Charlotte FC head coach Dean Smith believes his side would be in the top three of the Eastern Conference if they had taken several of their big chances ahead of their meeting with FC Cincinnati.

The Crown were beaten 2-1 in their last MLS fixture against Inter Miami last time out, with goalscorer Patrick Agyemang sent off late on at the Bank of America Stadium.

The result leaves them in sixth place, three points behind New York City, a position Smith believes could be significantly better had his side taken their opportunities in recent weeks.

“I think we are missing too many chances in too many games,” Smith said. “If we were taking those chances we would be in the top three for sure.

“With the way we’ve played in games and the way we have restricted the opposition and some of the big chances we’ve missed, that has been our biggest problem.

“We are always looking to bring people in who can come and improve the team. But we’re working hard with the players on the roster to improve them as well.

“That’s part of the coaching job.”

Cincinnati, however, enjoyed a positive result against the same opponents in their top of the table clash at the TQL Stadium last time out.

The Orange and Blue thumped Inter Miami 6-1 to go to the summit of the Eastern Conference, earning them a third consecutive victory in the process.

However, head coach Pat Noonan believes their battle with the Herons in August will be a completely different affair as they were without Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, who were both away on international duty at the Copa America.

“You have to beat good teams if you want to be at the top of the table, at the top of the conference, and playing home games in the playoffs," Noonan said.

"Guys stepped up tonight with both teams missing key pieces. We won't look past that.

"We'll see them at the end of August. It'll look entirely different based on likely personnel. So, they still have a very strong team. And that's why I'm very pleased about the performance."

PLAYERS TO WATCH

FC Cincinnati – Luciano Acosta

In Cincinnati’s triumph over Inter Miami, Acosta was the star man for the home side, scoring a goal and providing two assists during the encounter at the TQL Stadium.

Acosta now has 10 goals and 17 assists this season, the third time he has registered over 25 goal contributions in the MLS. The only other player in MLS history to hit those marks in three seasons was Sebastian Giovinco in 2016, 2017 and 2019.

Charlotte FC – Kerwin Vargas

With top scorer Patrick Agyemang suspended for the trip to the TQL Stadium, Kerwin Vargas looks likely to lead the line for Charlotte.

The Colombian has four goals and two assists so far this season and will be key for Smith’s side to end their losing streak. Should he find the back of the net, he will take his overall tally for the Crown into double figures on his 72nd appearance for the club.

MATCH PREDICTION: CINCINNATI WIN

Cincinnati come into the game on the back of an impressive run in the league, winning 12 of their previous 14 MLS fixtures, becoming only the second team in the post-shootout era (since 2000) to do so after Seattle in 2018.

Nine of those 12 wins have been by a one-goal margin, and their record against Charlotte will give them confidence of remaining top of the Eastern Conference table having gone unbeaten in their previous four encounters (W2 D2).

Charlotte’s defeat to Inter Miami last time out saw them record back-to-back losses after losing just one of their previous 10 matches (W6 D3). It’s been over a year since Charlotte lost three straight matches, doing so in its first four matches of the 2023 season.

OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

FC Cincinnati – 59.6%

Draw – 21.1%

Charlotte FC – 19.3%