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What We Learned: Hell is Real edition

Our biggest takeaways from the Derby match with FC Cincinnati

MLS: FC Cincinnati at Columbus Crew SC Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Columbus Crew SC’s first Major League Soccer matchup against FC Cincinnati ended in a memorable 2-2 draw. The Black & Gold went down two goals early before fighting back. Columbus had multiple chances to win the game late, but couldn’t find that go-ahead goal.

It wasn’t the three points the Crew needed as the team attempts to race back into playoff contention but here are our biggest takeaways from the match.

Saturday was a big missed opportunity

The Crew missed out on a chance to make a big move in the playoff race. The team remains in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, seven points below the red line and the final playoff spot held by the Montreal Impact. The Impact are in a free fall, going 1-6-0 in their last seven games. Eighth place Toronto is a very mixed 3-2-1 over the same stretch.

A win would have put the Crew at 28 points. As it stands, the Black & Gold are 2-1-3 in their last six, not good enough to close the gap. The biggest enemy for the team now is time. Columbus has eight games left in the season and needs at least six wins and the rest of the playoff pack to falter if the postseason is going to come. With Saturday’s tie, we learned that playoff dreams are likely just that, dreams.

The attack is starting to click

The Black & Gold attack has been punchless for much of the season. The team has a meagre 27 goals this year, barely better than one a game. Age started catching up with Federico Higuain and then he tore his ACL. Gyasi Zardes hasn’t seen the type of chances he did last year and has nine goals. Only Pedro Santos has thrived in the situation with his career year.

Columbus’ brain trust knew they needed to fix this issuee during the transfer window. There are signs that they did. Half-season rental David Accam is terrifying in the open field. Luis Diaz made an instant impact and grabbed a starting spot since being acquired. Romario Williams is a super-sub at forward. Youness Mokhtar nearly tallied an assist in his first match.

The results are positive.

The defense may have struggled against Cincinnati, but we learned that the offense is dangerous enough to claw back from a two-goal deficit and had several chances to secure all three points. This offense may be consistently dangerous after another transfer window of activity.

Hell of a real rivalry

MAPFRE Stadium was as loud as it’s been in several seasons on Saturday night. Thousands of FC Cincy fans travelled up I-71 to take in the first edition of the Hell is Real Derby. Thousands more Crew fans came out to back the Black & Gold. The parking lots filled with with tailgaters hours before kickoff. Orange and blue mixed with black and gold over beers.

As game time approached, two full sections of FC Cincy faithful entered the stadium and took up their spot in the away section. Crew fans packed the rest of a sold out MAPFRE Stadium, the first of the season. The Nordecke rolled out a Columbus inspired tifo.

The atmosphere in the stadium had the hallmarks of a massive matchup rather than a regular season game between the 11th and 12th place teams in the standings.

On the field, it appeared at times that the hosts struggled with the intensity of the match early on. Cincinnati brought early pressure and it threw the Crew off their passing rhythm. It appeared that the game was a little bit too big for some of the players and Cincinnati raced to two early goals. Throughout the second half it was FC Cincy’s turn to struggle as the momentum turned and the Black & Gold faithful roared their support for Columbus as the team stormed back to tie.

This game kicked off a real rivalry. The shock lead, the furious comeback, the Zardes miss, epic saves and Accam breaking (football) tackles, these are the indelible first moments of an organic rivalry, something that the Columbus Crew has lacked in recent years.

We learned that no matter the records or where the teams are in the standings, these games matter and that Hell is Real.