COLUMBUS, Ohio — The first Major League Soccer match between the Columbus Crew and FC Cincinnati lived up to the hype. Named the “Hell is Real” derby by fans due to a billboard bearing those words alongside the highway that connects the two cities, the game had all the signs of a rivalry right from the start.
A fiery finish after an early deficit gave the Crew a 2-2 tie.
”I’m going to be glass half full,” Crew head coach Caleb Porter said after the game. “The second half was a one-way street. We should’ve won tonight. Our fans know it, their fans know it, their coach knows it.”
While both teams languish at the bottom of the table in the East, the game had a playoff-like atmosphere. It was the first sellout for Columbus this season, with an announced crowd over 20,000.
Cincinnati struck first. Darren Mattocks was left unmarked in the box on a corner, and he easily headed the ball into the net in the 16th minute. Columbus has struggled with set piece defending this season, and Cincinnati exploited that early.
Just seven minutes later, FC Cincinnati doubled its lead when Emmanuel Ledesma curled a shot past Eloy Room. Roland Lamah had the assist. Columbus was only playing with 10 men at the time because midfielder Artur suffered a cut above his eyebrow and had to stop the bleeding before he was allowed to re-enter the game.
The sellout crowd was quiet until just before halftime, when defender Maikel van der Werff took down Crew striker Gyasi Zardes in the box. A penalty kick was called and Zardes capitalized, making the score line at halftime 2-1.
Porter was visibly upset as the teams headed to the locker rooms. The Crew came out with a renewed sense of urgency in the second half, culminating in the 63rd minute when Pedro Santos scored a rocket from 25 yards out to tie the game. Team captain Wil Trapp got an assist on the play.
The intensity of the match picked up from there. Neither team wanted the game to end in the purgatory of a draw. Santos and van der Werff both picked up yellow cards for fouls shortly after the tying goal as the game got more physical.
Zardes nearly scored the winning goal in stoppage time. The Crew had a perfect buildup on a counterattack after a Cincinnati corner, but the national team forward skied the ball into the second deck from two yards out on an open net.
”I’m not going to make any excuses,” Zardes said, “I have to bury that.”
Columbus almost found heaven again in stoppage time when David Accam got a shot off deep in the box, but van der Werff deflected the shot and it bounced off the crossbar.
As the Crew continued to press for a winner, Victor Ulloa and Allan Cruz both attempted to pull Accam down on a breakaway at midfield. The center official let the play continue for as long as he could, but the advantage eventually dissipated and both Cincinnati players received yellow cards. The move paid off. Columbus never found the winner.
”That’s a part of the sport I don’t love, the professional foul,” Porter lamented after the game, adding that he also didn’t like the ball placement by the referee, who set the ball where the first foul happened instead of further up the field where the second foul happened. “We have to do something about those situations, because if you know you can just foul a guy and stop a goal scoring chance — But it is what it is. It all evens out. I know the Gyasi call was 50/50.”
Columbus will attempt to get a victory against Cincinnati later this month in a rematch on the road.