It will be another meeting of Hell is Real rivals on Friday night as the Columbus Crew travels to TQL Stadium for the first time to take on FC Cincinnati. It should be another interesting matchup between the in-state rivals.
The Crew come into this game the better of the teams in the standings, but Cincinnati has the better record of late with two wins and draw in the team’s last three contests. Both teams will be without a number of players due to injuries or international call-ups, but Columbus travels south without 11 pieces, so Caleb Porter will have a job to do to put together a winning lineup.
To find out more about FC Cincinnati’s 2021 season, we turned to The Cincinnati Enquirer beat writer Pat Brennan.
Questions for The Cincinnati Enquirer
Massive Report: It was a difficult start to the season for FC Cincinnati with one in the first seven games, but now the team is unbeaten in three contests with two wins and draw heading into Hell is Real. What caused the slow start and what has allowed for a change in results of late?
The Enquirer: Club officials would say the slow start was due to the off-season roster turnover and new faces in the first team. It’s also worth mentioning that the two worst losses of the season — 5-0 at NYCFC and 3-0 at Orlando City — saw the team play without Luciano Acosta, which was a big setback. Acosta is emerging as an MVP-type player for FC Cincinnati.
The club also added center backs Geoff Cameron and Gustavo Vallecilla in time for the May 16 home opener at TQL Stadium, and FCC’s defending immediately became stingier. The two CB’s have been impressive, especially considering that they were immediately thrown into starting roles. So, over the last six matches, FC Cincy is 3-2-1 and many things appear to be heading in the right direction at this moment.
In short, the team is meshing. They’re taking solid opposition punches — and punching back. Attacking opportunities that went begging over the first five weeks of the season are now finding their way into the back of the net. I don’t think it’s controversial to suggest that FCC still has plenty of work to do but it has already improved noticeably at this stage in the season.
MR: Nippert Stadium was a nice home for the first few years of FC Cincinnati, but now the club has its proper place at TQL Stadium. How important was it for FC Cincy to get its own park and how big of a difference will this new stadium make for the club?
TE: As a lot of close followers of MLS will recognize and appreciate, it’s important in a fundamental way for FC Cincinnati to control all the revenue streams of the venue it calls home. That was not the case at Nippert Stadium, which is located on the University of Cincinnati campus. TQL Stadium is going to drive revenue for FC Cincinnati and be a place that players will enjoy playing, and fans will enjoy spectating and spending money there. Professional soccer is unlike college football in the sense that recruitment probably relies significantly less on the aesthetics and history of stadiums, but it unquestionably plays a role to a degree and Cincinnati, like Columbus at Lower.com Field, can now boast state-of-the-art amenities for players and their families.
I think TQL Stadium also captures and amplifies the noise of the fans, which are now able to attend at full-capacity (26K). That makes for a lively atmosphere and a kind of home field advantage that has definitely helped push FCC forward late in the first three games at the stadium, which all ended in losses.
MR: There are some names on this Cincinnati roster that Crew fans will recognize, either from previous Hell is Real meetings or from seeing them with other MLS sides. But who would you say are a few key guys that may go under the radar that the Black & Gold will need to deal with, on either side of the ball, in this one?
TE: Gustavo Vallecilla joined the club three matches into the season, as did fellow center back Geoff Cameron. But Vallecilla, of Colombia, isn’t as well known and has been a rock in central defense with Cameron (who has also been very effective since coming on). Vallecilla has helped stabilize a back line that conceded 10 goals in the first three matches and just eight in the seven matches since. He also got on the end of a Ronald Matarrita set piece to head home the winner against CF Montreal back in May, so Vallecilla can join the attack too.