FC Cincinnati have shown signs of forward progress under new manager Pat Noonan in 2022, especially in the final third.
But their toughest test yet arrives Sunday evening when LAFC, early Supporters’ Shield leaders, visit TQL Stadium (5 pm ET | FS1, FOX Deportes) for the clubs’ first-ever meeting in Ohio.
In Noonan’s eyes, this is just another opportunity for the Orange & Blue as they look to turn the page on three straight bottom-table finishes upon joining MLS in 2019.
“A brave team and a disciplined team,” the former Philadelphia Union assistant coach said of what he wants to see. “That's what my message was to the group is, on a nationally televised game, against a really good opponent, that's when you want to be at your best and that's when you want to see your team be the most courageous. Stepping up to the occasion with how we move the ball, with how we press, with everything we do: Can we show that we're a confident team when we step on the field?”
Both teams will be carrying momentum from midweek US Open Cup victories over USL Championship opponents, too, booking a Round of 32 spot. FC Cincinnati beat the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, 2-0, behind two extra-time goals from winger Alvaro Barreal, while LAFC secured a 5-1 victory over Orange County SC as buoyed by braces from forwards Cristian Arango and Danny Musovski.
That’s injected some confidence in both clubs, which have first-year coaches imparting their philosophies. And for LAFC’s Steve Cherundolo, that means getting his charges ready regardless of what past seasons may indicate.
“An opponent who has a new coaching staff, in some ways a new way of playing,” the manager said of Cincy. “So we’re preparing ourselves for that using video and gone through that with the guys, so we know what’s coming our way as good as we can. An opponent we respect greatly and that’s improving and has already improved a lot.”
Cincinnati remain without new defensive midfielder Obinna Nwobodo, as he awaits paperwork following his Designated Player deal and transfer from Turkish top-flight side Göztepe. He’ll only boost a backline that last weekend posted FCC’s first shutout of the campaign, blanking Atlanta United behind a six-save performance from goalkeeper Alec Kann.
As for LAFC, the 2019 Supporters’ Shield winners are yet to be held scoreless this year. They’re also, per MLSsoccer.com’s Tom Bogert, about to officially re-sign DP Carlos Vela after his current contract was set to expire at the end of June.
It all underscores the test that awaits Sunday’s hosts, with Noonan keenly aware of what a positive result may indicate.
“This is a top team in the league with very good players and you can see early on, well-coached,” Noonan said. “And so you want to be able to perform in the biggest games and show that not only are we moving in the right direction, but we're a good team. This is an opportunity to show that.”