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Four questions with Justin Blair of Cincinnati Soccer Talk



Photo by Carl Gulbish/Philadelphia Soccer Now

On the road again.

After falling in devastating, disgusting, and distressing fashion to Inter Miami on Saturday, the Philadelphia Union are back on the road to take on FC Cincinnati and former Jim Curtin apprentice Pat Noonan. Like Miami, Cincinnati sits near at the top of the Eastern Conference, but unlike Miami, FCC isn’t dealing with the same level of absences for international duty.

We chatted with Justin Blair from our friends at Cincinnati Soccer Talk to break down one of MLS’ best clubs.

Philadelphia Soccer Now: At the forefront of Cincinnati’s season has been Lucho Acosta, who’s getting lots of MVP shouts right now. What has the No. 10 done for Cincy?

Justin Blair: Lucho is without a doubt the most irreplaceable cog for his club in the MLS. The 31-year-old is always looking forward to playing whether injured or not. He has full confidence from the team and more importantly from the coaching staff. Pat Noonan and company are content with letting Lucho do whatever he wants on the pitch. Often times, whatever Lucho wants to do is the exceptional. The Argentine plays the game with flare and an edge that jumps out on film. Last season’s MVP performance was nothing sort of spectacular. Lucho recorded 19 goals, 16 assists and played an eye-watering 3,000 minutes in MLS competitions. This season, his pace isn’t far off with 7 goals and 13 assists.


PSN: It’s easy sometimes to think Miami is running away with the Eastern Conference, but Cincinnati is right behind them. How good has this season been in Ohio?

JB: This season has come as a bit of a surprise. Most would’ve expected FC Cincinnati to take a step back after losing several players in the offseason. The departure of Brandon Vazquez and Alvero Barreal was particularly difficult to swallow. While it is still too early to tell, FCC’s 2024 campaign is trending to be right in the Supporter’s Shield race at the end of the season. FCC won games the ugly way, but with the arrival of U22 Kevin Kelsy and the emergence of Dado Valenzula, FCC seems to have hit second gear. The offense has more dynamic options in the attacking third than they did in last year’s run. FCC fans are hopeful but also wary of chasing the shield this season as it appeared FCC ran out of gas in the playoffs.


PSN: Like the Union, Cincinnati is actually better in the road than at home. Why is that and could it affect Wednesday’s game?

JB: While TQL Stadium and Subaru Park are two of the best stadiums in the MLS, that atmosphere can come with pressure. The Union and FCC have offenses that have the potential to be extremely lethal but perhaps the pressure to deliver big in front of the home fans wears on their minds. That is particularly true for Mikel Uhre and Cory Baird. Both have had several chances at frame that seem like routine goals but have lacked that calmness and accuracy on the finished product. Away from home, it is a different ball game. Often times, you aren’t expected to pick up a point much less all three points. You can relax and not force the issue as much when the boo-birds are properly nested.


PSN: Will Cincinnati have any notable absences? What are your score and lineup predictions?

JB: One massive absence is the 2024 Defensive POY Matt Miazga, who suffered a laceration on his left leg on Saturday. Fellow centerback Miles Robinson is also out as he is with the USMNT preparing for Copa America. Forward Aaron Boupendza, after suffering broken jaw in an off-field incident, has been cleared to play but with the long layoff, I’d expect him to start the match on the bench. Cory Baird will also be unavailable for an undisclosed injury.

I expect the lineup to look very similar to last match with Yuya Kubo starting at forward following his hat trick performance in San Jose.


GK: Roman Celentano

CB: Ian Murphy, Kipp Keller, Nick Hagglund

WB: Luca Orellano, DeAndre Yedlin

MF: Luciano Acosta (C), Pavel Bucha, Obinna Nwobodo

F: Kevin Kelsy, Yuya Kubo

After both clubs laid it out on the line Saturday, I would say this match will have less of a bite than expected. However, I fully expect the injuries and breaks in both club’s defensive structure will play a factor. I’m going with a 3-2 FCC win at home.

Joe is a junior at Penn State studying journalism and sports studies, among other things. He's covered the Union since 2017 and has written for Brotherly Game / Philadelphia Soccer Now since 2019. He seeks to answer life's greatest questions, such as, "How did I get here?" and "Where is that large automobile?" You can find Joe on Twitter (iamjoelister) or via email (

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