Coming off a gritty scoreless draw at Atlanta United last weekend and a 2-0 U.S. Open Cup win over Pittsburgh Tuesday, FC Cincinnati hosts high-flying Los Angeles FC Sunday at 5 p.m.
Pat Noonan’s team enters the contests with some questions on the injury front, but the first-year coach is quite focused on the team continuing its trajectory in terms of performance level. In quotes distributed by the club to media, Noonan said he asked for his side to show a national TV audience “a brave team and a disciplined team.”
“That’s what my message 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,” Noonan said. “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? And so that’s the message, that’s what I want to see out of the group. That’s what we’ve talked about is stepping up to the occasion. And not just stepping on the field and having the energy but having the quality and finding ways to succeed and finding ways to win a game against a good opponent.”
LAFC has enjoyed a hot start to the season, with a 5-1-1 record thus far. A forward three of Mahala Opoku, Brian Rodriguez and the rejuvenated Mexico international Juan Carlos Vela. Vela has recorded four goals and two assists, and generally looked dangerous the entire time he’s been on the playing surface.
Other stalwarts in the LAFC starting lineup include defenders Ryan Hollingshead, Jesus Murillo and Diego Palacios, midfielders Kellyn Acosta, Jose Cifuentes, Ilie Sanchez and Latif Blessing and goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau. Steve Cherundolo’s team has scored 17 times in 7 games.
The biggest question for Cincinnati entering this contest is the status of goalkeeper Alec Kann. The penalty-save hero vs. Atlanta had to be pulled from the bench in the Open Cup game and is still battling the knock. Noonan said his #1 goalkeeper is day-to-day, so expect a game-time decision between Kann and Roman Celentano.
FCC, who should have new signing Obinna Nwobodo on site at the beginning of next week, already has had to deal with a few injuries of note this season, including the long-term absence of left back Ronald Matarrita. Alvas Powell and Geoff Cameron missed the Atlanta United match, but Powell at least was able to make a cameo in the U.S. Open Cup match. Defender Nick Hagglund will miss Sunday’s game for the Orange and Blue with a suspension following his late-game sending off at Atlanta, meaning Ian Murphy should get a chance to build on a solid initial starting role for Pat Noonan’s side.
Yuya Kubo and Junior Moreno should hold down the fort in midfield, with Luciano Acosta playing farther up field. Brandon Vazquez has seen his hot start to the season put on pause with an injury, so Brenner may have a new partner up front if Vazquez is unable to go, possibly Nick Markanich or maybe Alvaro Barreal, who scored twice vs. Pittsburgh in overtime. Dominique Badji has been a Swiss Army Knife for Pat Noonan so far this season, with a reprise as a shuttler between outside back in midfield a possibility for Sunday.
Noonan said he has to handle the injury concerns both with a long-term and short-term perspective.
“A lot of how we’re treating players is being just cautious so that we make sure that we got healthy bodies,” he said. “If players are missing a day of training here and there, it’s a lot of times just because we want to make sure that we have as many healthy bodies as possible available on game day.”
However the two sides line up, LAFC will be a betting favorite for the match. FCC can boast spirit and fight as its strongest attributes, but will that count for a lot vs. the high-powered attack of the Western Conference leaders? With the committed support of large home crowd, the conditions may be ripe for a very memorable David vs Goliath occasion for this one.
“We’ll see….But this is a top team in the league with very good players. And you can see early on, well coached. 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,” Noonan said. “And so this is an opportunity to show that and that’s going to take every one of us to have a good performance on the on the evening to get a result. And so, again, it’s about us being brave in how we go about it.”
5 p.m. Sunday, April 24, 2022, TQL Stadium, Cincinnati, OH.
TV: FS1; Fox Deportes
Local Radio: ESPN 1530
Audio Stream: IHeart Radio app