vazquez’s 93rd minute tally saw FCC take the points late at Minnesota United FC
“We need to stay together,” Acosta said afterward. “We have 90, 95 minutes to win this game. We did it in Minnesota and we do it again, so we’re very happy.”
The win pushed FCC’s record in Major League Soccer play to 6-5-1, making it the latest stage in a season Cincinnati held a winning record in the league.
The six wins also matched the club’s single-season high for victories, which it achieved only once during its 2019 expansion season.
Music blared from the visitors’ locker room after the final whistle. FC Cincinnati players sang and danced, and Noonan raised his voice during his post-match remarks in order to project over the celebrations.
“That just speaks to the guys. You can hear them in the other room,” Noonan said of the win. “It’s a mentality and they’re figuring out how to do this as a group with a lot of different players contributing to us being able to win some games. In this stretch it’s been necessary to learn how to defend when our quality with the ball isn’t there.
“We’ve figured it out, in a lot of ways, how to do that — to not allow teams to score goals. And we’ve found ways to convert on limited chances, but that’s the character of the group.”
Acosta’s tally restored order for FCC after the club maintained a 1-0 lead for about 50 minutes of game play.
In the 33rd minute, Fire captain Rafael Czichos headed the ball backward toward his own goal from close range with FC Cincinnati’s Brandon Vazquez and Acosta lurking nearby.
Czichos’ attempt to push the ball out of harm’s way ended up in the back of his own net, and beyond the outstretched, diving Slonina.
”I got a good ball played in behind. I almost got a touch to bring it down,” Vazquez said of the moments leading to the own-goal. “It skipped, the defender tried to play it with his head back to the ‘keeper and over-hit it. That was one-nil.”
But one-nil became 1-1 late on as FC Cincinnati labored to see out the game with the lead.
Chicago hammered in 14 corner-kicks during the match, and that was one too many for FCC to deal with.
Noonan said the ball served in by two-time UEFA Champions League winner Xherdan Shaqiri was one of the most challenging Cincinnati had seen all season.
“When you take on (14) corners,” Noonan said, “you’re bound to get picked off by one.”
It took just a couple minutes for FC Cincinnati to respond through Acosta as FCC turned Chicago over as the hosts attempted to play out of the back.
Vazquez slid into Slonina, who had the ball at his feet. That forced a weak pass that landed with Acosta about 10 yards from goals.
Acosta first danced on the ball, and ultimately went for placement over power for the game-winning strike.
“When they get the goal, now at that point they had the momentum. They had the run of play. Certainly, they had a lot of set pieces,” Noonan said. “So, you’re looking to find a way to get out of there with a point. But, again, to be able to find a moment to get a goal and walk off the field with three points is a testament to just the mindset of the group.”
Saturday’s victory in Chicago saw FC Cincinnati close out the busiest period of the season — the club played five games in 15 days — at 4-1-0 overall and undefeated in MLS play.
The blemish on the 4-1-1 record was FCC’s 5-1 loss at New England Revolution, which left a sour taste in the team’s collective mouth and saw the club eliminated from the Open Cup in forgettable fashion.
But the 4-0-0 record in league play saw FC Cincinnati ascend to the No. 4 position in the Eastern Conference by the close of business across the league on Saturday.
Cincinnati had been as low as last place in the East Division at earlier stages in the young campaign.
FC Cincinnati claimed all 12 points on offer from league play, winning back-to-back matches against Toronto FC before the May 7 win at Minnesota’s Allianz Field, and ultimately Saturday’s victory.
FC Cincinnati outscored it’s opposition, 7-2, during that stretch, and rookie and No. 2 overall MLS SuperDraft pick Roman Celentano started all four matches in goal.
Celentano helped earn two shutouts during the four-game span.
Cincinnati returns to league play next Saturday at TQL Stadium when it hosts New England (5 p.m.).
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Luciano Acosta leads FC Cincinnati to fourth-straight MLS win with late, deciding goal