At 1-5-1 in the 2021 Major League Soccer season with 27 matches to play, FC Cincinnati might not be in "must-win" territory but they could certainly use a boost.
Coincidentally, FCC's opponent on Wednesday – Chicago Fire FC – also needs a lift. The two clubs meet at Soldier Field (8 p.m. ET) and enter the match sharing the cellar in the Eastern Conference based on points (four apiece).
The bottom of the East is a familiar place for FC Cincinnati. The club finished last in the league in 2019 an 2020.
What's fortunate for FCC about the Chicago matchup is the fastest way to climb out of the cellar is beating the closest teams to them in the standings.
In that sense, the Fire FC match will be viewed externally as a kind of litmus test and gauge of Cincinnati's ability to evade a third-consecutive last-place finish, albeit with more than two-thirds of the schedule still to be played.
With MLS being the league of parity that it is, you're only a few quick results away from an in-season turnaround. There's a big opportunity in front of FC Cincinnati with the Chicago match followed by a visit to 12th-place Toronto FC (1-5-2, five points) on Saturday.
After the schedule markers dealt FC Cincinnati a difficult hand to begin this season, this week will see that aspect of the club's campaign level off with what should be as good an opportunity for points in back-to-back matches as FCC will see all season.
Speaking for the match against the Fire, FC Cincinnati head coach Jaap Stam said during a Monday news conference at the Mercy Health Training Center his side won't change its tactics or approach for a match against its nearest rival in the standings.
"We know, of course, that when they're close as well, they also are trying to find their rhythm to get into things," Stam said. "We need to be aware of that as well. That's probably how they approach us as well, so you can see them as well sometimes trying new things, different things, different personnel as well to find the right balance in the team and what to do, and also they aren't always very happy with getting the results. I've also seen games from them – (their) Montreal game where they play at home.
"They lost at the end of the game one-nil but they were on top of the opposition. They had the better opportunities, but still they lost and that's a little bit how we are as well. We know them. We know that ability that they're having, how they can play. What they can do so it's still a team that we need to be aware in what they're trying to do in playing as well. They're playing at home. We know probably their approach is going to be pressing high up the pitch. They'll be very aggressive against us.
"Of course, the approach to them, thinking about Chicago, is not going to be totally different, but I need to make the team aware as well that, of course, we also need to play for a win. We also know from the situation they're in, and hopefully we can perform as we did in the last game."
FC Cincinnati would do well to replicate its performance from last weekend against Colorado Rapids, which saw it dominate at TQL Stadium in almost every facet except on the scoreboard, which reflected a 2-0 FCC loss.
MLS to launch lower-division league
MLS is going in on lower-league soccer.
League officials on Monday announced plans to launch a new professional league in 2022 that will complete the development, giving players a clear path to the pro ranks from the youth ranks within clubs.
The yet-to-be-branded league, which will see teams positioned in non-MLS markets, will consist of 20 MLS-affiliated clubs along with the potential for independently owned teams for the inaugural season in 2022.
League play will begin in late March and conclude with playoffs in the fall and a championship match in early December, league officials announced.
Further details about the league will be unveiled throughout 2021.
"We are excited to launch a new league to complete the professional pathway between our academies and the MLS first teams,” MLS President and Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott said in a news release. “In addition to providing more opportunities for MLS-caliber players, the new league will develop a diverse talent pool of coaches, referees and front office executives while also attracting fans who previously were unable to support a local club in their hometown."