Mailbag 9.1.23: Halsey’s development, Miazga’s impact and more

Back with another mailbag full of reader questions regarding all things FC Cincinnati. I received a bunch of questions so I’m breaking this week’s mailbag into two parts and will answer the rest of those (and a couple holdover ones I haven’t gotten answers to yet) in another mailbag next week. Thanks for the interest!

Evan W: Is there any way to appeal yellow cards? It seems every game, Obi gets a yellow on an innocuous (sometimes not even) foul. It feels like there should be some recourse regarding calls like that.

Yes, but unfortunately the rules that some of you might have seen me share on “X (formerly Twitter)” are out dated, so in this particular case, FC Cincinnati could not appeal.

According to the 2022 MLS sendoff review procedures (there is no 2023 version that I could find on, teams can make an appeal with the Independent Review Panel “to request a review to rectify a case of clear and obvious error relating to an on-field disciplinary decision of the match officials for one of the following: A red card; the second yellow card in a match that results in a player suspension; or the first yellow card (when a player receives two yellow cards in a match resulting in a suspension) in circumstances when the first yellow card was issued for unsporting behavior, and in the opinion of the Independent Review Panel, the opponent attempted to deceive the referee.”

The undated version of MLS sendoff review procedures that I had shared indicated a “first yellow card for a foul called that was later proven to reveal no contact on the play” could be appealed regardless of whether there was a second yellow card issued, but according to a spokesperson for FC Cincinnati, the current rules prevent the club from appealing because it has to be absolutely clear there was no contact and that is not believed to be the case in Nwobodo’s yellow card, even though (and these are my words only) it did appear the “turf monster” caused the contact to be made.

Eric Ford: 1. What is really going on with Aaron Boupendza? 2. How is the club planning to balance player fatigue while securing the Supporters Shield?

1. You may have seen this update in my training notes today, but I asked Pat Noonan if he could clarify what happened with Boupendza, and he shared that Boupendza took a hit to the back of his knee at the end of the first half against NYCFC last weekend. Boupendza wanted to play and possibly could have, but Noonan said the road game on turf made it a risk the club didn’t want to take. I actually think it was a good time for a day off. He told me he was really tired after last weekend’s game against NYCFC, which was his third start in seven days – he hadn’t played in that many games so close together in a long time. The extra recovery was probably beneficial.

I know there are a lot of people wondering why the club didn’t list him on the injury report if he was injured, but this isn’t the first time they’ve done that. MLS doesn’t have strict policies about reporting injuries, and if Boupendza was cleared to play but the coaches decided to hold him back to prevent risk, it’s a gray enough area they might have felt they didn’t need to include him on the report. Honestly, MLS injury reports are somewhat of a joke. There is no consistency, nor consequence (or if there is, it’s not a deterrent) if teams fail to disclose injuries or specify what they are or update if a status changes). I’m spoiled covering the NFL as well, where there are daily injury reports and teams are heavily fined for not disclosing things properly. And, if you’ve listened to Queen City Press Podcast (you can find it on Spotify now, accessible to the podcast tier subscribers), you’ve probably heard my thoughts about how betting sites should stop sponsoring teams in MLS until they properly inform the fans betting on games about player availability.

2. Noonan spoke about rotation today and mentioned how the staff has been able to use slight rotation during congested periods to give different guys rest without completely altering the lineup and disrupting chemistry of the players on the field. It seems the coaches, medical staff, etc., have done well in managing the players through busy periods, and they have found depth in places that might have been more in question earlier in the season. That will allow them to continue to make changes as necessary down the stretch to keep players fresh. The team doesn’t have any games after Saturday until Sept. 16, so that helps but then the final six games are between Sept. 16 and Oct. 21. Ideally, the Shield is locked up with a game or two left and they can rotate ahead of playoffs.

Joel R.: 1. Has anyone asked FCC if Boupendza got injured doing his spectacular flip after scoring? 2. Can you please give your thoughts on Bret Halsey playing on both the left and right side. Although obviously a small sample size he just didnt look as good in the Atlanta game as he did versus NYCFC.

1. See above answer, but as a side note, I do know back flips tend to make coaches nervous. Boupendza has been doing back-flip celebrations throughout his career and hasn’t suffered an injury as a result that I’m aware of – I imagine he might not do it again if he had gotten hurt.

2. Halsey played more on the right side with the FCC 2 team and is naturally right-footed, so theoretically he would be better on that right side, but he actually said he actually really likes playing on the left side too. I wouldn’t be concerned about any kind of dropoff you might have seen Wednesday. Atlanta has some strong attackers and they did seem to be going down that side of the field more at times. I thought Halsey had some good moments going forward into the attack but defensively had a tough assignment. I also wonder if maybe part of it was him playing a lot of minutes in a short period of time, which he hasn’t been doing lately since he’s gotten moved up to the first team. He went from playing mostly late-game bench minutes early in August to seeing 73 minutes Saturday against NYCFC and then starting again Wednesday. He’s young so he can handle the workload, but perhaps his legs were feeling a little heavier than the previous few appearances when he was fresher.

Aaron W: Bret Halsey seems have to come out of no where to be a meaningful backup option for the team. Can you talk a little about his evolution from bench piece to two consecutive starts?

Also from Leo: Would love to know more about Bret Halsey and impressions left on the coaching staff.

Halsey has always been considered a promising young player. He was a Generation adidas signee coming out of the University of Virginia, and Real Salt Lake selected him seventh overall in the 2021 MLS SuperDraft. For whatever reason it didn’t work out with him and RSL, and at the end of the 2022 season his option was declined.

FCC scooped him up quickly and signed him to an MLS Next Pro deal with a first-team option for 2024, but the club used two short-term loans to call him up and see how he looked at the MLS level and he showed well enough to earn that first-team contract early, signing July 1.

If you recall, his first loan up came when Yuya Kubo and Junior Moreno were both out for the March 25 game at Nashville (he’s played center-mid before as well), but he didn’t end up being needed. The second callup was when Yerson Mosquera and Matt Miazga were gone, and Alvas Powell and Ray Gaddis were both needed at center back. Halsey made his MLS debut June 21 in a 3-0 win over Toronto, replacing Barreal in the 77th minute, and he looked solid.

Those first opportunities were out of pure need. I think more recently it’s clear the club is looking ahead a bit and finding out what more he can provide.

Halsey’s first month and a half with the first team didn’t yield a ton of opportunity, but during that time, the outside interest in Barreal was starting to pick up steam. It’s been known for a while this could very well be Barreal’s last year in Cincinnati – he wants to play in Europe like Brenner is now getting a chance to do and Brandon Vazquez hopes to do, and club officials have said they want to help him achieve that goal (just not right now while trying to win a trophy). It seems very likely he will be moved in January. I’m sure there was some curiosity as to whether Halsey could possibly be an option to replace him next year. At the very least, he’s proving a great backup, which there wasn’t really a similar type behind him. Ray Gaddis has been his backup and is more of a defensive player. Halsey gives a more like-for-like replacement. His performance on a big stage against Miami and “he whom shall no longer be named,” by request of the local fans, earned him his first start last weekend against NYCFC and that effort got him another chance Wednesday. Here were Noonan’s thoughts on his first start, a 77-minute outing in which he took the initial shot that Aaron Boupendza scored on off a rebound.

“He performed very well. I think you’ve seen from the Nashville game, the double Miami games, especially in the attacking third, he’s got something different in how he attacks 1v1 and how he creates separation to be able to make the final pass, the final cross but also have the quality in how does it even with his less dominant play. He’s been excellent and playing with confidence and earned the minutes. I also thought defensively, he was very good. You can see he’s a strong 1v1 defender. Very good footwork and in the timing of his tackles and how he can limit the advantage of the attacker. He continues to improve and now the challenge for a young kid that’s getting these minutes is consistency and not letting the early success affect how he approaches the next day of training or the next game he plays. He’s been very good for us.”

Hopefully your answers were in there somewhere.

Jane R: I certainly agree with those who say Lucho is an MVP candidate this year. But Matt Miazga seems to be a super critical part of the team, an important piece of our defense for his individual play and also as a leader on the back line. Im wondering what our record has been since he joined last year when hes in the lineup vs. when hes been away at the national team or yellow card suspension, injuries, especially against quality teams? Any stats on goals against when hes in versus out of the lineup that would also show his importance to the overall defense?

Miazga certainly is an important part of the defense and it’s obvious the dropoff when he is not in. That’s not a knock on other players, it’s just that he is the commander for the back line and really everyone in front of him on defense. Players around him are just better when he’s next to them.

Statistically, here is a breakdown of his impact. Last year, FCC allowed 1.65 goals against per game. The average before Miazga arrived was 1.83 goals against per game, but in Miazga’s 10 games to end the season, the team allowed an average of 1.2 goals per game.

This year, FCC has allowed 29 goals over 26 games (1.12 per game). Miazga has missed six games, and in those matches, FCC has allowed 11 goals (1.83 per game). In the games he has played, FCC allows just 0.9 goals per game.

Team success also reflects his impact. In his 20 matches, FCC is 15-1-4 (2-2-2 without him) and averages 2.45 points. Last year, the team averaged 1.67 points in his 10 games, going 4-1-5 (W-L-D). FC was 8-8-8 without him (1.33 points per game).

Obviously, there could be other variables that played into those stats and results, but I think it’s clear the team has been better with him on the field – with or without stats.

Tim: That game against Miami was really fun. Too bad we lost, of course. Im just wondering how often should we expect that FC Cincinnati will play Miami with Messi? How long do you think Messi will stay with Miami?

FCC has one more game scheduled against Miami this year, on the road Oct. 7. I would expect Messi would be playing in that even if the team is out of the playoffs by then. It’s also possible Miami sneaks into the ninth spot and ends up playing FCC in the first round (after a play-in game vs. the No. 8 team). Messi is under contract through 2025, but I’ve seen reports he could actually get out of it next year. I don’t see him going elsewhere or retiring yet so I would anticipate FCC sees him up to two or three times a year until the end of that contract. Miami also is opening its new stadium in 2025, and I would bet the club will do everything it can to keep him going at least long enough for that.

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