Luciano Acosta, Brenner combine to lift FC Cincinnati past Orlando City SC, 1-0

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It was going to take something special to beat Orlando City SC goalkeeper Pedro Gallese, and Luciano Acosta obliged.

Gallese, the starter for Peru's senior men's national team and Orlando, was dominating Friday's match against FC Cincinnati at TQL Stadium. He stymied the hosts for more than two-thirds of the match until Acosta, a second half substitute, facilitated a breakthrough.

In the 65th minute, Acosta forced Gallese into a lunging save. But then Acosta gathered his rebound as he jumped to the ball while Orlando's back line reacted slowly.

Acosta then fed the ball across the mouth of the goal to Brenner Souza da Silva, whose simple tap-in was his first goal of 2022.

Brenner's score was also the deciding tally in FC Cincinnati's 1-0 victory against an Orlando side that entered the match in fourth place in Major League Soccer's Eastern Conference.

A season-high 24,263 attended the game.

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"Fantastic performance from our group," FC Cincinnati head coach Pat Noonan said afterward. "I think, defensively, that's as good and as disciplined, front to back, this year. I thought we limited a really good team with the ball from creating chances over the course of the 90 minutes.

"At halftime, we said 'one goal was probably gonna win this game.' Very pleased in how we went about securing a victory, and it was good to see Brenner get his goal to help us get the three points but very pleased with the group today."

The FC Cincinnati victory saw the club improve to 7-7-2 (23 points), and to move into joint-fifth place in the east for the time being.

Orlando dropped to 7-6-4 with the loss.

FC Cincinnati forward Brenner (9) attempts to get possession around Orlando City goalkeeper Pedro Gallese (1) in the first half of the MLS match between between the FC Cincinnati and the Orlando City at TQL Stadium in Cincinnati on Friday, June 24, 2022.
FC Cincinnati forward Brenner (9) attempts to get possession around Orlando City goalkeeper Pedro Gallese (1) in the first half of the MLS match between between the FC Cincinnati and the Orlando City at TQL Stadium in Cincinnati on Friday, June 24, 2022.

After being unavailable for training during the June international break due to being placed in health and safety protocols, Acosta played only 13-plus minutes off the bench for FCC in last Saturday's 1-1 draw with Philadelphia Union.

By Friday, Noonan deemed Acosta fit to come on in the 55th minute, and that was plenty of time to affect change to a game that saw Gallese denying Cincinnati at every turn.

Gallese finished the night with eight saves.

Orlando, which scored 20 goals on the year entering the Cincinnati match it was eventually shutout in, isn't the most prolific attacking side in MLS by a wide margin.

Still, Orlando has formidable offensive weapons and none of them shone against FCC. Possession went in Orlando's favor narrowly with about 54% of the ball, but just seven shots and two on-target.

FC Cincinnati goalkeeper Roman Celentano's night ended with two saves.

"I thought it was class defensively," Celentano said afterward. "I didn't have much to do, so that means we did something right. Just packed it in, defended the box when we needed to, and just not letting chances get in our defensive third really."

A historic seventh win

During the club's inaugural MLS campaign, FC Cincinnati's 2019 team grabbed a sixth win in September at CF Montreal. That was the high-water mark for the club not only that year but also in the years to follow.

Cincinnati won four matches in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season and just four in 2021.

Friday saw Cincinnati break the club record for single-season victories with its seventh – an accomplishment that will be viewed in equal measure as both modest and valuable to the franchise.

Noonan, who has preached not comparing his 2022 team to the ineffectual sides the club has fielded in years past, conceded on Friday the seventh win was significant.

"I think it's just another step, a milestone, I guess you could say, with the ways in which we're finding some success," Noonan said. "We beat a very good team today and I think it was important to win at home. We've talked about this far too often: We need to reward these fans. We had a great crowd tonight and it was nice to send them home happy."

Finally, Brenner scores

For Brenner, 240 days elapsed between his winner against Orlando and his last goal for FC Cincinnati prior to that – an Oct. 27 tally against Nashville SC.

All parties involved would have to concede there were plenty of rough patches involving the player and the club during the period between the two scores. It was a time colored by a transfer request out of Cincinnati by Brenner's camp, an internal issue that resulted in discipline for Brenner, his inability to beat out teammates for playing time, and other flashpoints.

None of that mattered when Brenner's tap-in for 1-0 in the 65th minute crossed the line as FCC finally beat Gallese on a night when the Peruvian goalkeeper looked unbeatable.

"He doesn't remember really well (how it played out). He just remembers seeing (Acosta) take the shot and he followed through with the ball," FC Cincinnati Player Welfare Coordinator Rodrigo Frank interpreted for Brenner postgame. "He saw it was ready for him, and he just needed to put it in the goal."

The goal was Brenner's ninth for the club.

With the start of the summer transfer window looming, there's some debate outside FC Cincinnati as to whether or not Brenner's days in the Queen City are numbered.

The designated-player, seven-figure earner has labored to come close to meeting the high expectations he garnered upon transferring to Cincinnati prior to the start of the 2021 season.

Regardless of that undeniable debate, it can at least be said that Brenner's contribution to the 2022 season finally helped directly produce three points for FCC's playoff push.

The 10-match challenge

Noonan challenged FC Cincinnati ahead of returning to action from the weeks-long June international break to maintain its approximate place in the MLS standings through the 10 games to come. (Read more on that here)

So far, so good for Noonan and Co. Cincinnati is 1-0-1 and has four out of six possible points in the first two matches post-break.

What really makes those results impressive is the opposition: Philadelphia Union, one of few legitimate MLS Cup contenders in the eyes of some, and Orlando, which has made the playoffs two consecutive years and is thought to be on track to go to the postseason again.

Cincinnati enjoyed a come-from-behind draw on the road against Philadelphia, and then beat Orlando to sweep the season series against the Central Floridian side for the first time since entering MLS.

The big challenge awaits Wednesday as FC Cincinnati is scheduled to host reigning MLS Cup champion and Eastern Conference front-runner, New York City FC.

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Luciano Acosta, Brenner combine to left FC Cincinnati past Orlando City SC, 1-0