MLS analysis

Analysis: Controversial goal send Cincinnati past a Philly team it emulated to the top

ASN's Brian Sciaretta breaks down the FC Cincinnati win over Philadelphia including the goal that puts VAR in a negative light. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
November 26, 2023
8:05 PM

FC CINCINNATI is through to the Eastern Conference Final after a 1-0 win over the Philadelphia Union on Saturday night in Cincinnati. The win was controversial as Yerson Mosquera’s goal in the fourth minute of stoppage time was ruled to not need a an on-field VAR review for offside. That controversial moment led to yet another heartbreak for Philadelphia in a big game.

The first 90 minutes of the game could have gone either way and Philadelphia did a great job going into TQL Stadium, where Cincinnati is extremely tough to beat, and giving themselves a chance to win. The Union even had seven shots inside the box with the best coming in the 39th minute when Mikel Uhre missed the target from 12 yards out.

But in the end, Cincinnati found a winner in controversial fashion through the Colombian who is at the club on loan from Wolves in the Premier League.

It was an impressive outing from Cincinnati who were without suspended Matt Miazga who was the league’s defender of the year. They were also without Sergino Santos.

Here are some thoughts on the game


Noonan & Albright down former club


The way this game is framed, and should be framed, is that Cincinnati’s success has been built off of the Philadelphia Union. Their first three seasons in the league were a terrible mess as the club hired out-of-place foreigners in coaching and front office positions without much of an understanding as to what it would take to win in this league. After three straight Wooden Spoons, they decided to find a model of what would work, and they looked to the Philadelphia Union.

Chris Albright was hired as the Sporting Director and Pat Noonan was hired as the head coach and both came from the Philadelphia Union. Noonan was the assistant to Jim Curtin.  At the start of this season, Philadelphia was the favorite to win the Supporters Shield win MLS Cup. Now it is Cincinnati as the Supporters Shield winners and within a win of hosting MLS Cup.

There are many ways to look at this. Obviously, imitation is the highest form of flattery. Philadelphia obviously does things that work very well. But how bitter is it to see a team that copies you and now overtakes you this season?

“It wasn't always the prettiest,” Noonan said. “But I thought on the night, against a very experienced team, the competing was certainly there. I thought a strong start to the game and kind of let play get away from us with going too direct and then a little bit of immaturity in the second half which is managing the game, but here we are after a victory me being a little critical.”


VAR debacle


Was it offside? Was it onside? Was there just a lack of evidence to overturn the ruling on the field? Over a day layer, we still don’t know. That’s the problem. Bad calls happen, but with VAR it shouldn’t at least be a mystery. The result is a lack of trust in a system that is supposed to work.

On the broadcast, everyone seemed to agree it looked offside. Then we were told the referees had a better angle that showed it was onside. But we were never shown a angle that proves it is onside. The view from the 18 looks like a closer call, but still trending towards offside.

“At the end of the game, I've been told it was offside, I've seen it a few times and it looked offside. It hurts,” Curtin said afterward. “It's never easy when decisions like that affect the finality of a lot of hard work. But I can't say definitively whether it was on or off.”

VAR was supposed to build trust. This game hurt that trust.


Cincinnati flexes muscle


For Cincinnati to be able to win a second-round playoff game without the MLS Defender of the Year was impressive. And to be fair, Cincinnati didn’t play as well as it could have over 90 minutes with the players it did have. But part of being a good team is winning without your best players and not being completely sharp.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that with the way Columbus is playing, Cincinnati probably won’t win unless it plays better than this weekend.

“In these moments in the playoffs, strange things happen,” Noonan said. “How you go after a game if you're down a goal, how you protect the lead, maybe guys being asked to do different things than they're accustomed to, because it's win or go home. I'm just happy we found the goal, but I thought they defended really well today. And I think the three of them with the ball started strong. And then you can see there were moments of discomfort with just having played together or what we were asking of them. It's good to look at this game to try to make some improvements for next weekend. But I thought the most important thing was them defending in a strong way, and the bonus was them finding a goal for us.”


Is Philly’s window closed?


Philadelphia is still in search of its first MLS Cup and they have been in position since the 2020 season when they won the Supporters Shield.

But this team is now facing questions. Alejandro Bedyoa is without a contract. Kai Wagner is also without a contract. Julian Carranza could be sold. There could be transfer interest in Jack McGlynn.

MLS is improving and improving quickly. Tab Ramos recently told me that in the brief two years since he left the Dynamo and before he was hired at the end of the season as an assistant coach with New England, he could see a big improvement in the league.

What that means, of course, is that core groups can’t stay together very long. Even aside from age issues and salary demand increases, it is also just the basic nature that things that are good enough now might not be good enough in two years.

There are so many open questions with Philadelphia, but a big reason why they weren’t among the elite of the league this year is that other teams simply got better more than the Union did.

The good news is that the Union are smart. They’ve gone through plenty of changes before. Even after their 2020 Supporters Shield, they lost Brenden Aaronson and Mark McKenzie (who were in the league’s Best XI) and still landed on their feet.

There should be a lot of changes with the Union, but the odds are that they’ll remain competitive simply by keeping a good and stable coach along with the same front office.

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