This weekend is going to be a busy weekend of soccer in Central Ohio. The Columbus Crew will play FC Cincinnati Sunday night at Lower.com Field in the latest edition of the Hell is Real Derby. But before that match takes place, Crew 2 looks to right the ship on Saturday against FC Cincinnati 2 at Historic Crew Stadium after losing back-to-back games on the road, both in penalty kick shootouts, for the first time this season.
Through the opening 12 games of the year, the Black & Gold had only lost a total of three games. The next two, however, did not go Columbus’ way. Both games featured Crew 2 struggle to score after the departure of striker and leading scorer Jacen Russell-Rowe.
In the team’s last match last Sunday against Toronto FC II away from home, the Black & Gold went to their second straight penalty kick shootout, with the same result that happened two weeks prior at Rochester New York FC. The match was 0-0 through regulation, with Toronto eventually winning 4-3 on penalty kicks.
“We try and build something that is deep and not fragile after something doesn’t go our way,” head coach Laurent Courtois said about the team’s spirit following back-to-back shootout defeats. “We know that the guys are eager to get back to being more aggressive in front of goal, and it's up to us to make those adjustments”.
This may be the first time Crew 2 experiences this team’s version of the Hell is Real Derby, but the Black & Gold reserve side knows just how important this match is to the club and the supporters.
“It is Crew 2’s first Hell is Real rivalry,” Crew 2 defender Daniel Strachan said this week. “The club has told us about the rivalry, and we are very excited about it.”
For Courtois, the message of the importance of facing a rival, and coming away with a result, was delivered to his team.
“We know what it means for the club at every age group to play FC Cincinnati,” he said. “We insist on two things. One is to forget the standings because it doesn't mean anything in these sorts of games. Second of all, there are a few adjustments that we want to make ourselves, in terms of what we are looking to do.”
Perhaps the biggest story of the season for Crew 2 has been the emergence of Russell-Rowe, who earned a first-team contract after scoring 11 goals for the Columbus reserve side. But the loss of Russell-Rowe has forced the Black & Gold to look for other ways to score, and thus far, the team has not found that easy.
“We know how beneficial Jacen can be with us, but other players stepped up and scored and performed,” Courtois said about how his team has done in the absence of Russell-Rowe. “It’s not so much about one individual. It’s how as a collective we arrive in dangerous areas. Yes, we can be a little more clinical regardless of who is playing, but my biggest concern is the next phase.”
Crew 2 currently sits atop MLS NEXT Pro’s Eastern Conference with 32 points through 14 games played, 23 points ahead of FC Cincinnati 2, who is currently last in the East. The Black & Gold will kick off against their in-state rivals at 7 p.m. ET on Saturday night at Historic Crew Stadium. All MLS Next Pro matches can be streamed live at mlsnextpro.com.