D.C. United is a club FC Cincinnati simply hasn't been able to solve since FCC entered Major League Soccer.
The clubs have met five times and Cincinnati is not only winless, but really only managed to frustrate United once, on Decision Day in 2019 when nine-man FC Cincinnati held out for a scoreless draw that deprived United of a home playoff match.
FC Cincinnati will look for a breakthrough performance against D.C. United Saturday at Audi Field (7:30 p.m.). To do that, Cincinnati will need to refine a respectable but undisciplined outing from this past weekend's 2-1 loss to New York City FC.
At issue against NYCFC was a penalty kick given away by Cincinnati center back Geoff Cameron, which resulted in the eventual game-winning goal by New York's Valentin Castellanos. Alvaro Barreal and Isaac Atanga also lost their composure late in the match and were assessed red cards by center referee Ted Unkel.
"At the end of the day they're big moments, but there's small moments that cost us to get the result in the end and that's a shame, it's unfortunate," FC Cincinnati head coach Jaap Stam said during a Thursday news conference.
"It does not happen that you can reward the effort from the team in what you're doing. That's a little bit, up to now, how the season is. You're close. You're getting to a certain level. The intensity is there. The spirit is there. The players really want to go for it and create opportunities but you also give away opportunities by making rash decisions, like with New York and the penalty as well ... These are things that we have to try to get out of our system to eventually come out and win."
Barreal (three goals, three assists) and Atanga (one goal, two assists) won't be available at United, which puts FC Cincinnati under personnel strain.
Additionally, Kyle Scott, a kind of ballyhooed midseason signing, will go another week without dressing for Cincinnati's first team, which doesn't alleviate the strain on Stam's manpower.
"We don't have a lot of attacking options. You know that if you look at the roster," Stam said. "We need to be creative in terms of filling these positions in a different way. That's what we are doing. That's what we can do as well ... I'm very confident that we can still do very well and be very threatening going forward. So, that's of course very positive.
"With Kyle Scott, he's not fit. He first needs to be fit and needs to be ready before we can include him in the roster to get any minutes."
D.C. United is firmly entrenched in the race for one of seven Eastern Conference MLS Cup playoff berths but sits eighth in the standings entering Saturday's match.
FC Cincinnati is 14 points behind United, and 15 points back of the seventh and final playoff spot in the East. Most are resigned to the notion that Cincinnati will go a third consecutive season without qualifying for the playoffs, but FC Cincinnati's Florian Valot said it's not beyond FCC's capabilities to compete with United.
"Well, it wouldn't be an upset. Every game we go in and we have a chance," Valot said Thursday. "We're always really close to win the games. They're gonna give us a hard battle because, as you mentioned, they are eighth. We expect a big battle but it wouldn't be an upset. It would be a fair fight. I think we'll have all the chances to win."
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m., Audi Field; Buzzard Point in Washington, D.C.
TV/Radio/stream: Star64/102.3 The Beat/fccincinnati.com.
Series info: D.C. United lead the all-time series against FC Cincinnati with the only two victories in the series (2-0-3)
Cincinnati.com prediction: D.C. United 2, FC Cincinnati 1.
Record: 4-12-8, 20 points; 13th in Eastern Conference
Goals for: 24
Goals against: 44
Coach: Jaap Stam – second season as FC Cincinnati coach
Projected starting lineup:
Kenneth Vermeer (GK)
Ronald Matarrita, left back
Gustavo Vallecilla, center back (left)
Geoff Cameron, center back (right)
Nick Hagglund, right back
Yuya Kubo, midfielder
Luciano Acosta, midfielder
Allan Cruz, midfielder
Florian Valot, midfielder
Brandon Vazquez, forward
Brenner Souza da Silva, forward
Record: 10-11-4, 34 points; eighth in Eastern Conference
Goals for: 41
Goals against: 36
Coach: Hernán Losada – first season as D.C. United head coach
Bill Hamid, goalkeeper
Donovan Pines, right back
Frédéric Brillant, center back
José Antonio Alfaro Vázquez, left back
Julian Gressel, midfielder/wing back
Kevin Paredes, midfielder/wing back
Júnior Moreno, midfielder
Russell Canouse, midfielder
Drew Skundrich, forward/winger
Paul Arriola, forward/winger
Ola Kamara, forward
Player to watch: Ola Kamara – D.C. United's Kamara has quietly taken firm hold of the race for the MLS Golden Boot as he leads the league in scoring with 16 goals. He's done so somewhat quietly, too.
"Yeah, like, when you mentioned he was top of the league in scoring, I did not really know about it," Valot said. "I thought it was still Raul Ruidiaz from Seattle." In fact, Ruidiaz is second in MLS with 14 goals. Also, watch out if FC Cincinnati concedes another penalty this weekend because Kamara's perfect from the penalty spot in 2021.
FC Cincinnati reserve team plays match - FC Cincinnati recently expanded its support staff to accommodate a reserve team, and now that team is playing matches. FC Cincinnati's reserves played against NYCFC on Sunday at the Mercy Health Training Center. The aim going forward will be to use first-team substitutes and high-level academy players in the reserve matches.
"We organize it. We try to organize more games already for like subs and for like younger players from the academy to join in. Why is that? To give everybody minutes so that everybody can play in a competitive match to get rhythm as well so it's easier for them to step in," Stam said.
"Also for the young players to get used to the level of the first team players. They can grow in that, they can see in that. To have a second team or an under-23's or an MLS2 or however you want to call it, I think it's very important. I think it's crucial for a club if you want to use your academy to bring players eventually to the first team."