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The Cincinnati Preview

I'll be honest: I want this to be a rivalry for no other reason than Cincinnati (inaccurately) refers to itself as the Queen City. I want a Queen City Cup. Like a literal trophy (and I personally want it as garish as possible). I want it to be the Queen City Derby. I want bragging rights to go to the winner. I want this idea to be carried out:

I am weirdly excited for this game.

 

Cincinnati come to town off the backs of two straight wins, having scored 5 goals total in those two games. Is Charlotte in trouble?

Team

Total Possession

Shots per game

Shots on target per game

Goals for (xG)

Goals against (xGA)

Points (Standings Place)

WhoScored Team Rating

​Charlotte FC

47.5%

10.8

5.0

4 (4.0)

7 (7.6)

3 (12th)

6.46

FC Cincinnati

43.8%

13.3

4.3

5 (6.7)

8 (7.5)

6 (8th)

6.53

Cincinnati's numbers are not so bad. For a club that has struggled during its first 3 years of existence (finishing 24th, 26th, and then 27th overall), these numbers appear to be moving in the right direction.


But here's the thing: I'm not a believer. Here are Cincinnati's results on the year:

  • 5-0 loss to Austin

  • 1-0 loss to DC

  • 2-1 win against Orlando

  • 3-1 win against Miami

Let's start here: Miami is bad. -8 goal differential on the season. 2 total goals scored. Everyone but Chicago in Week 1 has scored against them, and scored multiple goals. Look, you never apologize for a win, but beating this Miami team right now isn't difficult.


I think the bigger surprise is the win against Orlando. This is not to say that Orlando are world beaters, but in that game they dominated Cincinnati. 69.5% vs 30.5% possession. 18-9 in total shots. 6-3 in shots on target. 594-270 in total passes. 84% vs 63% pass accuracy. 7-2 on corners. 27-6 (!) on crosses. The bigger number in each category belongs to Orlando. And yet, Cincinnati won. Again, you don't apologize for wins, but I also don't know how often you should expect to win games like that. Just look at these 5' intervals:

5' interval vs Orlando
5' interval vs Orlando. Via MLS

I mean, come on! Cincinnati literally had ONE 5' minute interval where they controlled the game and just barely at that. You just don't win a lot of games like this.


For the record, both teams only had a xG of a little over 1 (1.4 for Orlando and 1.2 for Cincinnati), so Orlando wasn't creating much with their dominance and Cincinnati were really clinical in their finishing.

 

Cincinnati have played a pretty similar lineup each game, with the biggest changes coming on the left. They did start the year in a back 4, but after the thrashing they got from Austin have reverted to a back 3. Matarrita started for them last game and was really good. With that said, they've employed a number of others in that position, so it'll be interesting to see if he's earned another start or not (EDITOR'S NOTE: Matarrita participated in WCQs this week, so he will not be playing). Most everyone else, though, including the backline and forwards have stayed the same.

via MLS. Cincinnati Lineup vs. Inter Miami
via MLS. Cincinnati Lineup vs. Inter Miami

Injury Report

Cincinnati have a few missing pieces right now. They've already ruled out defender John Nelson (back) and midfielder Allan Cruz (personal family matter).


Defenders Ray Gaddis (groin) and Gustavo Vallecilla (leg) are both listed as questionable. Gaddis is one of the players who has also started on the left before.


Attack

Up top, Cincinnati have started Dominique Badji and Brandon Vázquez in each game. It's Badji's first year with the club and he has yet to score but seems to have strong link-up play. Against Miami, he was actually dropping a bit deeper than Luciano Acosta.


Meanwhile, Vázquez has been red-hot. Only 23, he may be in the midst of a break-out campaign. He's already matched his career high in goals scored with 4. Having moved into the starting lineup this year, he's been rewarding the team handsomely. Against Inter Miami, Vázquez had two goals, an assist, and drew a PK. He also tied for first in the league with a 2.7 xG. In fact, in his last 750ish minutes for Cincy, he has seven goals and two assists. Our CBs (and fullbacks) are going to need to be marking him tightly.


If there is one area where he's not been great, it has been in his passing. He's sitting at only 68.9% for the year. He is a forward so I would imagine part of his low percentage is a result of him attempting passes in, around, and into the opponent's box, which are a lot harder to complete. However, I still think you'd like to see a player bump up that percentage a bit, regardless of position.

Vázquez heatmap
via SofaScore. Vázquez heatmap

His overall positioning is also interesting, especially from a Charlotte perspective.


Vázquez is going to pop up a lot centrally, but look at that: he's also drifting out wide consistently, especially to the right side of the pitch. This has me a bit worried, as this is Fuchs' side.


I think Fuchs has been solid, but opponents have been able to get by him a bit. That's not necessarily unexpected for a 35-year-old defender, but I think it's something MAR needs to game plan for, if Fuchs is going to play (I also don't see a reason why he wouldn't). Either one of our midfielders is going to have to help out or we're going to need whoever is on the wing to track back.


Midfielders

Aside from the changes on the left, midfield has been pretty consistent. Acosta is their attacking midfielder and he likes to get forward. He pops up in dangerous areas and definitely knows how to find a pass. Even in a bad year for Cincinnati last year, he still had 10 assists.


While Vázquez will drift to the right, Acosta is going to pop up on that left side a lot. Like Vázquez, he's not completing passes at a high rate (only 65.8% on the year). Again, like Vázquez, this completion rate seems to be based on his positioning and is more of a function of the types of passes he is trying to make, as opposed to his ability.


Elsewhere in the midfield there is Júnior Moreno, Yuya Kubo, and Alvas Powell. Moreno and Kubo have each started all 4 games and Powell has started the last 3. None of them are goal threats. Powell has 6 career goals to his name, with no more than 2 in a season (in 147 total games played). He hasn't scored in 3 years. Moreno has 1 goal in his five year career. Kubo used to chip in some goals when he was with Young Boys (26 in 4 seasons) and Gent (22 in 2 seasons) in the Swiss and Belgium leagues, respectively. However, goals have dried up for him. He scored 1 in 22 games while on loan with Nürnberg in the Bundesliga, then barely played for 2 seasons back at Gent (to be honest, I'm not sure if this lack of playing time these 2 seasons were due to form or injury). In MLS, he scored 3 goals his first season (2020) and hasn't found the back of the net since.


Kubo and Moreno are solid passers with completion percentages in the mid-80s. Kubo also leads the team with 21 progressive passes. Powell is a bad passer, sitting at 62.5% for the year.


Kubo covers a lot of ground. He'll get forward a bit, especially on the right side of the midfield. Moreno appears to stay back a little and provides defensive cover. Powell is mostly confined to the right touchline, providing width for the team. Matarrita has been the most offensive-minded of the starters on the left; if he starts again, expect him to get up and down the pitch. To be honest, after the good game he had last week, I'm not quite sure why Matarrita wouldn't start (EDITOR'S NOTE: There's a good reason he won't start: he participated in WCQs this week).


Defense

Cincinnati have been playing with 3 at the back for the past 3 games. Tyler Blackett, Geoff Cameron, and Nick Hagglund have started each of those games with Blackett and Cameron also starting the first game when they were 4 at the back.

Blackett heatmap via SofaScore
Blackett heatmap via SofaScore

As a group, these defenders are good in the air. Hagglund is very good. He's won all 11 of his aerials so far. Cameron has won 5/6 and Blackett has won 6/7. Cameron continues to play pretty well overall, even at 36. He's been strong in the middle of the back 3, winning 75% of his ground duels and winning 1.6 tackles per 90. He's also cleaning up a lot around the penalty area with 20 clearances on the year. Blackett and Hagglund are more exploitable. Neither is great with their ground duels, sitting at 28.57% and 40% respectively.

Cameron heatmap via SofaScore
Cameron heatmap via SofaScore

I think these heatmaps also make it clear that Cincinnati expects their wide CBs to cover a lot of space out wide. It also looks like they might trust Hagglund a little less than Blackett, as Cameron's positions skew towards the right.


There seems to opportunity here, just like against New England. The Revs played with a back 4 but pushed their fullbacks high up the pitch. Cincy isn't so aggressive, however, there is clearly space behind the wingbacks to exploit. Think about the 3rd goal against the Revs where Swiderski finds Alcívar running into space down the right channel. I think Charlotte could again find joy there in this match. This is especially true if Matarrita plays, as he was very offensive minded in the previous game (EDITOR'S NOTE: Matarrita participated in WCQs this week, so he will not be playing).

Hagglund heatmap via SofaScore
Hagglund heatmap via SofaScore

There is a bit of discrepancy in the passing stats for the CBs depending on source. MLS has all 3 of them in the 70% range for their passing. FBref, meanwhile, has Hagglund at 77.1%, Blackett at 79.9%, and Cameron at 89.7%. I'm guessing here, but I think FBref may be excluding clearances from these numbers. I'm not completely sure though.


If we look at FBref, all 3 are good when it comes to short and intermediate passes. On long passes, though, Blackett is at 57% and Hagglund is at 33%. Cameron is the one player among them that can pick a long pass, sitting at 79%. Again, I'm not positive about this but based on their overall numbers, I think FBref is excluding clearances, so I don't think Blackett and Hagglund's poor percentages are a result of them just booting the ball downfield. I'd like to see Swiderski (if he's healthy enough to play) or any of our other strikers pressing Cameron so he doesn't have time on the ball.


Goalkeeping

Alec Kann has started in goal for all 4 matches so far. He's allowed 8 total goals, though 1 has been a PK and another an own goal. His save percentage sits at 57.1%, which is 6th to last in the league. Kann's PSxG sits at 6.1, which is right in line with what he's allowed (excluding the PK and OG). Charlotte need to test him early and often.


Finally, it doesn't appear that Cincinnati is trying to play out from the back much. Kann's launch percentage (i.e., how often he's kicking the ball 40+ yards) sits at 58.2% for his passes and 71.9% from goal kicks. Vázquez is a big target for him to aim for at 6'2" and 196 lbs.

 

Cincinnati is on a good run. I'm just not convinced that this team is vastly improved over what it's been its first 3 years, namely, a bottom of the league team. We shall see if I'm proved wrong.


Cincinnati has two players that concern me: Vázquez and Acosta. That's not to say they don't have other good players; they definitely do. For instance, Cameron and Kubo are both playing well and could give us problems. I just believe if Charlotte is able to control Acosta and especially Vázquez, Cincinnati doesn't have a lot of alternatives. Additionally, this team, this year, seems to go by how Vázquez does. In the 2 games he scored, they won. In the two games he didn't, they lost. Stop Vázquez, stop Cincinnati. Simple right?


Prediction: Charlotte 2 - Cincinnati 0

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