For the second game in a row, the Columbus Crew came back from a 2-0 deficit to tie 2-2, this time against FC Cincinnati in the first Hell Is Real Derby of the season at TQL Stadium. There was a lot up in the air coming into the match with 11 players out for the Black & Gold due to injury or international duty, and after a disastrous first half with early goals and a red card, it seemed the depleted roster was going to take a real toll on results. But some magic from Lucas Zelarayan pulled the Crew to a gritty away point.
With the result, the Black & Gold move into eighth place in the Eastern Conference with a record of 4-5-3 after the draw.
The eighth Hell is Real Derby was the first in two years with a full stadium. Cincinnati felt the energy of the packed home crowd who desperately wanted to see the first win at TQL Stadium, especially against their in-state rivals.
It was a brutal start for Columbus with a defensive disaster leading to an FC Cincinnati goal just 24 seconds into the match. Centerbacks Vito Wormgoor and Jonathan Mensah were down on tackles when the ball ricocheted out of the penalty box for Edgar Castillo, who sent a rocket past Evan Bush and put the home team up early.
The play went to Video Assistant Review but the potential foul on the play suffered by Harrison Afful was not enough for head referee Kevin Stott to take back the goal.
FC Cincinnati wasn’t satisfied with just one goal and continued to pressure the Crew despite the ealry advantage. With just the team’s second shot on goal in the 24th minute, the Orange and Blue made it 2-0. A scrappy play in the penalty box ended with Luciano Acosta slipping a shot by Bush to double the lead.
Cincinnati’s pressure continued to cause the Crew problems. In the 34th minute, the FC Cincy offense caught Bush off his line with the defensive line behind but couldn’t control the ball enough to capitalize on the chance.
Because things weren’t going badly enough for Columbus, in the 42nd minute, Afful got carded for a nasty foul and was sent off with two yellow cards.
Zelarayan took things into his own hands in first half extra time. After Darlington Nagbe lost the ball just outside the 18-yard box, Zelarayan sent a shot flying right past Cincinnati keeper Kenneth Verneer, who didn’t stand a chance. It was Zelarayan’s fourth goal of the season and first in open play.
Things settled in the second half as the Crew figured out how to adjust to the 10-man lineup on top of all the other changes.
Zelarayan nearly equalized in the 62nd minute, ripping a one-touch shot from distance that bounced off the crossbar and out.
The Argentine had another great chance 10 minutes later when he took on the whole Cincinnati defense on his own. It took nearly four defenders to stop him on the goal line.
Zelarayan finally lifted his team over the hump with a perfectly weighted through ball to second-year pro Miguel Berry in the 78th minute. The young player slotted the ball past Verneer to put the team level. It was Berry’s first MLS goal.
While Cincinnati pushed numbers forward, the Columbus defense held strong, holding on for an impressive road point.
What has consistently been a topic of conversation surrounding the Black & Gold took a much different tone on Friday night. With 11 players missing from the lineup due to injury and international duty, Porter had a tall task in fielding a team.
The club signed Erik Hurtado to have at least one striker available while Gyasi Zardes and Bradley Wright-Phillips are out but there are still gaping holes in the midfield especially. And now with Harrison Afful out against New York City FC there is yet another spot to fill.
This is just the beginning of a long stretch with a depleted roster.
Three soccer-specific stadiums
Friday night was the Crew’s third game in a row in a brand new stadium. Porter talked about how tough it is to play in games with so much emotion, but the Black & Gold were able to once again weather a storm coming from a team who desperately wanted its first home win at the new stadium. It’s been a good test for the Crew and a sign of great things to come for the league as a whole.
The Crew now looks to the team’s next match back at the new Lower.com Field on Saturday, July 17 at 7:30 p.m. ET when the Black & Gold take on NYCFC. City sits in sixth place in the Eastern Conference and will be another challenge in a tough stretch for Columbus.