MLS preview: Will FC Cincinnati’s attacking players gel at CF Montréal?

Aaron Boupendza was noticeably impressive for FC Cincinnati in a 2-2 draw with Philadelphia Union for several reasons. One of the unavoidable things that made his performance stand out was that it happened without captain Luciano Acosta on the field.

Boupendza had scored previously with Acosta on the field, but the early days of their on-field partnership at FC Cincinnati have so far looked disjointed at times. But with Boupendza coming off scoring and assisting in the draw with the Union Saturday at Subaru Park, the hope is he and Acosta will show signs of progress Wednesday at Stade Saputo for FCC’s game against CF Montréal.

FC Cincinnati (17-4-7, 58 points) will look to maintain its eight-point lead in the Supporters Shield race with six regular-season matches remaining. It will be opposed by an eighth-place Montréal team (11-14-3, 36 points) looking to bolster its position above the playoff cut line and push to move out of the Nos. 8 and 9 seed positions, which require an MLS Cup playoff play-in game.

Guadalajara defender Gilberto Sepulveda, right, tackles FC Cincinnati forward Aaron Boupendza during the first half of a Leagues Cup soccer match in Cincinnati, Thursday, July 27, 2023. Erick Gutierrez was issued a red card.

Wednesday figures to be another playoff-type road atmosphere for FCC given Montreal’s proximity to the postseason, so contributions from Boupendza and Acosta would be welcomed.

It remains to be seen how far along the players have progressed in their on-field relationship, especially since Boupendza missed two weeks in Cincinnati due to a Gabon national team call-up and hectic travel schedule returning to FCC.

Individually, both players and dynamic talents. Acosta is the frontrunner for the 2023 Landon Donovan MLS Most Valuable Player Award. And Boupendza was the leading scorer in the Turkish Super Lig just a couple of seasons ago. Acosta’s ability to distribute and create chances combined with Boupendza’s knack for finishing could prove lethal come playoff time.

It just hasn’t been as dangerous as expected, although it should be noted that Boupendza already has three goals ‒tied for sixth-most on the team ‒ in just five appearances and 236 total minutes.

More: What we learned about Aaron Boupendza, FC Cincinnati in the big comeback vs. Philadelphia

More: FC Cincinnati’s Luciano Acosta brings a statue of Jesus Christ on the road. Here’s why

Conceptually, playing Boupendza and Acosta together made a lot of sense when Boupendza was acquired in July. But their time together at FC Cincinnati has so far been fits and starts. Plus, the optics were further muddled with Acosta suspended Saturday due to yellow-card accumulation and Boupendza running riot against one of the best MLS franchises for almost an entire half.

Boupendza’s success in Acosta’s absence wasn’t an indictment of anything. Rather, it provoked conversation about how close the two players are to finding consistency.

Speaking to The Enquirer Saturday night at Subaru Park, Pat Noonan acknowledged how vital the partnership between Boupendza and Acosta is to the club’s attack at-large.

“It’s an important partnership just in how we could take our team to another level,” Noonan said. “Brandon and Lucho have been that, so it’s just trying to get them all connected in ways where we see the best version of them. Not to exclude Dominique (Badji) or Sergio (Santos). Obviously, we brought Aaron here to help us win games. All of them − I think it’s different types of players and relationships but you’ve seen what Brandon and Lucho have done consistently. Now, you add another piece to it and it’s just trying figure each other out and that takes time. we have enough games to get it right and see it gel before the playoffs.”

Boupendza, who was FC Cincinnati’s “win-now” acquisition, clearly needed time to on-board with FCC. Showings like Saturday’s are proof-positive of that.

The fair question of the club then becomes this: Can Boupendza and Acosta sync up in time to achieve success this postseason?

Noonan addressed the Boupendza-Acosta partnership again during a Monday news conference at the Mercy Health Training Center, saying the duo simply needed more time.

“The rhythm hasn’t been consistent,” Noonan said. “Hopefully, now in the stretch run, we can find more consistently with a healthy group with Aaron obviously being a part of that and Lucho now coming back from suspension. The hope is the relationship will get stronger.”

More: FC Cincinnati downs CF Montréal, 3-0, to claim MLS history | Replay

The latest on Montréal

Montréal’s scoreless draw Saturday with Chicago Fire is probably the least interesting thing to happen to the club lately.

On Monday, MLS officials announced midfielder Matko Miljevic‘s contract was terminated by the league. Officially, the measure was taken due to conduct detrimental to the league and violating the MLS standard player agreement.

The move to expel the player was the result of a reported fight that led to an investigation. Per reports, Milijevic was banned from a Quebec indoor amateur soccer league where he had been using an assumed name in order to participate, and he punched another player.

Miljevic hadn’t contributed much to Montréal’s 2023 campaign, playing just 124 minutes over eight appearances.

As for the rest of the Montréal organization, the club is three points clear of the playoff cut line in the east. The eighth-place club would almost certainly prefer to push into the top seven east playoff positions, though, as the Nos. 9 and 9 seeds face one another in a play-in match to reach the first round.

Currently, Nashville SC is four points ahead of Montréal in the race for seventh.

Montréal has scored fewer goals than any other club currently in an east playoff spot. It’s also conceded 40 times. For context, that’s eight more goals than Cincinnati’s allowed.

Still, the club has managed a 9-4-1 home record. It’s one of nine MLS clubs with nine home wins so far this season, and home form is keeping Montréal in the playoff race.

FC Cincinnati lost Yerson Mosquera for Wednesday’s match after his red card Saturday in the 2-2 draw against Philadelphia, an absence the hosts will try to exploit.

The game

Kickoff: 7:30 p.m., Saturday | Stade Saputo; Montréal, Quebec

TV: Apple TV

All-time series:  FC Cincinnati leads the all-time series against CF Montréal with a 4-3-1 record. prediction: FC Cincinnati 2, Montréal 0.

FC Cincinnati

Record: 17-4-7, 58 points; First place in MLS Eastern Conference

Goals for: 46 (No. 5 in east)

Goals against: 32 (No. 2 in east)

Coach: Pat Noonan ‒ second year at FC Cincinnati

Projected starting XI:

Roman Celentano, goalkeeper

Alvaro Barreal, left back

Ian Murphy, center back

Matt Miazga, center back

Nick Hagglund, center back

Santiago Arias, right back

Junior Moreno, midfielder

Obinna Nwobodo, midfielder

Luciano Acosta, midfielder

Brandon Vazquez, forward

Aaron Boupendza, forward

CF Montréal

Record: 11-14-3, 36 points; Eighth place in MLS Eastern Conference

Goals for: 28 (No. 12 in east)

Goals against: 40 (No. 9 in east)

Coach: Hernán Losada – first year at Montréal

Projected starting XI:

Jonathan Sirois, goalkeeper

George Campbell, center back

Joel Waterman, center back

Gabriele Corbo, center back

Zachary Brault-Guillard, wing back

Lassi Lappalainen, wing back

Nathan Saliba, midfielder

Samuel Piette, midfielder

Mathieu Choinière, midfielder

Kwadwo Opoku, forward

Jules-Anthony Vilsaint, forward

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: MLS preview: Will FC Cincinnati’s attack gel at CF Montréal?

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