When the 2019 Major League Soccer regular season calendar was released, Columbus Crew SC fans were all looking for the same matchup. After 23 years, the Black & Gold finally had an in-state rival in the league and the home game against FC Cincinnati would always be the most anticipated for the team’s supporters.
That day is nearly upon them as the Crew is set to host Cincinnati on Saturday at MAPFRE Stadium and the fans are not the only ones who understand and recognize the importance of the first meeting between the two Ohio sides – the so-called “Hell is Real” Derby.
“We haven’t talked a lot about it, but deep inside all of us know the importance of this game,” midfielder Artur said. “We know they’re our rivals now because we’re in neighbor cities and even though our motivation is high for every game, this one has a special taste. It’s a historic game, the first between the teams in MLS, and we have to do our best to get a win at home and show good soccer.”
Born and raised in Ohio, Crew’s Homegrown midfielder and team captain Wil Trapp understands the meaning of the upcoming match like no other. The midfielder can easily relate to the anticipation the team’s fanbase is dealing with during the week and he’s not shy about sending a message to his teammates on how to handle the first MLS matchup with their rivals from the South.
“We have to step up,” he added. “It’s a rivalry game and it’s a big game. It’s at home, in front of our fans and I think it’s really important for us to perform well and win the game. It’s the first one in MLS history between these two clubs and it’s going to be fun.”
Part of the Crew roster since 2013, the 26-year-old Trapp swa several teams being “forced” as rivals for the team, including Toronto FC, D.C. United and the New York Red Bulls. But for him, being located just 110 miles down Interstate-71, FC Cincinnati is the first opponent that could be labeled as an authentic and perennial rival for the Black & Gold.
“I would say so,” he agreed. “I feel that our rivals in the past have kind of come more from a sporting perspective, whereas it was the Red Bulls and their style of play or whatever it would be… Those teams were more of a year-by-year thing, it wasn’t much of a consistent thing while now we have the ability to be in the same state, and it’s a small state, it just brings proximity and tension in a good way. For us, that’s more palpable than the other ones.”
The Crew and FC Cincinnati have already met twice since the Queen City team was founded in 2015, with the visitors taking a U.S. Open Cup duel in 2017 and the Black & Gold triumphing at this year’s preseason Carolina Cup Challenge. None of those matches, though, carried the same weight as their first MLS matchup.
For head coach Caleb Porter, who experience first-hand one of the most intense rivalries in the league between his former club, the Portland Timbers, and the Seattle Sounders, this weekend’s match could mark the start of something really special for both teams.
“With the in-state rivalry and the close proximity, you’re fighting for your city, for respect to your city and bragging rights,” he reflected. “It’s a rivalry that will grow as the tension grows through games and the stories and what happens in these games. This is the first one and we want to kick it off right. They’ve played prior to this, but it wasn’t MLS to MLS. But still, that match is still in the minds of some of our players. Our supporters want to win it badly and so do we. It’s almost bigger than three points because you’re fighting for your city.”