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While not much is expected from FC Cincinnati in its inaugural season, their last game proved they may just be able to exceed expectations.
Cincinnati plays its first-ever MLS home game Sunday against the Portland Timbers, who will be making their third stop on a stretch of 12 consecutive road matches to open the season.
After appearing overwhelmed and lacking cohesion in a season-opening 4-1 loss at Seattle on March 2, Cincinnati pulled off a stunning result Sunday with a 1-1 draw at defending champion Atlanta. Roland Lamah scored in the 86th minute to give FCC its historic first point.
"I thought the game was going to end about 5 or 6-0," said Cincinnati's Greg Garza, who played the last two seasons in Atlanta. "I'm glad we were able to change it around, I'm glad we were able to get more energy as the game went on."
The Orange and Blue were outshot 23-7 against the Sounders but were far more disciplined Sunday and limited Atlanta to 10 shots.
"During the course of this game, I was thinking we were showing major growth," FCC coach Alan Koch said. "We believe in this group. We know it's going to take time, but that growth was unfolding in front of our eyes as the game was going on and on and on."
Now, Koch's team gets to play in front of the home fans at a sold-out Nippert Stadium.
"It's beautiful for us to play at home, a new environment for our guys," Koch said. "When you get used to the routine and rhythm playing at home is a huge advantage. But on Sunday, it's going to be an open slate for us and them."
The Timbers are seeking their first win after playing Colorado to a draw in their opener before Sunday's 4-1 loss to Los Angeles FC. Jeremy Ebobisse scored the lone goal for Portland, which has allowed a league-high seven goals in two matches.
"It's definitely an unfortunate result," Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese said. "I felt that we did some very good things in the first half. I think we were the better team in the first half, but unfortunately you've got to capitalize in the moments that you have."
Creative midfielder Diego Chara received a red card in the 72nd minute and will not be eligible to play Sunday.
"He's a very important player for us, top player in the league," Savarese said. "But the reality is that he's not available at the moment and there's other guys I think that will step up."
Diego Valeri - last season's team leader with 14 goals - has been Portland's best offensive player with a goal and two assists. He has registered an assist in four straight MLS regular-season matches dating to last season.
Cincinnati defender Alvas Powell and forward Fanendo Adi will be facing their former team. Powell spent his previous six seasons with the Timbers and Adi scored 56 goals in his six years with Portland.
"It's going to be great to see Alvas, Adi," Savarese said. "You always want to see players that you coached, players that have been part of a club."
Updated March 15, 2019