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Barreal & Acosta show! FC Cincinnati “set the tone” in MLS Cup hunt | MLSSoccer.com

Barreal & Acosta show! FC Cincinnati “set the tone” in MLS Cup hunt | MLSSoccer.com

In their first-ever playoff game at TQL Stadium, No. 1-seed FC Cincinnati put forth a dominant performance Sunday night, defeating No. 8-seed New York Red Bulls, 3-0, to open their postseason campaign. Cincinnati can now clinch an Eastern Conference Semifinal berth with a win in Game 2 of the Best-of-3 series next Saturday at Red Bull Arena (7 pm ET | MLS Season Pass).

It was the type of business-like showing Orange & Blue fans have grown accustomed to seeing in 2023, when Cincinnati were the league’s best regular-season team. They finished six points clear of second-place Orlando City SC in the overall table (69 points), cementing the club’s growth after three straight Wooden Spoons upon joining MLS (2019-21).

“I think the performance tonight and the result showed that everything in the past is forgotten at the moment,” Pat Noonan, a Sigi Schmid MLS Coach of the Year finalist, told reporters postgame.

“The goal was to start strong tonight and set the tone for what the playoffs could look like. … I think [the team] managed the game and the opponent in a really good way and hopefully set the tone for a playoff run.”

FCC were clinical throughout the match, scoring three times on just 0.95 expected goals. Their Argentines were to thank for that.

Álvaro Barreal, a 2023 MLS All-Star who was linked with a move to Dutch giants Ajax earlier this year, netted a beautiful brace. Meanwhile, Luciano Acosta put in an MVP-like performance with 1g/1a, surpassing his total from five previous playoff appearances.

The goal from Acosta – a finish he made look easy from more than 35 yards out – was yet another special moment in a long list of incredible ones this season from the Landon Donovan MLS MVP finalist. Cincinnati will need more nights like Sunday’s out of their captain as the club has their sights set on becoming just the ninth team in league history to complete an MLS Cup-Supporters’ Shield double.

There was some concern before their Eastern Conference Round One series that rust may factor into Cincinnati’s matchup vs. red-hot RBNY. The club, who clinched the Supporters’ Shield and No. 1 seed throughout the postseason on Sept. 30, hadn’t played a meaningful game for several weeks.

But in front of more than 24,000 fans and an electric atmosphere in Ohio, Cincinnati emphatically alleviated any sense of doubt. They sent a loud statement to the rest of MLS that they’re going to be a problem.

“I’m not surprised, but I will say over the past month, we haven’t been our strongest,” admitted Noonan. “Maybe it was what was at stake and the start of the playoffs, but they stepped up. [They] knew the challenges that were in front of them, and I thought managed the game in a pretty strong way.”

The road to MLS Cup presented by Audi on Dec. 9 runs through TQL Stadium as long as Cincy remain in contention. They fully plan on following through.

“What I said before was the path to an MLS Cup comes through this city and this stadium and these fans, so it’s our job to continue to play in front of them,” Noonan said. “Tonight was a good starting point.”

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