If Sunday night was the return of the MLS regular season, then it was also the return of the Columbus Crew continuing to dominate the Hell is Real Derby.
Literally, from the tifo unveiling to the final whistle, the Columbus Crew outperformed FC Cincinnati in all aspects of Sunday night’s 3-0 Hell is Real Derby win at Lower.com Field.
“We know what the guys are capable of when it comes together,” assistant coach Yoann Damet said after the match. “I think [we got] a good feel of it tonight. Very pleased with the performance of the team, the commitment, the mindset and the spirit that they showed and the buy in. Again, they showed that they want to play with pride and they want to play with the identity and with our game model, and they did it really well tonight.”
The Crew opened the scoring 15 minutes into the match when Homegrown midfielder Aidan Morris produced an exquisite finish from outside the box.
Columbus recycled the ball and had a steady string of passes before Yaw Yeboah found space on the left flank. He connected with Morris atop the box and played him a pullback cross. From there, Morris took a touch and unleashed a back-post strike past Roman Celetano to send The Nordecke into a frenzy. As yellow smoked filled the sky, Black & Gold supporters were in glee as the romp was on.
The lead was doubled in the 23rd minute through Cucho Hernández converting a penalty from an Álvaro Barreal handball.
While the Black & Gold had all the fun, there was nothing fiery about that performance from Cincinnati. Columbus kept the southern rivals quiet and, other than one goal line clearance, unthreatening.
“Cincinnati is a great team in transition,” Damet said. “They have a very offensive-minded front three and also very skillful so you have to stay alert like all the time. For us, it was about rest defense and it was about making sure that when we attack, we're set to defend right away and to either counter press or to even win the ball back like a little bit deeper managing the defensive transition. …I think we stayed close enough tonight to work to be able to deal with the transition in front of us and not too much in behind us.”
Jacen Russell-Rowe piled on in second-half stoppage time when he roofed a shot at the near post over Celetano in the 96th minute, ending a brisk counter attack. The goal was thumped and the exclamation point on a dominating performance.
This is just the beginning. Remember, Sunday was the return to the MLS regular season, which had been dormant since mid-July. From here, the Crew has 10 games left to secure a spot in the postseason and, potentially, play Cincinnati again.
The derby win lacked Wilfried Nancy on the touchline, who was suspended from an ejection before the Leagues Cup break. He’ll return next weekend, though, for the Trillium Cup clash with Toronto FC at Lower.com Field. Don’t miss out!
Plus, multiple Crew players made respective their league debuts.
While Julian Gressel played during Leagues Cup, Sunday was his first time wearing yellow in a league match. Additionally, newly-signed Diego Rossi made his debut to a raucous standing ovation and offered bright sparks in attacking play, while Rudy Camacho and Yevhen Cheberko brought stability to the backline.
Their impact was noticed immediately, as they helped tame the top team in MLS. But it wasn’t just that Columbus dominated Cincinnati. Yes, the bragging rights are sweet, but after dismantling the league leaders, the performance made it clear that the Crew are very much a threat to go on a run late in the season and into the playoffs.
“This game is special, a lot of weight to it, it's a statement game,” Morris said of the Hell is Real Derby. “That's what everyone kind of said. And I think it speaks perfectly. Yeah, and they're the best team in the league. So, kudos to them.
“I think us as a team, we can take down anybody. Whether it's [Inter] Miami right now, whoever it is, I think we play our game. We focus on ourselves. I think we'll have success.”
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