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Cruz, Alashe goals end FC Cincinnati skid with 2-1 win over Montreal Impact

CINCINNATI — Fresh off a coaching change, FC Cincinnati (3-7-2, 11 points) ended its five-match losing streak with a 2-1 win over the Montreal Impact (6-5-2, 20 points) Saturday afternoon.

Former head coach Alan Koch saw his time in Cincinnati cut short Tuesday, following the team’s run of poor form and a reported breakdown in team culture. And the tough job of replacing him on the touchline just four days later fell to former assistant Yoann Damet. Given the interim head coach tag at just 29 years old, the match against Montreal — a club where he featured as a youth coach — was his first in charge of a senior professional side.

But the Orange and Blue gave their new interim manager the perfect start just six minutes into the match. Costa Rican Allan Cruz capped off a 16-pass play by tallying FC Cincinnati’s first goal from open play in more than 11 hours of playing time. 

A second-half goal from substitute Fatai Alashe proved necessary to seal the win because the visitors from Canada pulled one back late in the match. Orji Okonkwo, a substitute for Montreal, made things interesting with a 75th-minute diving header that sailed into the net. 

FC Cincinnati’s defense held strong the rest of the game to pick up the team’s first win since March 24.

Damet’s delightful debut

Despite it being his first match as a head coach in MLS, Damet showed no fear of the big stage. The Frenchman’s debut starting XI featured seven changes from the side Koch selected for the 0-1 away loss to San Jose last Saturday.

Rookie Frankie Amaya made his second consecutive start for FC Cincinnati. The youngster was deployed in a deeper role than he was in San Jose, providing Cincinnati with much-needed creativity in midfield. In defense, Justin Hoyte featured in central defense for the first time this season. He was joined on the backline by Greg Garza, making his first appearance since April 7 thanks to a calf injury.

And from the onset, Damet’s team looked determined to make an impression on the new man in charge. 

Cruz’s opening goal was an early highlight, but FC Cincinnati managed to wash over the visitors in more ways than one. The change in energy on display from Koch’s last match in charge was apparent both on the pitch and in the stats. They maintained nearly 66% of possession during the first 45 minutes, their highest share of the ball during a half all season. And the Orange and Blue logged 401 passes in the first half against Montreal; they’ve averaged 400.5 over 90 minutes so far this season.  

Damet, however, was quick to shift credit for the victory away from himself.

“You want to provide an environment that allows them to express themselves, and the players showed tonight that they are capable of playing football,” said Damet following the victory at Nippert Stadium. “We asked them to believe in themselves, to have confidence, and the satisfaction is for them. They deserve fully the credit for the performance of this afternoon.”

Plenty of work still to do

The positive performance was one sorely needed not just by Damet and his team. Cincinnati’s fanbase, often praised for its numbers and size, had grown accustomed to winning during the club’s first three seasons in the lower leagues. And watching their beloved side go seven matches without a victory had left the natives restless.

Luckily, Saturday’s victory will have provided them with rays of positivity after a dark and dreary April. But that doesn’t mean there’s no further room for improvement.

And that’s something FC Cincinnati’s young, interim manager acknowledged as well.

“We had a good game, but I have to be realistic,” Damet shared. “We played against a team that played on Wednesday, and we played against a team that played in the middle block, [and] tried to press at times but not that much… Now, I’m very on board about that because there is a long way to go if we want to be able to reproduce that every week.”

To his point, Montreal weren’t completely neutered despite FC Cincinnati’s improvement. The Canadians outshot their hosts 10 to six, and clawed back a chunk of the possession in the second half. The opportunities to add to Okonkwo’s goal and find an equalizer were there.

“The biggest challenge is going to be keep working every week,” continued Damet. “It’s easy after a win to reinforce the message. But when some obstacles are going to be in front of us, we’re going to have to go through that and keep the same mentality. But I believe in the guys.”

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