Confident Cincinnati ready for Ohio derby clash
Major League Soccer leaders FC Cincinnati head into Saturday's Ohio derby with the Columbus Crew with their sights already set on the post-season.
Cincinnati, in their fifth season in MLS, lead the Eastern Conference standings and have the best overall record across the league.
And while the playoffs won't begin until late October, striker Brandon Vazquez, isn't being shy about the team's ambitions.
"We have a championship in sight. The fans, everyone has the same expectations. I think we have the team to beat anyone in the league. We should be winning everything in here (at home), especially with the team we have," he said.
Seven straight wins at home, the latest a 3-0 victory over Montreal on Wednesday, have been the foundation for the early season success.
In a league that prides itself on the parity that springs from the salary cap system, such a record is rare and Cincinnati are only the fourth team to have made such a start on home turf.
The club's fans have had to wait for their team to get among the elite in the league with three disappointing seasons finishing near the foot of the table before last year's run to the conference semi-finals.
"What I like is the fact that we're winning in front of fans that have obviously struggled to find some consistency," said head coach Pat Noonan.
"We had to win more games at home and we've already surpassed last year, which is certainly a positive," he added.
Argentine attacking midfielder Luciano Acosta has been at the heart of Cincinnati's success with his creativity and his ability to lead counter-attacks fundamental.
Vazquez is a constant danger in the attack although he is losing his established partner, Brazilian Brenner, who is moving to Udinese in Italy.
Columbus head into the game on the back of a 2-0 win at home to the Los Angeles Galaxy and the Crew are sitting in fifth place in the East.
- Staying on task -
French coach Wilfried Nancy is urging his team not to get caught up in what could be a lively derby atmosphere.
"We don't have to motivate the players for this game. We have to also have the balance, sometimes you can put too much attention on the rivalry instead of staying on the task," he said.
"It is not easy. Our job is to give them tools to be good on the pitch, to be intense yes but also to be cold. I want them to be aggressive and do what they have to do to compete but I also want them to play football," he added.
After a disappointing 1-1 draw at home to Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday, defending champions Los Angeles FC face a tricky test against San Jose.
The Earthquakes beat Steve Cherundolo's side 2-1 earlier this month and the LAFC coach said he is studying his team's only defeat of the campaign closely.
"Our previous match is still fresh in our minds so there is a whole lot of opponent analysis going on. They didn't play midweek and so they will be fresh and recharged," he said.
Week 14 also sees last year's beaten finalists Philadelphia take on a New England team who are second in the East.