A beautiful night in, allegedly, the world’s best soccer stadium was the stage for FC Cincinnati’s most disappointing match of the season. A pathetic, dispirited performance when everything was on the line. Chicago won 3-2 on a night where The FC could have potentially locked in their playoff berth. 

The disaster that was the game came in a veritable variety pack of problems. Roman Celentano, a budding star in this team and someone with national team potential, had his worst game of the season by far. His Distribution was terrible, routinely punting balls directly out of bounds. There were a few times in the match where it was clear the coaching staff had worked on something of an organized play for the keeper and on at least two occasions took almost an entire minute to set up the team just to launch the ball into the First Financial club seats. Door decision making on the third and final goal led to an embarrassing chipped goal which capped off a night to forget for the defense. 

The backline played high all night and was constantly being beat by Chicago’s youthful attackers. Far too often Cameron and company were being forced into dead sprints against 18 and 19 yer olds and they were, of course, losing those battles every time. It was only a matter of time before the pressure being applied by the defense would give way to opportunities, and Chicago didn’t squander theirs. 

Unlike FC Cincinnati. Crosses skipping in front of the three best attackers in MLS this season would go out for goal kicks without so much as a deflection. The pitiful attacking display was a continuation of the newfound incompetence unveiled against Seattle earlier in the week. Vazquez, Brenner, and Acosta all look nervous in the final third. While it’s impossible to tell exactly what’s going through a player’s mind during a game, they all appear to be folding under pressure. 

In fact, the entire team does. And while that’s obviously not a great reflection on the players, this is an even poorer reflection on the coach and his staff. Pat Noonan came into this season playing with house money. There were no expectations aside from avoiding last place. All season the team has been playing as if there is nothing to lose, and they’ve looked great doing it. Now that there is something to lose, the playoffs, the team is crumbling. Something had to have happened between playing Salt Lake City and playing in Seattle to have rattled this team. Because losing 3-2 to this Chicago Fire team, is a cry for help. 

And if there was a moment that encapsulated this loss of control on the narrative, it was the fight at the end of the match. Barreal was, justifiably, furious at another Chicago player milking a so-called injury to waste time. Miraculously, when Barreal laid hands on him, he jumped right back up to his feet. This led to a scuffle full of thrown elbows, kicks, and what appeared to be a punch thrown by FC Cincinnati player Sergio Santos. 

Santos, one of Albright’s key additions midway through the season, has been a disappointment. He has a club option for next year which would bring his total acquisition price to nearly a million dollars in GAM. While Santos is certainly fast and gets in good spots, his finishing has been poor, he’s been injury prone, and now has a red card for fighting with an opponent. The finishing and injury history was known about him before coming to Cincinnati, and yet Albright bet big again on a former Philadelphia Union player. Picking up the option after this season would be foolish, and will serve as a good measure of Albright’s willingness to consider the evidence and change his plans. 

It should also be noted that the match was getting out of hand all game. From the start Chicago made their intentions clear that they were going to time waste, flop, and otherwise attempt to frustrate The FC. While fouls for both teams went uncalled for most of the game, it built and built until frustrations boiled over. After Chicago’s third goal, Jhon Duran celebrated again in front of sections 104-103 where eventually fans threw cans of beer at the player. The crowd, FCC, even the ref appeared shook for this game and wilted when the moment mattered. 

All is not lost, but if you feel that way I wouldn’t blame you. The playoffs are still likely, but now Cincinnati is going to need a little bit of help; Orlando losing later today would be a massive boost on your favorite playoff odds tracking website. But the playoffs are still possible with an Orlando win on Sunday AND FCC losing to DC. But the margin for error is shrinking rapidly. 

Of note between today and Decision Day are Orlando’s matches vs NYCFC and Miami, and Columbus vs Charlotte. Those games could very well knock out FC Cincinnati from the playoffs regardless of their result vs DC:  Orlando beats NYCFC on Sunday and draws Miami on Wednesday; if Columbus beats Charlotte on Wednesday and beats Orlando on Decision Day, and Miami beats Montreal on Decision Day. That’ll be the end of the season, even if FCC beats DC 10-0. 

Let’s just hope it doesn’t come to that, eh?