In the buildup to July’s Hell Is Real meeting, head coach Caleb Porter called the intrastate rivalry between the Columbus Crew and FC Cincinnati the Black & Gold’s biggest game of the season.
“This is the one you highlight on the calendar,” Porter told the media. “It’s a fight between two cities, for bragging rights. That’s why they call it Hell Is Real because whoever is on the wrong end of the result, you feel like you’re in hell. It’s that simple.”
Fortunately, that’s not a feeling the Crew and its supporters are used to.
On Saturday night, the Black & Gold meet the Orange and Blue for the second time in 2022, and Columbus is looking for a season sweep of its southern neighbors, following the 2-0 win earlier this year at Lower.com Field.
But more importantly, the Crew is hoping it can extend its six-game unbeaten run on the road and create a wider gap in the push for a playoff spot.
Columbus currently resides in the final postseason spot – seventh – with 35 points from 26 matches. Cincinnati has played one more game and sits ninth with 34 points.
A Crew win would give the side a four-point advantage. A loss means the Black & Gold fall out of a playoff spot with eight games remaining to make up ground.
To put it simply: There’s not much room for error.
Thankfully, though, this is a rivalry the Crew has controlled since the teams first met in league play in 2019.
Through the first nine meetings, Columbus has won five games and earned three draws. The lone loss came in 2020 in Cincinnati, when fans weren’t allowed for COVID-19 health and safety concerns. (But by that point, the Crew had already beaten FCC twice earlier that summer.)
While the rivalry has led to fiery tifos and raucous atmospheres, it’s been the Crew’s performances on the field that have done all the talking.
In the previous nine games, the club has outscored Cincinnati, 20-9.
There have been times when it felt like fortunes might change, but Columbus always rallied late to earn at least a point.
For example: in 2021, the Crew played with 10 men and trailed, 2-0, but the team fought back to earn a point in TQL Stadium – causing Porter to proudly celebrate with the traveling supporters who drove down from Columbus for the game. A month later, the Black & Gold trailed, 2-1, before Miguel Berry scored twice in as many minutes to secure a 3-2 win – the first at Lower.com Field against FCC.
The future is unwritten for what happens Saturday, but if it’s anything like previous meetings, the high stakes should only amplify the intensity between the two rivals.
For Columbus, the Crew is hoping for its first road win in the Queen City since 2019; For Cincinnati, wins over its northern rival have been rare.
“I don’t know if you guys notice as much as we do, little gestures, little actions within games where you kind of pick up that it means a little bit more than just a regular match,” Aidan Morris said back in July about playing against FCC. “When there’s a (short) distance like that, guys say a little bit more than they normally would, guys tackle a little bit harder than they normally would. There’s a bit more edge from both teams.”
The past has favored Columbus. Let’s see what awaits Saturday night.
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