FC Cincinnati took another step toward the MLS Cup playoffs. It just wasn't as big a step as it could have been.
FC Cincinnati on Tuesday took a 1-0 lead against Seattle Sounders FC via Brenner Souza da Silva's 24th-minute goal. Had FCC held on for a win, it would have all but reached the finish line in its quest for its first-ever postseason berth in Major League Soccer.
The Sounders, playing without six of their regular starters due to international call-ups and playing with nine outfield players after Kelyn Rowe's red card in the 69th minute, still managed a draw.
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With elimination looming over a once-promising season for Seattle, the hosts managed an equalizer through Freddy Montero in the 58th minute. While Seattle's situation in the Western Conference remains dire, it did enough against Cincinnati to manage the 1-1 draw at Lumen Field.
Brenner's 15th goal of 2022 provided FC Cincinnati an advantage that lasted into the second half, but a Seattle side desperate to win threw attacking players forward and left itself exposed on defense, which disrupted Cincinnati's plans for the match.
"This wasn't what we planned. In the game, we had chances also to do more than we did and got a point, it's not so bad," FC Cincinnati defensive midfielder Obinna Nwobodo said afterward. "But we wanted to get three points and I felt we had the chance and we lost it, so now we have to keep going to the last game of the season... I feel like with the position they are in right now, they were desperate to win. And we also, we are also desperate. We need to win. We need to secure the playoff spot. We need to seal it."
FC Cincinnati had close chances to score a go-ahead goal through Brandon Vazquez and, in the final seconds of the game, Sergio Santos. Those attempts went begging as Vazquez was stopped twice by Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei.
Santos, who was active in his appearance as a substitute, fired his best chance of the night well high in the dying moments of the contest.
The save by Frei was his only one of the night. FC Cincinnati goalkeeper Roman Celentano made three saves and allowed only the rocket shot from distance by Montero.
FC Cincinnati's playoff picture with two matches to go
FC Cincinnati's dropped points Tuesday put added emphasis on the final two regular season matches, but the club is still in firm control of its own fate.
The draw moved FC Cincinnati's record to 11-8-13 on the year, and into solo fifth place in the Eastern Conference standings. It inched ahead of Orlando City SC for fifth place after beginning the night the night tied with Orlando on points and sitting in sixth place on tiebreakers.
Orlando has a game in-hand on FC Cincinnati but the pressure is on Orlando to turn that game into points.
FCC faces Chicago Fire FC on Saturday at TQL Stadium (7:30 p.m.), and closes out the regular season Oct. 9 against D.C. United on what MLS brands as "Decision Day." Matches across the entire league are played simultaneously so all the playoff implications and scenarios play out and go final in unison.
FC Cincinnati's draw Tuesday means it will likely lean on the D.C. United match on Decision Day in some form or fashion, and most likely to determine seeding.
But as FC Cincinnati head coach Pat Noonan indicated during his post-match remarks from Seattle early Wednesday morning in the Eastern Time Zone, Cincinnati is looking to Saturday's match as a chance to share a special moment with its fans. And by that, he meant clinching a playoff berth.
With a win and help from other clubs, FC Cincinnati can ensure it finishes in one of the seven playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.
"Not our best performance (Tuesday) but I still think the point is important," FC Cincinnati head coach Pat Noonan said. "It's better than walking away with no points. A point creates just a little bit more separation with the teams that are behind us in the standings, and that's still a positive.
"The focus now in the next couple days is recovery and being ready to step on the field to win a game that likely puts us in the playoffs."
If the season ended today...
With FC Cincinnati sitting in fifth place for the time being, it is currently in line to face an away game in the opening round of the playoffs at No. 4 New York City FC.
In the first round of the MLS Cup playoffs, and with seven playoff qualifiers from both conferences competing, the No. 1 seed receives a bye while the actual matchups would look like this in the east:
No. 2 (Montreal) host No. 7 (Inter Miami CF)
No. 3 (New York Red Bulls) host No. 6 Orlando
No. 4 (NYCFC) host No. 5 FC Cincinnati
No. 1 Philadelphia Union awaits the lowest remaining seed
Eastern Conference standings
1. Philadelphia Union – 64 points (18-4-10); 32 games played, 70 maximum points2. CF Montreal – 59 points (18-9-5); 32 games; 64 maximum points3. New York Red Bulls – 50 points (14-10-8); 32 games played, 56 maximum points4. New York City FC – 49 points (14-11-7); 32 games, 55 maximum points5. FC Cincinnati – 46 points (11-8-13); 32 games, 52 maximum points6. Orlando City SC – 45 points (13-12-6); 31 games, 54 maximum points7. Inter Miami CF – 42 points (12-13-6); 31 games, 51 maximum points-8. Columbus Crew – 42 points (9-7-15); 31 games, 51 maximum points9. Atlanta United – 40 points (10-12-10); 32 games, 46 maximum points10. Charlotte FC – 38 points (12-17-2); 31 games, 47 maximum points11. New England Revolution – 38 points (9-12-11); 32 games, 44 points(Chicago, Toronto and D.C. United eliminated from postseason)
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: FC Cincinnati now seeking MLS Cup playoff spot after Seattle draw