Rivalries are often remembered for their stories. For the games that fans who were there or who watched on television love to discuss.
When Cincinnati, the visitors at MAPFRE Stadium, went up 2-0 inside the first half an hour, one narrative was writing itself. The team at the bottom of the MLS standings came into the Crew’s house and might just walk off with a win.
But two goals on either side of halftime by the Black & Gold set up the storybook ending. Columbus pushed forward, looking for the winning goal that would send the vast majority of the sellout crowd of 20,865 home happy.
Unfortunately for the Crew, that was not how this chapter ended.
Gyasi Zardes had the miss of the match just seconds prior to stoppage time when the Black & Gold forward skied a shot from inside the six-yard box. But that was not the only missed opportunity late.
Winger David Accam hit the crossbar and Zardes had two other great efforts that were denied by reaction saves from Cincinnati goalkeeper Przemyslaw Tyton.
In the end, the late win was not meant to be.
“I’m proud of all the intangible things that you want to see in your group and in your team,” Crew head coach Caleb Porter said postgame. “Don’t know how the ball doesn’t go in. If one of those four or five chances where the keeper makes a save, or Gyasi at the back post, if that goes in, some of the best comebacks I’ve been a part of, the best wins I’ve been a part of. And we should have won the game at the end.”
On the positive side for Columbus, the tie extends the team’s unbeaten run to five games after a dreadful summer that saw the Black & Gold win just once in 16 matches. The Crew once again showed fight, battling back from a deficit — this time a two-goal deficit — for the fourth time in the last five games.
On a different night, against a different opponent, pulling out a draw after conceding two goals in the first half would feel a bit more like a win. But in the infancy of this in-state rivalry, the Columbus players, coaches and fans felt the team let two points slip away.
“I think you look at the chances at the end and we felt like we should have won the game,” club captain Wil Trapp stated frankly. “So it feels more like a loss than it does a tie, which is interesting when you’re down two goals. But we always felt like we could score. And when Gyasi buried the penalty right before halftime, we felt good about it and we felt good coming into halftime that we could score going into the second half.”
To make matters worse, this was a win the Crew counted on getting. Although the players and coaches will never state it publicly, they all had this game against a team on just 17 points through 24 matches marked down as a win.
And after the struggles of the summer, Columbus needed three points against the worst team in MLS. Sitting seven points back of the final playoff spot with eight games to play, the Black & Gold couldn’t afford to see more points slip away, especially at home and even more so with the chances the team had to win the game after pulling level.
“I thought second half it was one-way traffic,” Porter said. “It was all us and the stats show that as well. We scored a great goal and had a bunch of chances and we should have won. I think everybody knows that, everybody in the stadium. Their fans, even their coach, they know that. We should have. And I think they’re feeling better with the point than we are.”
Everything about Saturday night was perfect. From the weather to the tailgates pregame to the crowd during the match, it seemed like an ideal night for Columbus. When Zardes converted the penalty kick before halftime to get the game within one, the story seemed to be writing itself.
While Crew fans won’t be able to look back and talk about the incredible come-from-behind win the team made in the first MLS Hell is Real Derby, there will certainly be talking points, some positive — the never give up attitude for instance — while some will be painful.
That’s the way rivalry games go sometimes.
“Those type of things happen but we just wish we could have put one goal away,” Trapp said.
“We’re just disappointed not to win.”