Sports fans in Ohio know better than most that triumph tastes all the sweeter when it comes through adversity. Their NFL teams, the Bengals and the Browns spent years propping up the AFC North, but last year the Bengals made it to the Super Bowl and the Browns only narrowly missed out on a playoff berth.
In MLS, FC Cincinnati has followed the Ohio sporting tradition and had a torrid time in its first three seasons. It’s never easy being an expansion team (unless you’re Atlanta United), and Cincinnati has finished at the foot of the Eastern Conference by some margin every time. Of course, the Ohio fans don’t love them any the less for that, and they have genuine reasons for optimism this year. Cincinnati are also accumulating a cult following among soccer fans in neighbouring Indiana.
Let’s not sugar coat it, the only way is up for Cincinnati and the best Indiana betting site had them at 150/1 for the title before a ball had even been kicked in anger. They finished the 2021 campaign with 12 consecutive defeats and their points tally of 20 from 34 games marked a MLS low.
New faces off-field in the form of General Manager Chris Albright and Head Coach Pat Noonan could prove just as important as signings out in the middle. After all, these two worked wonders during their time together at Philadelphia Union.
There’s only so much they can do though, and while Cincinnati undoubtedly has some talent up front, it stands for nothing if they continue to haemorrhage goals at an average of more than two per game. That’s way more goals conceded than any other team in the league, and it’s been their biggest problem every season.
That’s why the signing of Alec Kann is so important. At 31, he’s in his prime as a goalkeeper, and joined as a free agent after three years at Atlanta, where he had limited opportunities. Ray Gaddis could prove to be another shrewd signing. The defender brings 10 years of MLS experience and was with Philadelphia Union at the same time as Albright and Noonan.
After the stomach-churning freefall that characterized the latter part of the 2021 season, Cincinnati’s immediate priority this year was to stop the rot. Going undefeated preseason was exactly what they needed, with two draws and a well-earned win over Nashville.
Heads must have dropped when they fell to a 5-0 defeat in their first regular season game, but despite that blip, Cincinnati has fought back and looked far less fragile since. They were almost literally robbed by DC United, who stole a win in the eighth minute of stoppage time. It was disappointing for the fans, but the team showed a resolve that had been lacking in past seasons. Sure enough, they followed it up with a deserved victory over Orlando in Week Three. It’s early days, but the ingredients might just be coming together at last.