Pat Noonan was serving as Philadelphia Union’s assistant coach when Philadelphia traveled to Los Angeles FC on March 8, 2020.
For the up-and-coming Union, the game served as a test against reigning winners of the Major League Soccer Supporters Shield, and it was a test the club weren’t exactly up to.
But Union were ready that night at Banc of California Stadium, playing against LAFC to a thrilling 3-3 draw in what some consider one of the best MLS regular-season games in recent memory.
“Pretty good game,” Noonan, now FC Cincinnati head coach, said with a grin during an interview Thursday when mentioning this game between Union and LAFC.
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The game was the last MLS game to be played before the league’s months-long pandemic shutdown, but it showed the Union was ready to take the next step in their development.
In the fall, and after the league resumed a season shortened by the pandemic, Philadelphia itself raised the Supporters Shield.
Not many rank FC Cincinnati among the contenders for the Supporters Shield, but the club’s nationally televised game (FS1, 5:00 p.m.) on Sunday against LAFC (5-1-1), the leaders in the Western Conference, at the TQL Stadium gives Cincinnati an equal chance as Union Prove a point and make a statement to the rest of the MLS about the FCC’s progress.
“It’s becoming an opportunity,” Fox Sports Match analyst and former player Stu Holden told The Enquirer. “Although I would say LAFC would be the favourite… it’s still a great opportunity for the club and the team and Pat Noonan can sell that against the odds to his team of you guys for a chance of a result that stands out.” and builds on what they build on. This is a yardstick type game.”
There are, of course, the necessary caveats that must be observed.
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The game takes place at the start of the season and the beginning of FC Cincinnati’s rebuilding under Noonan and General Manager Chris Albright. A loss to an LAFC side that ranks as the best club in MLS in 2022 should not be taken as a damning charge.
Still, a result against LAFC would speak volumes for where FC Cincinnati is today after finishing bottom of the MLS three times in a row.
“We’ll see, but I think so because we’re still at the beginning of the process of being a team. But this is a top team in the league with very good players. And you can see early, well trained,” said Noonan. “And that’s why you want to appear in the biggest games and show that not only are we moving in the right direction, but we’re a good team. So this is an opportunity to show that and that takes every one of us to do well on the night to get a result. And so, once again, it is about being courageous in how we approach it.”
LAFC is one of the first quality leaders of the 2022 season. The club entered this weekend as the leaders in the race for this year’s Supporters Shield, scoring 17 goals. That’s most associated with Austin FC in MLS.
Defensively, the team of first-year Los Angeles head coach Steve Cherundolo has saved two shutouts.
The only blemish on LAFC’s record was a loss to crosstown rivals Los Angeles Galaxy.
“(LAFC) have a really well balanced team and I think they’re the best team in the league right now with Seattle,” Holden said. “I didn’t expect (LAFC) to be as good this early in the year with a new manager, but the way Steve’s approached it is like, ‘This is a good base. We’ve got a good team. Let me just fix some of the defensive positions and make sure we don’t concede two or three goals in every game… It’s going to be a big test for Cincinnati this weekend and like I said, this is the best right now team of the league.”
Holden will be present at Sunday’s game along with Fox Sports play-by-play lead John Strong. The Strong-Holden couple have broadcast more than 250 football matches together since 2014 – more than any other English-language television duo.
FC Cincinnati will meet LAFC’s challenges at far less than full strength. With Nick Hagglund (red suspension) and Ronald Matarrita (injury), two regular players will definitely be missing, four other players who regularly start for FCC are considered questionable.
Among the four questionable players is Brandon Vazquez, MLS’s joint-leading scorer with five goals.
When asked what FC Cincinnati should convey to a national television audience, Noonan said: “A brave team and a disciplined team.”
“That was my message to the group: in a nationally televised game against a really good opponent, you want to do your best and see your team at its bravest,” Noonan said. Can we show that we’re a confident team when we step onto the field? And that’s the message, that’s what I want to see from the group. That’s what we talked about, to do justice to the occasion. And not just stepping on the field and having the energy, but also having the quality and finding ways to be successful and finding ways to win a game against a good opponent.”
Kick off: 5 p.m. ET on Sunday | TQL Stadium, Cincinnati
TV/Radio/Stream: FS1 / ESPN1530 / FoxSports.com
Information about the series: LAFC won the only game between the clubs, defeating FC Cincinnati 2-0 on April 13, 2019 at Banc of California Stadium.
Prediction from Cincinnati.com: FC Cincinnati 0, LAFC 2.
Record 2022: 2-4-1, seven points; 12th place in Eastern Conference; (3-4-1 all competitions)
Goals for: Eight
goals against: 14
Coaches: Pat Noonan – first season with FC Cincinnati
Estimated starting lineup:
Roman Celentano (GK)
John Nelson, left rear
Ian Murphy, centre-back
Tyler Blackett, centre-back
Alvas Powell, right rear
Haris Medunjanin, midfielder
Yuya Kubo, midfielder
Luciano Acosta, midfielder
Junior Moreno, midfielder
Brenner Souza da Silva, striker
Dominque Badji, forward
Los Angeles F.C
Record 2022: 5-1-1, 16 points; First Place in the Western Conference; (6-1-1 all competitions)
Goals for: 17
goals against: seven
Coaches: Steve Cherundolo – first season at LAFC
Estimated starting lineup:
Maxime Crepeau (GC)
Ryan Hollingshead, right back
Jesús Murillo, centre-back
Doneil Henry, centre-back
Diego Palacios, left-back
Ilie Sanchez, midfielder
Kwadwo Opoku, winger
Carlos Vela, forward
Latif Blessing, midfielder/forward
Kellyn Acosta, midfielder
Cristian “Chicho” Arango, Forward
Players to watch: Carlos Vela – Now in his fifth season at LAFC, 33-year-old Vela comes to TQL Stadium as arguably one of the best players in MLS history. He’s also chasing history as two goals against Cincinnati on Sunday would make Vela the fastest player in MLS history to contribute to a combined 100 goals through assists and own goals.
While Vela is missing an MLS Cup with LAFC, he did almost everything to bring legitimacy to his club, starting as an expansion team in 2018 and competing at a high level ever since.
“He’s a special player,” Strong said. “And unlike a Chicharito or a Josef Martinez, he can score and assist. That makes him dangerous because when he has people around him who are scoring goals, he can do all these different things. I think he’ll be seen as one of “They’re going down one of the most important contributors on the field in MLS history. I don’t think he’ll make the same contribution off the field because of his reluctance to deal with the media. It’s a different dynamic than all the things that[David)BeckhamhasdoneorallthethingsChicharitoisgoingtodooffthefieldbutyouknowhecanbethefastestplayerinMLShistorywith100combinedgoals(goalsandassists)ifhegetstwoonSundaycan
FC Cincinnati player-designate Brenner Souza da Silva said during an interview Friday