Match Preview

Match Preview: Charlotte FC vs. FC Cincinnati

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Charlotte FC is undefeated at home in 2024, notching two straight wins over New York City FC (1-0 in the home opener) and the Columbus Crew (2-0 last Saturday). Their last win made it four wins out of four all-time against defending MLS Cup Champions.

Now, CLTFC faces their third home match of the season against FC Cincinnati, the defending Supporter’s Shield champions.

Match: Charlotte FC vs FC Cincinnati

When: Saturday, March 30

Where: Bank of America Stadium

Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET

Watch: MLS Season Pass on Apple TV – How to Watch & Listen

Listen: WFNZ 92.7 FM (English) & WOLS 106.1 FM (Spanish)

For all other radio station affiliates in the Carolinas, click here.

Know Before You Go: For information on tickets, stadium entry, and more, click here.

Potential DP Debut

Last week, ahead of a critical matchup with the Columbus Crew, we talked about how the team has been top of the Eastern Conference in Expected Goals Allowed (xGA) but only middling in Expected Goals (xG). In other words, the team had done an excellent job of stifling chances but hadn’t created as many chances offensively as the elite teams (while also underperforming that number).

The team went a long way towards balancing the defense and attack in that game against Columbus, though, finishing two excellent chances through Ashley Westwood and Patrick Agyemang. Simultaneously, they shut out Columbus without requiring any Kristijan Kahlina saves (albeit with the Crew down to 10 men).

What else could help those offensive numbers? A brand-new Designated Player, in the form of 22-year-old winger Liel Abada, could be part of the solution. The Israeli international was lightning in a bottle for Scottish giants Celtic over the past few years.

After a lengthy process, Abada has finally arrived in Charlotte as of late this week.

Speaking at his 2:00 p.m. Eastern time press conference on Thursday, Dean Smith said he was due to arrive “within the hour” and he was “expecting him to train [on Friday]… so that he can be on the team sheet for us as well on Saturday.”

“He played 25 minutes for Israel [last Thursday],” Smith continued. “So, I would expect his fitness levels to be up there. I spoke to the people I know at Celtic, as well, and they have no qualms about his fitness levels, either.”

Expect Abada to be able to get up to speed fairly quickly, as well. Smith said that he’s been speaking to the winger and that he’s been watching the team’s matches, too.

“Our game plan gets sent out to him so he can follow that as well [while he watches]. He’s pretty much linked in with what we’re doing.”

So, by all accounts, he’ll make the squad for Smith’s team on Saturday after lengthy travel, limited training time, and lots of film study. Fans, then, could be treated to the DP’s debut against FC Cincinnati.

The Opponent

FC Cincinnati are the defending Supporter’s Shield Champions, a trophy awarded to the team with the most points over the course of the regular season. Cincinnati collected 69 points last season (20 wins, five losses, and nine draws) behind a dynamic attacking trio of MLS MVP Luciano Acosta, striker Brandon Vazquez, and left wingback Alvaro Barreal.

However, two of those three departed in the offseason. Vazquez left for Monterrey of Liga MX (where he has five goals in his first 10 appearances) and Barreal went on loan to Cruzeiro in Brazil.

In their places, even more attacking burden will be placed on Acosta, who lit the league on fire last year with 17 goals and 14 assists (after a 10 goal, 19 assist campaign in 2022).

“He looks like he could create and looks like he can score,” Smith said on Thursday. “He’s like a bottle of pop at times, you’re not sure what’s going to happen next with him.

“What you don’t do is you don’t give him the opportunity by planting a foot and giving him an opportunity to go around. You’ve got to make him do something special.”

However, Acosta isn’t their only threat. Striker Aaron Boupendza was signed to much acclaim and has been shouldering the burden left by Vazquez.

“I don’t think at the moment we have to just concentrate on him [Acosta], because I think they’ve got other dangers as well,” Smith said. “If you just concentrate on one player, I think you can get undone.”

And, with all this talk about their attack, we haven’t discussed arguably their biggest strength: defense. At this point, Cincinnati is famous in league circles for winning tight, one-goal games with amazing consistency.

That’s down to an Expected Goals Allowed that is right up at the top of the conference (alongside Charlotte FC). Their defense is anchored by U.S. Men’s National Team players Matt Miazga and Miles Robinson, the latter of whom was acquired in a blockbuster offseason trade with Atlanta United.

All in all, expect Saturday’s match to be a slugfest with one of the top teams in the league. A Charlotte FC result would open eyes around the league to the potential of Dean Smith’s project here in the Queen City.

For even more information on the keys to the match, check out Caleb Adams’ work from this week, including a deep dive into Charlotte FC’s underlying statistics through five games.


The Season So Far

Charlotte FC won their first match of the season over NYCFC with a gritty 1-0 win at home. They then faced three consecutive games on the road, securing a 1-1 draw in Vancouver before tight losses to Toronto (1-0) and Nashville (2-1).

Upon finally returning to Bank of America Stadium, the team impressively downed the defending MLS Cup Champions, the Columbus Crew, by a 2-0 score. Ashley Westwood and Patrick Agyemang scored dramatic late goals – in the 83rd and 88th minutes, respectively – to power the team to the victory.

Now, CLTFC is back at home for another matchup against a defending champion. This time, it’s FC Cincinnati, who won the 2023 Supporter’s Shield with the best regular season in MLS.