Brandon Vazquez struggled after first moving to FC Cincinnati in 2020, with the team also failing to find form.

Yet there has been a transformation in Cincinnati’s fortunes this season and, with four games of their regular season remaining, they head into Saturday’s meeting with Real Salt Lake in sixth place in the Eastern Conference.

A win could well be enough to secure a playoff place, and Vazquez – a star for Cincinnati with 16 league goals this year – is thrilled with the turnaround.

“Joining Atlanta [United] in 2017 started my journey in MLS. And while it was a blast to be part of a championship team that won week after week, Josef Martinez was the main striker there and I didn’t play much,” Vazquez wrote on MLSsoccer.com.

“When Cincinnati traded for me for 2020, it got even tougher, because the team was struggling and I still wasn’t getting much time on the field, just five or 10 minutes here and there. It was definitely very frustrating.

“Fast-forward to now. Everything’s changed at FCC. The new coaching staff under Pat Noonan and our general manager, Chris Albright, have come in and completely flipped this place around.

“It’s been unbelievable to be part of this year’s group, and I’m thankful for the opportunity they gave me to prove myself as a starter.

“There’s this unreal hunger that the whole team has now, that we lacked in the past. We already had belief that we could compete in MLS, that we had the talent, and now the work ethic is there, too. It’s been amazing, honestly, and I’m so happy to be part of this team.

“We’re chasing a spot in the playoffs, and once you get there, you never know – anything can happen and it’s all about winning. We’ve just got to sneak in.”

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Real Salt Lake – Bryan Oviedo

RSL were beaten 3-0 by Austin FC last time out, yet actually finished with more attempts at goal (17 to 14) than their opponents. RSL’s forwards were wasteful, though. Key to their creation of chances was former Everton and Sunderland full-back Bryan Oviedo, who played three key passes, a game high.

FC Cincinnati – Brenner

FCC come into this game on the back of a club-record win over the San Jose Earthquakes. Brenner scored a hat-trick in the 6-0 win, taking him to 12 goals for the season, making him FCC’s second player this term, after Vazquez, to get into double figures, after no player reached 10 goals for the club in its first three seasons combined.

KEY OPTA FACTS

– The lone meeting between Real Salt Lake and FC Cincinnati was a 3-0 RSL win at Cincinnati in April 2019. Since that match, RSL has only two road wins by three or more goals: 4-1 to the Colorado Rapids in August 2020 and 4-0 to the Vancouver Whitecaps in July 2021.

– Real Salt Lake has gone three straight matches without a goal for the first time since April-May 2017.

– They have not gone four straight regular season games without a goal since May-June 2005, inside of the club’s first 15 matches in its expansion season.

– Cincinnati has lost only one of its last 16 MLS matches (W4 D11), with the last match in that span the club-record 6-0 win over San Jose. Cincinnati has not won consecutive matches over that span, last doing so during a four-match run in April-May.

– Moussa Djitte’s hat-trick for Austin FC on Wednesday was the sixth scored by a substitute in MLS history and the second against Real Salt Lake. Edson Buddle scored three times as a sub for the Red Bulls against RSL in August 2006. No other team has allowed more than one hat trick by a substitute.