So here we are, back where it all started, in Northern Kentucky.
No, not the season: the five-game unbeaten streak for RNY FC.
Rochester came out to Northern Kentucky on May 8, with no wins in the league and just two points from a 0-0 draw with Chicago Fire II (won 4-3 in penalties for the extra point), and found a way to gut out a 2-1 victory.
Since then, Rochester has collected 11 of a possible 12 points, and now sits inside the top four playoff places in the MLS NEXT Pro Eastern Conference.
But now, the tough work begins. Yes, Rochester has clawed out of the hole and into the top four. Yes, RNY FC has the unbeaten streak. Now, though, as the reigning Team of the Month for May in the league, with the current Manager of the Month as well, every other team will raise their level to face Rochester. Which is going to be the team (if any) to stop the unbeaten streak?
Might it be FC Cincinnati 2, which sits at the foot of the Eastern Conference table? The hosts for this weekend have picked up just six points all season, but come off a 5-3 win over Orlando City B which nearly doubled their goal output for the season. Those are the types of wins that can kick start a campaign; well, really any win when you are struggling can do that.
Just look at what the first win in Kentucky one month ago did for RNY FC. Sometimes, it just takes a spark to light the touchpaper, and everything starts to fall into place.
RNY FC Manager Bruno Baltazar just came back from Portugal, where he picked up a prestigious award over the weekend from his fellow coaches in his home country. That was on top of the Manager of the Month award he received from MLS NEXT Pro. Baltazar used that two weeks before the first game to have his team ready to roll, and they have not looked back since.
Can Rochester keep up the pressure on the teams at the top of the Eastern Conference table, or will it be FC Cincinnati 2 that has its own unbeaten streak–the first of the season for the club–after Saturday.
We shall soon see.
MLS NEXT Pro Match Week 12
FC Cincinnati 2 vs. RNY FC, 8 p.m. EDT (1 a.m. UK time), NKU Soccer Stadium
Use this link to the MLS NEXT Pro site to watch the contest.
Record and place in table
FC Cincinnati 2: 2-7-0, six points, -7 GD, 10th in Eastern Conference, 5th in Central Division, 1-3 at home
RNY FC: 4-3-2, 16 points, +6 GD, 4th in Eastern Conference, 3rd in Northeast Division, 2-2-1 on road.
Result in the league last match
FC Cincinnati 2 :beat Orlando City B 5-3
RNY FC: drew 1-1 with Toronto FC 2, won 4-3 in penalty kicks to pick up added point
Next match for both teams
FC Cincinnati 2: at Inter Miami, Sunday, June 19, 8 p.m. EDT, DRV PNK Stadium
RNY FC: at New England Revs 2, Saturday, June 18, 7 p.m. EDT (12 a.m. UK time), Gillette Stadium.
Player to watch for FC Cincinnati 2
Nicholas Markanich, F: Cincinnati does not have anyone with more than three goals in MLS NEXT Pro play, but Markanich had two in the 5-3 win over Orlando City B on Memorial Day weekend. That kind of win could jumpstart a flailing campaign, and Markanich will almost certainly need to be in the goals to beat red-hot RNY FC.
Player to watch for RNY FC
Lamar Batista, CB_:_ Cincinnati just put five goals past a decent Orlando City B side, so the defense for RNY FC will have to be ready to shut down any threats. This back line has only allowed three goals in seven weeks of MLS NEXT Pro action, and Batista is one of the main reasons. Yes, the goal scorers get the pub; but it is the defense that has set the base for this unbeaten run.
This is where the run began way back on May 8, and Rochester now has a chance to pull even with NYCFC with 19 points, and RNY FC still would have a match in hand over its Empire State rivals.
But focus is needed: Cincinnati has started to turn the corner after a brutal start to the campaign, and will prove a stern test, just like it was back in early May. Look for RNY FC to just edge the contest, 2-1, and pick up all three points