COLUMBUS, Ohio — The first Hell is Real derby in Major League Soccer lived up to the hype, and FC Cincinnati and Columbus Crew SC both could have come away with a win.
FCC took a 2-0 lead 23 minutes in but lost control of the match by surrendering a penalty kick just before halftime, and the Crew climbed back for a 2-2 draw Saturday in front of a sellout crowd of 20,850 fans – many of them visitors in Orange and Blue – at MAPFRE Stadium.
Columbus had a string of close chances at the end, and in the end, Cincinnati – playing its first game under new coach Ron Jans -- felt fortunate to come away with a point in the standings. The teams meet again Aug. 25 in Cincinnati.
“First of all, we got a result, and in the end I think we were more lucky with the point than Columbus was because the first 35 minutes I think we were the better team,” said Jans, who was hired Sunday and had just one week to prepare for his first match. “We were leading 2-nil. They got a little easy with the penalty, I think, but we had a lot of problems getting to halftime, and in the end, in the last 10 minutes, they hit the bar twice so I don't think we deserved the win, but I'm really happy with the point and we deserved it because of the fighting spirit and the first 35 minutes.”
Here are three key points from the match:
1. New coach, new look
Jans said when he initially was introduced as coach that he wanted to play an aggressive attacking style, albeit still building up possession from the back, and that was pretty evident early in his first match. FCC utilized a high press, which might have led to some wearing down later in the game, and even after Columbus tied it up, they continued to go for the win with three offensive substitutions.
Andrew Gutman, who came late last week on loan through 2020 from Scottish Premiership side Celtic FC, made his debut as the starting left back and proved a big part of the Orange and Blue’s offensive production – even if they managed just seven shots. The newcomer was active getting forward, like Jans wants from his fullbacks, almost serving like another winger on the field and was perfect on 14 first-half passes. He finished with a team-high 70 touches on the ball.
FCC got on the board on a corner kick from Victor Ulloa, which Darren Mattocks headed home after being left unmarked at the back post in the 15th minute. Ulloa isn’t normally the one taking corners but with Leo Bertone suspended for yellow card accumulation, he swapped turns with Emmanuel Ledesma on set pieces.
Ledesma then doubled the lead eight minutes later when he was left open at the far post and buried Roland Lamah’s cross that somehow skipped through the middle of the box untouched.
After the Crew came back, FCC brought in new wingers Joe Gyau and Derrick Etienne Jr., who were added on the final day of the summer transfer window, and Rashawn Dally replaced forward Darren Mattocks.
2. Same old problem
A week after then-interim coach Yoann Damet attempted to address why FCC has allowed so many goals just before halftime, the Orange and Blue did it again.
This time was especially unfortunate. Maikel van der Werff made light contact on Gyasi Zardes in the box, and the Crew were awarded a penalty kick, which Zardes put past Przemyslaw Tyton in the 45th minute after a stutter step approach. That meant the visitors carried a one-goal lead into halftime instead of a much more comfortable 2-0 advantage.
“You don't have everything under control,” Jans said. “In the middle, there was a push on the back of Mattocks and he didn't give us the free kick and on the counter attack, there was a little push from van der Werff, and OK, you can give the penalty but I think most refs wouldn't give it. I think that was very important. It gave them a boost and we were all over the place the last few minutes before halftime.
In the last eight matches, FCC has given up five goals in the 40th minute or beyond going into halftime.
Columbus then found the equalizer in the 62nd minute when Pedro Santos ripped a shot from the top of the box that Tyton had no chance of stopping.
3. Birth of a beautiful rivalry
FCC fans will long remember the first matchup of these teams – back in 2017 when the USL team upset the Crew 1-0 in the U.S. Open Cup, which sparked Cincinnati to a magical run to the semifinals. This one actually captured the interest of both sides, though, being the first regular-season league match between them and even MLS embraced the “Hell is Real” nickname for the derby.
The fact FCC is in last place in the Eastern Conference and Columbus only one spot ahead in 11th didn’t cool the flames. It just put some stakes on an otherwise meaningless game.
“I really liked the atmosphere, the intensity,” Jans said.
Players on the pitch matched the energy of the sellout crowd for most of the game, but the Crew made things especially interesting in the final 10 minutes as FCC sat back just trying to hold on for the draw. In the 90th minute, the Crew found Zardes open in front of the goal about four yards out, but he shanked the gift-wrapped opportunity over the crossbar. Moments later, the Crew hit the crossbar on another chance. Then, three minutes into added time, Columbus nearly put away a corner kick but Tyton managed to scoop it up after the Crew’s initial shot was deflected and then shot again from close range.
The drama only continued when Ulloa and Allan Cruz chased down David Accam in the middle of the field and both attempted to pull him down from behind. They were issued yellow cards, and Ulloa ended up with five stitches from the tangle-up.
“I think the last couple minutes we kind of broke down a little bit and got away from our gameplan but in those moments you can't panic,” Gutman said. “The ball kind of bounced their way, and you just have to hope you can get out of it.”
Tyton ended up with four saves, but Columbus had 19 total shots for the game.
“When you look from the beginning, the first half, how we controlled the game from the first minute and we scored two goals in front and controlled the game, it was a little disappointing,” Tyton said. “But if you look at the whole game, they also created chances, so we had to get this point with deep respect because it's a derby. Derby, you see, no one gives up til the last minute. They couldn't win, we couldn't react maybe a little better in some situations but in the end it was 2-2 and one point for each team.”