Hold up your hand like you are giving a high five. You are holding up more fingers than FC Cincinnati had wins in 2021. 

Former Union Technical Director Chris Albright was brought in and plucked Pat Noonan from Jim Curtin’s coaching staff to bring a new attitude to a club willing to spend big to get the players it wants. 

So far, it’s working. 

Noonan already has seven wins and, with 11 games left to play in the season, Cincy has already scored as many goals as they did in all of 2021. 

And while the defense has not been stellar, it is markedly improved compared to the group that gave up 70+ goals against a year ago.

In a year where Jim Curtin dropped a first-year starter into his back line, turned a player Miami couldn’t unlock into a Team of the Year candidate, and unleashed a stupendous level of Gazdoop on an unsuspecting league, Noonan, somehow, still has a shout at Coach of the Year. 

Brandon Vazquez was cast off by Atlanta and now looks like he could finish atop the scoring charts. Lucho Acosta was unneeded by DC United and has a cool seven goals and four assists to his name, and much-maligned big money signing Brenner now has six goals. 

With 26 goals between them, that Cincy trio is behind only Philadelphia’s Gazdag, Julian Carranza, and Mikael Uhre as the most productive front three in the league. 

Cincy has also added midfield destroyer Obinna Nwobodo in front of a cobbled-together back four to provide solidity and a base to build on going forward. 

All of that is to say that Saturday’s showdown will pit two of 2022’s hungriest teams against each other at a key point in the season. If the Union win, they could further separate themselves from the rest of the Eastern Conference’s best. Meanwhile, a win for the Ohio side could vault them from ninth to fifth in a single bound. 

The key matchups will clearly be the central attackers against the holding midfielders. Nwobodo is very good, but Daniel Gazdag is a MVP darkhorse and All-Star snub who has single-handedly carried the Union offense at times this year. On the other end, Acosta has returned to the form that made him one of MLS’ most dangerous players in DC. He profiles as a playmaker but now puts himself in goalscoring positions more often as Vazquez’s gravity opens gaps in the defense. Jose Martinez will need to keep Acosta from collecting the ball close to goal so the Union back line isn’t defending against the diminutive attacker’s slick pocket passes into the box.

The Union and FC Cincinnati will trade blows in Ohio on August 6 beginning at 7:30 p.m. ET. Catch the game live on PHL17 and PhiladelphiaUnion.com.