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Massive Scouting Report: FC Cincinnati

A third look at the Black & Gold’s in-state rival and what to expect in Saturday’s matchup.

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at FC Cincinnati Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Sunday will mark the third time in 10 matches (yes, you read that correctly) that Columbus Crew SC squares off against in-state rivals FC Cincinnati in the 2020 Major League Soccer season and the second time in just over a week. Despite the quick turnaround for the two Ohio outfits, both are looking for a third consecutive league game with a result.

The Black & Gold hope to remain unbeaten in the third installment of the Hell is Real Derby this year. The two are coming off of midweek matches that followed a 0-0 draw at Nippert Stadium in southern Ohio last Saturday. Columbus trounced Cincinnati 4-0 in the opening matchup of the MLS is Back Tournament when the two faced off for their first matchup of the year.

Let’s take a look at what fans can expect going into the third meeting this season.

FC Cincinnati at a Glance:

Record: 2-4-3

Standing: 9 points, 11th in East

League Form: D-D-L-D-W

Leading Scorer: Yuya Kubo (2)

Assist Leader: Adrien Regattin (2)

Hell is Real in 2020:

It seems quite repetitive to talk about yet another Hell is Real Derby in the 2020 season, but these games never get any less exciting. It’s a matchup that fans look forward to in any capacity simply due to bragging rights for which city yields the state’s best MLS team.

Hell is Real has been slightly nicer to the Black & Gold as they remain unbeaten in the two previous matchups and losing only once. After a 4-0 dismantling by Columbus that gave them a lead in Group E of MLS is Back that they never relinquished despite losing in the first round to Minnesota United. The two faced off again last Saturday in a 0-0 draw in a very uneventful fixture.

Sitting in first place in both the Eastern Conference and the 2020 Supporters’ Shield race, the Crew is favored to get yet a third result against its fiercest rivals in as many games this. In 2020, Columbus has the lead in goal differential at +11 and -6 respectively.

How FC Cincinnati play:

FC Cincy head coach Jaap Stam and Cincinnati have switched to a more conservative formation in the latter portion of the season so far with a 3-5-2, which don three defenders, five midfielders supporting two central attackers. It has been the team’s preferred formation since Cincinnati’s first game against the Black & Gold in MLS is Back, where Stam tested his typical 4-3-3 formation, which proved unsuccessful.

As a more fluid team on the defensive side of the ball, Cincinnati has played a higher line while pressing higher up the field. It’s a double-edged sword where they can either win the ball and attempt fast runs into the final third of their opponent or fall back into defense and put the trust at the back with all 11 players. It remains to be seen what changes Stam chooses to make against the Black & Gold considering they have yet to score a single goal against the Crew this season. Needless to say, 2020 has been a trickier one in FC Cincy’s short history in MLS and Stam is still looking for his squad to display a level of consistency

How the Crew can win:

It seemed as if one moment needed to happen to reinvigorate what looked to be a sluggish Crew of late. Columbus failed to make an impression in Philadelphia’s final third on Wednesday night and it looked for a while as if it would be a repeat of their last matchup against Cincinnati. However, a moment of magic changed everything.

The Black & Gold were one Lucas Zelarayan moment away from potentially more question marks surrounding their offensive ability. Three of the team’s previous four games dating back to their MLS is Back exit at the hands of Minnesota showcased the team’s ability to dominate possession but lack a final product.

A major separation point with the Crew and the rest of the league is that they ooze quality in every position. Apart from the spark coming from the new $7 million man, Zelarayan, leading the way, the midfield duo of Darlington Nagbe and Artur anchored by a stout defense highlighted by Jonathan Mensah, has been nothing short of spectacular. Overall, it’s been easy to see just how well this Crew team play as a unit and they need not forget that.

On their day, this Black & Gold team is hard to stop. It’s even harder to get past from a defensive standpoint. And if Columbus can simply take its chances when they come, the team is surely to remain atop not only the Eastern Conference but the league as a whole. The problem with the Crew in 2019 wasn’t only injuries but it was the consistency the team lacked. There are reasons to believe things are much different now up to this point.

Chances will come for the Black & Gold on Sunday but how clinical the team is will tell the story over the course of 90 minutes against their biggest rival.