ORLANDO – FC Cincinnati had two winnable matches this week it needed to have, and it took both.
After defeating Chicago Fire FC on the road on Wednesday, an unchanged FC Cincinnati starting lineup got the job done again.
FCC scored early through Allan Cruz in the opening minutes and added an insurance tally from Luciano Acosta with 20-plus minutes remaining to defeat Toronto FC, 2-0, Saturday at Exploria Stadium.
Cruz broke in on goal alone in the fifth minute and finished with ease. The goal his first of 2021.
Acosta's tally in the 68th minute – his second goal of the year and his first since the April 17 season-opener at Nashville – all but secured the points for Cincinnati (3-5-1).
Acosta dribbled past MLS and U.S. men's national team veteran Michael Bradley prior to unleashing his curling effort, which effectively killed off a resurgent Toronto attack that threatening multiple times to equalize at 1-1.
"It's a very important goal, especially at that moment as well, to score the second one," FC Cincinnati head coach Jaap Stam said afterward. "Like I said before, you mentioned it as well, it kills the game a little bit because it gives the opposition a feeling as well that 'OK, this is going to be very hard to get back into the game.' They tried to do it at times but you can see it makes it more difficult. The belief is going away a little bit more as well and it's an exceptional goal. Great move getting away from Bradley to curl it in the far corner. He has the ability of doing that and Lucho's been important for us in how he can play, what he can do with his quality not only for himself but also what he can do to create for others."
Just prior to Acosta's goal, Stam had just finished making four substitutions, inserting Nick Hagglund, Caleb Stanko, Brandon Vazquez and Jürgen Locadia, who played for the final time prior to the end of his loan period expiring.
FC Cincinnati bid farewell to Locadia in a post-match tweet, confirming his time at the club would end when the loan expired.
Haris Medunjanin was also introduced to the match later by Stam. That group of five subs, along with the remaining starters, saw out FCC's second consecutive victory.
The consecutive wins marked the first of that under Stam since the group stage of 2020's MLS Is Back Tournament played in the Orlando region.
On 10 points in the standings after the win, Cincinnati climbed up one position to 11th place after Inter Miami CF's Friday night loss. FC Cincinnati started the week dead last in MLS.
"Everybody's in good spirits. We just want to keep this going," FC Cincinnati defender Joseph-Claude Gyau said. "We've been working long and hard for this. The performances have been there. The results haven't, but I think these last two games have shown a lot of resilience. We're playing well together. We're playing well within ourselves. The system is working, and we just want to keep building on this."
FC Cincinnati improved its position in the league through stingy, bend-but-don't-break defense.
After allowing two goals to Colorado Rapids in a home loss June 19, FC Cincinnati kept Chicago and Toronto off the scoreboard, sending those two teams down to the basement of the Eastern Conference standings as a result.
FC Cincinnati goalkeeper Kenneth Vermeer was credited with one save in his second consecutive shutout. He also managed several corner-kick situations effectively and disrupted Toronto's service, some of which created goal-scoring threats.
Toronto, which is training and playing in Orlando due to pandemic-related Canadian border restrictions, fell to 1-7-1 in 2021 under first-year head coach Chris Armas.
Stam indicated he was pleased with the consecutive victories by FCC but said his approach to his job won't change in the near future.
"It's not like by winning now two games in a row (and) having a good week that you can say now everything has to change. That's now how it works. We're still building," Stam said. "There's still room for improvement, as an individual for players and also as a team That's what we are looking at... As a club, we're still looking to make choices and if we need to make choices, we're still trying to improve. We're still trying to grow as a club, as a team, and that's a thing that happens because now we've won games and, yeah, hopefully you're going to get a result every game but that's also not going to happen.
"Because I also know a little bit in how it works and if you can say now, 'OK, we have these two results. Oh, so now we're going to go straight for the playoffs.' That's not how it works. You need to take it step for step and hopefully this will help us to make the next step."
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ORLANDO – Welcome to Cincinnati.com's live coverage of FC Cincinnati versus Toronto FC at Orlando's Exploria Stadium, where Toronto is playing its home matches due to Canadian border restrictions. Refresh this page throughout the match for live updates and analysis, and follow Enquirer FC Cincinnati beat reporter Pat Brennan on Twitter for further analysis (@PBrennanENQ).
In-match updates -
• FINAL: Toronto FC 0, FC Cincinnati 2 (Cruz, Acosta).
• 68th minute – GOAL, FC Cincinnati (0-2): Luciano Acosta scored his second of 2021 and his first since the opening match of the season.
• HALFTIME: Toronto FC 0, FC Cincinnati 1 – Allan Cruz's early opener is still the different for FC Cincinnati, which took its 1-0 advantage into the intermission. Cincinnati won the possession battle, out-shot Toronto and generally held its own even though TFC grew into the match and had some very threatening moments, particularly over the final 20 minutes of the half. Yuya Kubo is on a yellow card after a handful of sloppy fouls and might be a candidate to be lifted from the contest early if FCC has plans for sitting on the 1-0 advantage.
FC Cincinnati goalkeeper Kenneth Vermeer was credited with just one save in the first half but managed multiple restart situations well.
• 5th minute – GOAL, FC Cincinnati (0-1): Allan Cruz scored his first of 2021 to put FCC in front early. The goal was the ninth of Cruz's FC Cincinnati career.
• Match underway around 7:10 p.m.
Pre-match updates -
• FC Cincinnati starting XI (bench): Kenneth Vermeer (GK), Joseph-Claude Gyau, Geoff Cameron, Gustavo Vallecilla, Ronald Matarrita, Allan Cruz, Yuya Kubo, Alvaro Barreal, Luciano Acosta, Isaac Atanga, Brenner Souza da Silva (Edgar Castillo, Nick Hagglund, Franko Kovacevic, Jurgen Locadia, Haris Medunjanin, Kamohelo Mokotjo, Tom Pattersson, Caleb Stanko, Przemysław Tytoń, Brandon Vazquez).
• FC Cincinnati head coach Jaap Stam made no changes to the starting lineup he fielded Wednesday against Chicago Fire FC for Saturday's match against Toronto FC in Orlando. FC Cincinnati played last Saturday against Colorado Rapids, Wednesday at Chicago and Saturday in Orlando, and that period saw Stam make one alteration to the starting lineup, with Edgar Castillo starting at left back against Colorado. By midweek, Castillo was replaced in favor of regular starting left back, Ronald Matarrita. Matarrita had battled a calf injury since a May 29 match against New England Revolution and didn't dress for the home loss to the Rapids.