FC Cincinnati have been the hunted all season and they know it’ll be more of the same when they host the New York Red Bulls in the first match of their best-of-three series in the MLS Cup Playoffs on Sunday.
Cincinnati earned the Supporters’ Shield as the top team in the MLS table in its fifth season in the league.
“This is now the first time we’ll go into a playoff scenario where you’re probably the favorites to win some games,” FC Cincinnati coach Pat Noonan said. “Whether people think we should win it all or not, I don’t care, but we’re in a position where we’re playing games at home. And the expectation will be to go and win.”
The club won a league-high 13 home matches, including 10 straight from the start of the season to late June, and went 12-0-1 until it was finally defeated on its own pitch on Sept. 2. That loss was one of two FC Cincinnati had at home, including one against the Red Bulls (2-1 on Oct. 4), ending the campaign with a 13-2-2 record as the hosts.
Luciano Acosta led the team and finished tied for second in the league with 17 goals in the regular season. Since the beginning of May, the Argentine midfielder has contributed to 19 of Cincinnati’s goals in 12 home matches (10 goals, nine assists).
New York is coming off a 5-2 win in the play-in match on Wednesday against Charlotte FC — the five tallies marking a club postseason record.
After struggling to score for most of the regular season, the Red Bulls have 16 goals in their past six matches. Omir Fernandez led the team in the regular season with six goals. Elias Manoel finished tied for third on the club with three goals, a total he matched with a hat trick against Charlotte.
A year ago, New York was knocked out in the first round of the playoffs by a visiting Cincinnati squad.
The Red Bulls have never lost in four matches played in Cincinnati, going 3-0-1.
“The first thing we have to do is respect the talent that they have and the organization that they have,” New York coach Troy Lesesne said. “They’re very, very well-coached. … It’s no surprise that they won the Supporters’ Shield in only (Noonan’s) second year.”
New York has lost five straight road matches in the playoffs, dating back to 2018.
The home team has gone winless in each of the past eight matches between the two sides.