Cincinnati makes 1st MLS playoffs, visits Red Bulls Saturday


By ANNE M. PETERSON - AP Sports Writer



FC Cincinnati defender Nick Hagglund wins a header over Seattle Sounders FC defender Jackson Ragen as he is sandwiched by defender Geoff Cameron, left, on a corner kick during the first half of an MLS soccer game, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022 in Seattle. (Jennifer Buchanan/The Seattle Times via AP)

FC Cincinnati defender Nick Hagglund wins a header over Seattle Sounders FC defender Jackson Ragen as he is sandwiched by defender Geoff Cameron, left, on a corner kick during the first half of an MLS soccer game, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022 in Seattle. (Jennifer Buchanan/The Seattle Times via AP)


Alvas Powell is grateful for a second chance with Cincinnati.

The Jamaican defender was with FC Cincinnati for its inaugural MLS season in 2019, but he stayed just one season before he was picked up by Inter Miami. After stints with Sudan’s top league and the Philadelphia Union, Powell ended up back in Cincinnati under new coach Pat Noonan this season.

“Coming back, at first I didn’t know what to expect,” Powell said. “My first year was not really the best, but I get a second chance to prove people wrong, that I’m a fighter. And I get a chance to wear the Cincinnati jersey again.”

Powell and his Cincinnati teammates are headed to the playoffs for the first time. The East’s fifth-seeded club visits the fourth-seeded Red Bulls on Saturday in a first-round match.

“Everybody knows it’s special. It’s a special game on Saturday. It’s not just a playoff game, everything is on the line for us as players,” Powell said. “So we’re focused and everybody’s ready to go.”

The game kicks off the weekend’s slate of first-round games. The LA Galaxy host Nashville on Saturday. Two games are set for Sunday: Austin hosts Real Salt Lake and Orlando City visits Montreal.

The first round wraps up Monday with NYCFC hosting Inter Miami, and FC Dallas hosting Minnesota.

It’s been quite the climb this season for Cincinnati, which finished last in the league’s overall standings last season with just four wins.

In fact, Cincinnati has experienced turbulence from the start. In just four seasons, the team has had four head coaches and three interim coaches. They finished at the bottom of the league in each of the previous three years.

Noonan, 42, played nearly a decade in MLS before embarking on a coaching career.

“It’s a neat experience as a player, and now as a head coach. I’ve said it many times prior, this is the best part of the year when you’re a team, a coach, a player that gets to compete in the playoffs, because anything can happen,” Noonan said. “And I think anybody that’s experienced it before and the group now should be excited about this opportunity with this particular group.”

Cincinnati went 4-22-8 last season, compared to 12-9-13 under Noonan this season. The 29-point jump is the fifth-best turnaround in MLS history. The team’s 49 points, 12 wins and 64 goals this season are all franchise records.

Cincinnati is led by Argentine midfielder Luciano Acosta, who finished with 19 assists, fourth-most ever in a single MLS season.

Acosta and his teammates will face a Red Bulls team that is the youngest to ever make the playoffs, at an average of 23.1 years old.

CHICHARITO’S CHANCE

Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez made a splash when he joined the LA Galaxy in 2020. But the Mexican international has never been to the MLS playoffs until this season.

He’s in tremendous form, with 11 goals since August and four goals in the Galaxy’s final four games of the season. The team finished 14-12-8 to earn the fourth seed in the Western Conference, with only one loss in its final 11 games.

Chicharito led the Galaxy with 18 goals overall.

“My point of view since I came to this organization, I know that being part of the most successful organization, the expectations and the standards are the highest,” Chicharito said. “I think myself and a lot of the players, in this process, they start to learn that. If you want to qualify for the playoffs, if you want to use this badge, you need to play every game like it was a final.”

ON THE MOVE

Ah, fall. When there are so many sports going on that there are bound to be conflicts. And that’s what happened to the playoff match between NYCFC and Inter Miami.

With the New York Yankees in the baseball playoffs, NYCFC’s usual home at Yankee Stadium was booked. And the Red Bulls are hosting Cincy at Red Bull Stadium in New Jersey.

But a spot at Citi Field opened up when the Mets lost in an NL wild-card series. So, it’s off to Queens for the playoffs.

NYCFC played 10 of 17 league home matches this season at Yankee Stadium, four at Citi Field and three at Red Bull Arena.

FINALISTS

MLS has announced its postseason award finalists. Among them were MVP, goalkeeper, defender and young player honors.

For MVP, the candidates are Chicharito, Golden Boot winner Hany Mukhtar of Nashville, Sebastian Driussi of Austin FC, Philadelphia Union goalkeeper Andre Blake and Cristian Arango from Supporters Shield winner LAFC. The MVP will be announced Nov. 1.

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FC Cincinnati defender Nick Hagglund wins a header over Seattle Sounders FC defender Jackson Ragen as he is sandwiched by defender Geoff Cameron, left, on a corner kick during the first half of an MLS soccer game, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022 in Seattle. (Jennifer Buchanan/The Seattle Times via AP)
https://www.wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2022/10/web1_129928293-af7583678c7841ba8534928151eb6115.jpgFC Cincinnati defender Nick Hagglund wins a header over Seattle Sounders FC defender Jackson Ragen as he is sandwiched by defender Geoff Cameron, left, on a corner kick during the first half of an MLS soccer game, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022 in Seattle. (Jennifer Buchanan/The Seattle Times via AP)

By ANNE M. PETERSON

AP Sports Writer