FCC, in just its second year of existence, faces Crew SC for the first time and a big crowd is expected a Nippert Stadium, including a large contingent of Columbus-based fans that will make the drive south towards Kentucky.
This budding young rivalry began through social media as the Cincinnati faithful are proud and boastful of large attendance figures — the club set the USL record with 24,376 tickets sold last September.
The Crew SC players and staff are aware of the support FC Cincinnati is receiving.
“They obviously have great support down there from Cincinnati and southern Ohio fans and people from Kentucky and that area and that region and I think it’s great,” winger Ethan Finlay said.
Added head coach Gregg Berhalter, who went to scout Cincy in person last weekend: “I thought it was a good atmosphere, I thought the team team was good and I think it’s going to be a good game. I would expect a similar type of crowd on Wednesday night.
“I think what they’ve been doing is great. They’ve been doing a good job... They have good fan support, nice stadium, good ownership group, good management group. They really have a clear direction they want to go in and I think it’s great. I think that’s what’s needed in soccer in America.”
While club owner Anthony Precourt may be enjoying the potential rivalry — labelled it the “Ohio Cup” on Twitter — those within the confines of the EAS Training Center are not aware of is any sort of hostility between the two sides heading into the first meeting.
“I think we should be clear,” Berhalter began. “Whatever rivalry there is or isn’t, we’re playing in MLS and they’re playing in USL, so it is a different level of competition that we’re playing in. I don’t know how there’s a rivalry established when you don’t get to play each other. Normally rivalries happen when you get to compete against each other.”
What has created the buzz is that each side has something the other would like. Crew SC strive to get fans into MAPFRE Stadium, but are working with different parameters than the USL side. FCC want to join MLS, but still have a lot to show the league before being accepted.
As for on the field, there’s no history. But Wednesday will begin to create some.
Because of this, Berhalter expects to see a strong side from Cincinnati.
“They’ll probably play most of their guys,” the Columbus boss said. “I know they have another league match on Saturday, an important league match against the league leaders, so I know that they’ll take some of that into consideration, but I’m pretty sure it will be pretty similar to what we do in the game.”
What Crew SC will do in the game remains a mystery. With 10 days off between matches, it’s logical that the Black & Gold players are eager to get on the field, but Berhalter has to balance getting guys minutes with preparing the players for Saturday’s league match at Atlanta United.
“I would imagine the guys on international duty won’t take part in the game,” Berhalter said of Jukka Raitala, Harrison Afful and Jonathan Mensah earlier this week. “I can imagine we’ll probably play some other starter. I don’t know how long, but we’ll certainly play them.”
As for looking for any kind of statement win over FC Cincinnati, that is likely not Columbus’ intention.
“It’s going to be two teams trying to win a game,” Berhalter said. “I don’t think there’s any hatred there, any animosity there. I think we have a great relationship with them and it’s just going to be two teams competing to win a soccer game.
“[The goal is] to advance to the next round. We’re going in to go to the next round. We know it’s going to be a difficult game. We know it’s going to be a charged game, but the goal is to advance.”