FC Cincinnati ends 2021 MLS season on 12-match losing streak

FC Cincinnati's final match of its 2021 Major League Soccer season went the way of so many others.

FC Cincinnati started strongly and took an early lead against an Atlanta United side seeking to clinch a playoff berth but capitulated one final time in a 2-1 loss Sunday at TQL Stadium.

An announced crowd of 23,663 attended the contest.

“I thought we started off very well," FC Cincinnati interim head coach Tyrone Marshall said. "Having that week of preparation, we spoke about it all week (and) we wanted to get out on the front foot, and we did that for the first 70 minutes, I think, until they scored a goal. Even then, we still had opportunities but then Martinez scored a fantastic goal but, man, the sacrifice that the guys brought today ... if we were seeing this when we started this journey with them, I think we would probably be having a different conversation.

"But again, that was kind of the season in a nutshell. We do well for a certain point but we just can’t see it through."

After Zico Bailey scored for 1-0 in the 21st minute, Cincinnati squandered its lead in the second half by conceding goals to Miles Robinson and FC Cincinnati-killer Josef Martinez in the 70th and 79th minutes, respectively.

A circus shot by Martinez – a kind of no-look volley from a wide angle that caught the inside of the far post as the ball swung across the face of the goal – was the sixth of his career against FCC.

The goal was also the 74th allowed by FC Cincinnati in 2021. The club avoided matching its own record for goals allowed in a single season (75) but joined the 2018 Orlando City SC team for the second-most allowed in a season.

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Cincinnati had little in the way of a response to the two goals over the final 11 minutes of the regular season, which the club ended on a 12-match losing streak.

The loss meant Cincinnati would end its third MLS campaign on a 4-22-8 record, matching franchise worsts for single-season losses (22) and victories (4).

FC Cincinnati goalkeeper Kenneth Vermeer (25) deflects a shot in the first half of the MLB soccer match between FC Cincinnati and Atlanta United on Sunday, Nov. 7, 2021, at TQL Stadium in West End.
FC Cincinnati goalkeeper Kenneth Vermeer (25) deflects a shot in the first half of the MLB soccer match between FC Cincinnati and Atlanta United on Sunday, Nov. 7, 2021, at TQL Stadium in West End.

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Corrective actions – firings, the hire of a new general manager in Chris Albright and an ongoing process to find the club's next permanent head coach – were taken during the season but did nothing to improve results after a coaching staff shakeup in September.

FC Cincinnati went 0-9-0 after Jaap Stam was fired as head coach Sept. 27.

Cincinnati also now holds the dubious distinction of being the only team in MLS history to win just once at home over the course of a full, uninterrupted season.

Atlanta's win saw it climb into fifth place in the Eastern Conference and secure its MLS Cup playoff berth.

All Eastern Conference matches kicked off simultaneously Sunday at 3:45 p.m. to settle the remaining battles for playoff spots and seeding.

Bailey's goal was a feel-good moment for a player that endured a midseason surgery, made just four appearances under Stam in 2021 and will require a new contract offer to remain at FCC.

“I think (Marshall) has given me a lot of confidence," Bailey said. "He's given me a run of games to develop rhythm. I think, as a player, that's what's most important. If you come in as a young player and you just play 15 minutes here, 10 minutes there, you can't really get a rhythm and get experience. You're kind of just thrown into the fire. With (Marshall), he's given me trust and I just have to repay him for his believing in me. That's what I try to do every single day in training and every single game. I just wanted to, in the last game, make a lasting impression and just play my best and enjoy it.

"I heard what some people had to say about me as a player, and I just wanted to prove them wrong as well. Like I said before, I'm fighting for my contract and my job at the end of the day, and that's what I did on the field out there today.”

The goal capped off a run of seven consecutive starts and 527 minutes logged over the final seven matches of the 2021 season for Bailey, who was assisted on the play by Luciano Acosta via a quick combination.

“I have to get him a gift now or pay him if I'm going to be involved in that right?," Acosta joked afterward. "I'm really happy for him. He's a young guy who works really hard and had a difficult year, I'm happy for him that he got that moment."

Acosta was FC Cincinnati's leader in goal contributions in 2021 with 17 (seven goals, 10 assists) and his assist on the Bailey goal marked the third time Acosta achieved double-digit assists in his MLS career.

What followed was a familiar sight for FCC supporters.

Robinson headed home on the equalizing goal, which capped off a period of confusing play in the back of Cincinnati's formation.

Playing just his fifth career match against FC Cincinnati, Martinez then scored for the sixth time against FCC. The score ignited a bench-clearing celebration for Atlanta by the southwest corner flag.

Needing only a draw to secure a playoff berth, Martinez's hit gave Atlanta some cushion and surely clinched inclusion in the MLS Cup playoffs after missing the postseason for the first time in franchise history in 2020.

For FC Cincinnati, the offseason begins Monday.

Players on-contract with the club will continue training at the Mercy Health Training Center in Milford after likely being given Monday off.

Marshall, who has maintained his interest in FC Cincinnati's head coaching vacancy, said the interim coaching staff would likely meet with Albright on Monday.

Cincinnati has a host of contract situations to address in addition to the need for a head coach.

Acosta, who prior to the 2021 season signed a three-year contract with FC Cincinnati, was asked after the match if he'd convey preferences and opinions to Albright on offseason matters.

“He’s the guy that makes decisions, he's the boss," Acosta said. "I'm happy to offer my opinions and happy to have conversations with him but he has the experience in MLS for so many years so at the end of the day those are his decisions to make.“

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: FC Cincinnati ends 2021 MLS season on 12-match losing streak