After a 4-0 drubbing at the MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando, the next iteration of the Hell is Real Derby is upon here as Columbus Crew SC travels down I-71 to take on FC Cincinnati on Saturday night. It almost goes without saying that this is a hugely important game for both sides. Columbus looks to rebound after the team’s first loss of 2020, while their counterparts are keen on earning the side’s first victory in the rivalry in the MLS.
Let’s take a closer look at what to expect from both sides in the second Hell is Real Derby of 2020.
FC Cincinnati at a Glance:
Record: 2-4-1, 7 points
League Form: L-D-W-W-L
Leading Scorer: Yuya Kubo, Jurgen Locadia (2)
Assist Leader: Adrien Regattin (2)
Player to Watch: Yuya Kubo
Kubo has, by and large, separated himself as the best player on the FC Cincy roster. The 26-year-old Japanese Midfielder leads the team in goals and pulls all the strings for Cincinnati offensively. Able to play in a multitude of positions, Kubo has most recently been deployed in the central midfield for FC Cincy. His main duties in this role are to connect the backline to the frontline via possession and provide service into the team’s front two strikers.
Bringing an extensive amount of experience with him to FC Cincinnati, Kubo’s career includes stints in the Swiss Super League and the German Bundesliga that has featured some high stakes matches. In the first Hell is Real Derby of 2020, Kubo featured as a wide player in FC Cincy’s formation, presumably, he has been brought into the middle of the field to get more touches on the ball and therefore, has a greater opportunity to impact the game. Thus, the Black & Gold will be sure to have a close eye on Kubo this Saturday in Cincinnati.
How FC Cincinnati play:
FCC Head Coach Jaap Stam, with the help of the Crew, quickly realized that his previous methods of playing needed some adjusting with his current FC Cincinnati squad. Typically in his coaching career, Stam has employed a 4-3-3 formation within his squads, which was attempted in his first match against the Black & Gold. However, since that first match in the MLS is Back Tournament, Stam and Cincinnati have switched to a more conservative formation featuring five defenders, three midfielders and two forwards (3-5-2).
Defensively, FC Cincy has pressed much higher up the field than in recent memory. If the team is successful winning the ball in its opponent’s defensive half, the group looks to go to goal as quickly as possible. If not, Cincinnati often retreats into a much deeper defensive line that will employ all 11 players behind the ball, looking to limit space and opportunities for the opponent.
In addition to this, Stam has adopted a slightly more direct attacking style that will typically involve several short passes in the defensive half, before attempting to use a longer, more direct option to spring the attack forward. To Stam’s credit, these changes have been relatively successful for Cincinnati, as the team featured as a surprise participant in the MLS is Back Round of 16 before losing to eventual champions Portland Timbers in a penalty kick shootout. However, FC Cincy has not yet won, or scored, since leaving the bubble in Orlando. Given Stam’s willingness to “shake things up,” FC Cincinnati could employ some new tactics against the Black & Gold.
How the Crew can win:
After the Crew’s loss on the road against New York City FC on Monday night, the Black & Gold are looking to rebound and gain valuable points against their bitter rivals to the south. This may be easier said than done, but there are a few key points of emphasis that could help the Crew reach success come Saturday night.
Against NYCFC, the Black & Gold struggled to get into any sort of rhythm while in possession of the ball. Certainly, there were multiple factors that caused these struggles, but not least of all was the physicality that the home side employed to disrupt the flow of the game and the comfort of the Crew on the ball. It is likely that FC Cincy will look to do the same and make the game difficult for Columbus, especially early on. Thus, the first 15-20 minutes of this game will play an important role in the outcome of the match.
If the Black & Gold are able to get into a rhythm in possession, create space for their attacking options to exploit and ultimately create early opportunities, that would bode incredibly well for the result of this match. This perhaps is magnified by FC Cincy’s continuous struggles early in the game. In fact, in every game that Cincinnati has lost this year, the team has given up a goal inside of the first 30 minutes. Furthermore, every game in 2020 that FC Cincy has taken points from has featured a shut out on the scoreboard. Thus, the sooner the Crew can create chances and ultimately capitalize, the better.
Another key for the Black & Gold on Saturday night will be the transition moments in the match. As mentioned before, it is likely that Columbus will see a very low line of defense from Cincinnati at multiple points on Saturday. The reasoning behind this low line of defending is typically to do two things: limit the space behind the team’s defensive line and create space behind the opponent’s defensive line. Thus, transition moments, or moments right after winning or losing the ball, will be hugely important for the Crew against FC Cincy. Right after the Crew wins the ball, there will likely be some space behind the FC Cincy backline that the Black & Gold can exploit. This space will be of high value to Columbus, as the team is not likely to find tons of it throughout the course of the match.
On the defensive side, Cincinnati is likely going to look to get in behind the Crew’s backline right away, given the team’s new, and more direct style of attack. Thus, the quicker the Black & Gold can recover and win the ball back, the better. Especially considering the popular sentiment around the MLS that FC Cincy does not quite have the quality of players to break down staunch opposition defenses like the one the Crew have had thus far in 2020.
In summation, if the Black & Gold can get off to a quick start, as well as maximize their opportunities in attacking transition, and minimize Cincinnati’s opportunities in transition, there’s a pretty good chance that there will be a lot of happy Crew supporters on Saturday night.