We FINALLY have some Columbus Crew SC soccer to look forward to again in 2020, and what better way to “restart” then with a Hell Is Real matchup in the MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando? While there has been much speculation about everything from the COVID-19 testing, to the players’ food options and the play on the field at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports, it is finally time for Crew fans to speculate about what will happen in between the white lines this Saturday against rivals FC Cincinnati.
FC Cincy did not get off to a hot start before the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States, losing to both the New York Red Bulls and Atlanta United prior to the break. However, things have changed in Cincinnati since the team’s 2-1 loss to Atlanta, with the hiring of their new head coach Jaap Stam. You may be familiar with the name after his lengthy playing career at the highest levels in Europe. Including stints with Manchester United, PSV Eindhoven, AC Milan and Ajax, Stam recently entered into the coaching arena and will be making his first appearance on the touchline for FC Cincinnati against the Black & Gold.
FC Cincinnati at a Glance:
Record: 0-2-0, 0 points
League Form: L, L
Leading Scorer: Yuya Kubo, Allan Cruz, Jurgen Locadia (1)
Assist Leader: Brandon Vazquez, Adrien Regattin (1)
Player to Watch: Allan Cruz
The 24-year-old Costa Rican was signed as a Designated Player by Cincinnati in 2019 and proved to be one of the most influential players on FC Cincinnati’s roster. Cruz was FC Cincy’s leading scorer in 2019 with seven goals and was able to add one assist to his stat line. The No. 8 was a fixture in the team’s starting line up and has time and again provided an attacking punch in the midfield for Cincinnati. It will be interesting to see how Stam decides to use him in the midfield, whether as a box to box midfielder or more as a more attacking option in the center of the field. Regardless, the free-flowing and smooth Costa Rican will be a major point of emphasis in the Black & Gold’s pregame talks.
How FC Cincinnati play:
Admittedly, head coach Caleb Porter and his staff have been trying to figure out what to expect from Stam and FC Cincy in their first game together. Based on his previous stints as manager at both Reading FC (England), PEC Zwolle (Netherlands) and Feyenoord (Netherlands), one can safely assume that Stam will employ some version of a 4-3-3 formation as made famous by his homeland. Within this formation, Stam’s teams have historically had a major emphasis on possession of the ball. Similar to Porter, Stam usually attempts to control the flow of the game by being patient and proactive in possession. While useful to analyze past tendencies, there is no telling of what Stam has planned for Cincinnati in this tournament.
How the Crew can win:
I don’t have to explain to Crew supporters or players how important this game is. The Hell is Real Derby is one that is circled on the calendars of everyone around the club when the schedule first comes out. It is no doubt even more important this year as it may be the only time Columbus faces Cincinnati in 2020. Thus, taking home bragging rights and control of the state for one more year is something that makes Crew fans’ and players’ mouths water.
What must the Black & Gold do to secure three points and more importantly establish dominance over the noisy neighbors to the south? The first point of emphasis is controlling possession, especially early on in the match. Porter and the Crew have been determined to dominate possession in his tenure and will look to do the same against FC Cincy. Especially given Stam’s tendencies to focus on possession, if Columbus can take control of the ball early in the game and force Cincinnati to defend, it likely bodes well for the outcome of the match.
Something else to keep an eye on for Black & Gold supporters is how dangerous the Crew can be in the wide areas of attack against Cincinnati. Columbus fans fondly remember the 3-1 thrashing that took place at Nippert Stadium last year and a huge part of that success was the Crew’s dominance in the wide areas of the field. Specifically, Luis Diaz ran rampant against FC Cincy left back Andrew Gutman, which was capped off with a fabulous Diaz goal right before half time. If the Black & Gold are able to attack early and often in the wide areas, as has been a continuing emphasis for Porter while at the helm, then it will free up the middle of the field for services into forward Gyasi Zardes and playmakers like Lucas Zelarayan and Darlington Nagbe to create danger going forward.
Obviously, Stam and FC Cincinnati may come out with something completely different than expected. Regardless, if the team is able to dominate possession and be dangerous going forward, Crew supporters will likely be very happy come Saturday night. Given the very weird and different circumstances surrounding this game and the tournament in general, a win here could set the Black & Gold up very well for success in the MLS is Back Tournament.