FC Cincinnati boss Pat Noonan believes Sunday’s MLS clash with high-flying Los Angeles FC provides his side with an opportunity to show they are moving in the right direction.

After three straight bottom-table finishes since joining the division in 2019, the Orange and Blue have made a mixed start to 2022 with two wins, four losses and a draw thus far.

Cincy held Atlanta United to a goalless draw last time out and Noonan, who replaced Jaap Stam ahead of this season, insists there are clear signs of progress.

Ahead of hosting Western Conference leaders LAFC, Noonan has challenged his players to show a large watching audience exactly what they are capable of.

“This is a top team in the league with very good players and you can see early on, well-coached,” Noonan said of the opposition.

“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.

“I want to see a brave team and a disciplined team, on a nationally televised game, against a really good opponent – that’s when you want to be at your best.”

Los Angeles have made a superb start to their first campaign under Steve Cherundolo, taking 16 points from the first 21 on offer.

The aim for LAFC now is to remain at the summit, but Cherundolo acknowledged this weekend’s meeting with Cincy will not be easy.

“They’re an opponent that has a new coaching staff, in some ways a new way of playing,” he said. “We’re preparing ourselves for that, so we know what’s coming our way.

“They’re an opponent we respect greatly and that’s improving and has already improved a lot.”

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Cincinnati – Alec Kann

Cincy posted their first clean sheet of the season last week when keeping Atlanta at bay, thanks in large to the performance of goalkeeper Kann. The 31-year-old made six stops in total, including a penalty save on Marcelino Moreno, and will now be targeting successive shutouts.

LAFC – Ismael Tajouri-Shradi

All five of Tajouri-Shradi’s MLS appearances this season have come via the substitutes’ bench, which is likely to be the case once again on Sunday. He has proved that he can be called upon, having scored twice in his limited minutes on the field, including a superb volley against Sporting Kansas City last time out.

KEY OPTA FACTS

– This will be Los Angeles FC’s first visit to Cincinnati in MLS. LAFC won 2-0 at home against Cincinnati in April 2019 in Cincinnati’s seventh all-time MLS match.

– Cincinnati’s scoreless draw with Atlanta ended a run of 22 straight matches without a draw (W3 L19) dating back to a scoreless draw with Montreal last August. Cincinnati have avoided defeat in three of its last five matches (W2 D1) after its MLS record 14-match losing streak.

– Los Angeles FC has won five of their first seven matches (D1 L1) to start the season following a 3-1 win over Sporting Kansas City on Sunday. LAFC have had more than their current 16 points at this stage of a season only once, recoding 19 points en route to winning the Supporters’ Shield in 2019.

– Kann saved all shots on target he faced in Cincinnati’s scoreless draw against Atlanta. The six shots on target were the most Cincinnati has ever faced in an MLS match in which they kept a clean sheet.

– Tajouri-Shradi became the fourth player to record multiple goals off the bench this season with his strike against Kansas City. Both of his goals this season have come from outside the box, and he has scored 10 times from outside the box in the regular season since joining MLS in 2018. Only Lucas Zelarayan (14) has more goals from outside the box in that time.