What could be better than derby bragging rights? How about derby bragging rights and knocking an archrival out of the playoff race?
FC Cincinnati has the opportunity to do just that Sunday night when the first-year club hosts the Columbus Crew in the second edition of the "Hell is Real" derby between the in-state rivals.
The teams played their first match as league rivals Aug. 10 in Columbus, where the Crew rallied from a two-goal deficit to salvage a 2-2 draw. Columbus bossed the final half-hour of the match after Pedro Santos squared the contest on 62 minutes, but Royals keeper Prezmyslaw Tyton made several key saves in stoppage-time and Gyasi Zardes squandered a gilt-edged chance from close range.
The draw was part of a season-best six-match unbeaten streak for the Crew (7-15-6), but after a 1-0 loss midweek at New York City FC, even a road point will be of little use to Columbus as it enters this match seven points behind Montreal for the seventh and final playoff spot in the East.
"We need the points and we want to win the games," Columbus keeper Eloy Room said after Wednesday's loss, "The second half I think was promising for the next game, and especially the important game against Cincinnati. I think we must look to the second half, we played well, we made it difficult. I think we must be confident for the next match."
Crew coach Caleb Porter made six changes to the side that drew Toronto FC on Aug. 17, most notably holding out Zardes and midfielder Wil Trapp so they would be at full speed for this contest. Santos, who played the second half, had a four-match goal-scoring streak snapped.
FC Cincinnati (5-18-3) is nine points behind Columbus for 11th in the East and continues to transition to new coach Ron Jans, whose introduction to the MLS was the first encounter between the teams. The growing pains for the Royals continued last week with a 4-1 hiding administered by NYCFC on Aug. 17 as their winless spell reached six matches (0-5-1).
Center back Kendall Watson made no attempt to hide his desire for FCC to win this match, telling the club's official website, "The reality is if we win this game, the happiness for the fans is obviously encouragement to help us finish the end of the season the best as possible.
"It was a nice game in Columbus and now it's going to be a battle here at home with a full stadium," the talisman and Costa Rica international added. "I know it's going to be packed and everyone is going to be ready and that's going to be a very, very nice environment."
The teams have played once previously in Cincinnati, where the Royals stunned Columbus 1-0 in the fourth round of the 2017 U.S. Open Cup en route to a semifinal appearance as a USL side. FC Cincinnati has dropped four straight at home and not recorded a clean sheet at Nippert Stadium since a 3-0 victory over Portland in its MLS home debut.
The derby got its nickname from a billboard displaying the phrase "Hell is Real" on Interstate 71 that is nearly equidistant from the two clubs, which are separated by 110 miles.
Updated August 23, 2019