New York City FC have made a poor start to their MLS title defense, but Ronny Deila believes they are starting to show their old selves.

NYCFC lost 4-2 on aggregate to the Seattle Sounders in the semi-finals of the CONCACAF Champions League, with a 1-1 draw in Thursday’s second leg confirming their exit.

It capped what has been a troublesome opening to 2022 for Deila’s side, who have only won one MLS game ahead of Sunday’s meeting with Real Salt Lake.

However, the former Celtic boss saw enough from his team against the Sounders to think they will soon be back at their best.

“I said to the players: This is the team I know,” he said. “This is how we are when we’re at our best. This is energy we have to come into every game.

“And now we have gone a lot of games without winning, we have to start to win football games again. If we put out this performance on Sunday, then we’re going to play really, really well.”

RSL could provide NYCFC with a good opponent to get back to form, with the Utah-based side having failed to win in three games after making a blistering start to the season.

They drew 2-2 with Toronto FC last time out, with Justin Meram getting RSL’s opener in that match, and he is anticipating a tough trip to Yankee Stadium.

“It is a hard place to play, man. That field is really tight, really small and you have to be really sharp with the ball and there has to be a lot of combination play, a lot of breaking the lines because there is not much space to play in behind. Guys always have to be moving,” Meram said.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

New York City FC – Valentin Castellanos

Valentin Castellanos scored 22 goals in MLS last season, but he is yet to get off the mark in 2022. NYCFC need their striker to hit form if they are to get their campaign up and running.

Real Salt Lake – Damir Kreilach

Damir Kreilach scored his first goal of the 2022 season on Saturday against Toronto. Kreilach had not scored or assisted on a goal in his previous six MLS appearances (including last season’s playoffs), which was the longest such drought of his career.

KEY OPTA FACTS

– RSL have won four of its five matches against New York City FC (L1), including a 3-1 victory in the last meeting in August 2019. RSL’s 80-percent win rate is the best by any team against NYCFC in MLS play (including playoffs).

– NYCFC has won 15 of its 23 home matches against Western Conference opposition since the start of the 2016 season (D5 L3).

– The only two Western Conference teams to win away against NYCFC in that time are Portland (twice) and RSL.

– RSL have lost just one of its last 11 matches against Eastern Conference foes (W4 D6), including the 2-2 draw with Toronto on Saturday. The lone defeat in that time came in a 1-0 loss in Chicago last October.

– NYCFC has a joint-MLS low five goals despite attempting 14.8 shots per match, fifth-most in the league. NYCFC’s 6.8 percent overall conversion rate is second worst in the league while only Charlotte (8.5 per cent) has a lower conversion rate on shots inside the box than NYCFC (8.7 percent).