FC Cincinnati won the MLS Supporters’ Shield for the first time in club history with a 3-2 win at Toronto FC on Saturday, completing a remarkable turnaround for the former perennial MLS basement dweller.
Cincinnati has led the MLS regular-season standings for the majority of the 2023 season before its win in Toronto gave the team an unassailable lead over its rivals with three games to play.
With 65 points from 31 matches, Cincinnati can no longer be caught by its nearest challengers St. Louis City SC, Orlando City and the New England Revolution. Saturday’s win also ensures Cincinnati will take the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and will have home-field advantage throughout the MLS Cup playoffs.
Cincinnati is the 16th different club in MLS’ 28 seasons to win the Supporters’ Shield and the fifth active team to do so in its first five seasons in the league.
The achievement is made all the more notable given that in its first three seasons in the league, between 2019 and 2021, Cincinnati finished as the worst team in MLS. The club’s first three seasons rank among the 10 worst in the history of MLS, with Cincinnati long seen as a symbol of dysfunction on and off the field.
But the tide began to turn last season with the appointment of former Philadelphia Union assistant Pat Noonan — the club’s fourth permanent head coach in MLS — and the arrival of Argentine playmaker Luciano Acosta.
A first playoff appearance followed at the end of 2022 before the team came storming out of the gates in 2023, losing just one of its first 18 matches.
Acosta has been the star of the show, with a league-leading 15 goals as well as 13 assists to make him the clear front-runner for the MVP award.
Despite clinching the Supporters’ Shield, Cincinnati still has something to play for in the remainder of the regular season. Should the team win its final three games, it will eclipse the single-season MLS points record of 73 set by the New England Revolution in 2021.
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