On Sunday, the Hell is Real Derby between the Columbus Crew and FC Cincinnati reaches double-digit matches when Lower.com Field hosts the 10th edition of the in-state Major League Soccer rivalry. It’s also the first time in the rivalry’s history that both teams hover near a potential spot in the MLS Cup playoffs and the only time Cincinnati’s been higher in the standings when the two teams have met.
To prepare for an Orange and Blue side that enters the game on a six-match unbeaten run, Massive Report talked with someone who knows FC Cincinnati well, so we reached out to Bryan Weigel of Cincinnati Soccer Talk.
Massive Report: A difference between this year’s Hell is Real Derby from years past is FC Cincinnati’s place in the standings. Instead of sitting at or near the bottom, Cincinnati sits in a playoff spot with 14 matches to go. How has head coach Pat Noonan’s coaching in his first year helped the club so quickly?
Cincinnati Soccer Talk: Noonan and General Manager Chris Albright have made a tremendous impact of FCC. Albright’s patience to identify the right player additions along with Noonan’s desire to put players into the correct positions to succeed have made a world of difference.
Noonan and his staff deserve all the credit that has been given to them. He has midfielder Lucho Acosta playing at an MVP level after a difficult 2021 and has inspired confidence in 10 goal scorer forward Brandon Vazquez. Noonan’s offensive philosophy this season has been to transition quickly and put the opposing defenses under pressure in the right situations. This is not to say that they are a pressing team, but there are certain cue’s Noonan uses when instructing his squad that has led to great results and has transformed the team.
Albright’s two midfield signings of Junior Moreno (likely out Sunday) and Obinna “Obi” Nwobodo have provided structure and a defensive bite required to win in MLS. To me Obi should be considered for a “newcomer-of-the-year” type award, but you don’t normally see that in a No. 6. Watch him to sit in Cucho Hernández’s pocket in the box or shadow Lucas Zelarayán in the middle third.
MR: Cincinnati’s brought in talent over the years but it looks like it’s clicking now. Midfielder Luciano Acosta won June’s MLS Player of the Month and forward Brandon Vazquez is having a record season. What’s clicking now for Cincinnati’s attack and is there anyone else Crew fans should watch on Sunday?
CST: Well, Columbus is fortunate that MLS has extended Acosta’s suspension for an additional two games for contact on Aaron Long’s chin and “aggressive behavior” towards the ref following.
The Crew will most likely face U-22 initiative player Alvaro Barreal in the makeshift No. 10 role and one of Yuya Kubo or Allan Cruz filling in for Moreno. They will feed Vazquez and the Brazilian Brenner up top. New signing Sergio Santos will be out along with free agent Dom Badji, so homegrown Quimi Ordonez who started at the Concacaf U-22 championship or draft pick Nick Markanich will feature in the place of the MLS vets.
This attack will certainly be make-shift, but the quick transition principles will be the same. The theme for this game should be, which of the two high-priced No. 9’s (Brenner or Hernández) will make the biggest impact. Brenner will need to help the attack like he did vs. Vancouver mid-week with his two assists.
MR: Both Columbus and Cincinnati carry undefeated runs entering Sunday, but in Cincy’s six-match streak, they have eight points after giving up leads. What is it that’s missing on defense?
CST: The defensive struggles have been difficult to see in 2022. High-priced centerbacks Geoff Cameron and Tyler Blackett have “switched-off” at times and injuries to all four of our main fullbacks have led to inconsistent partnerships. FCC are still operating with one left back and both right backs have up-and-down performances.
If Cameron and Blackett can win their headers, follow the appropriate runs and put in a full 90 effort, it should lead to success. Due to injuries FCC has transitioned to a back three with Nick Hagglund and draft pick Ian Murphy filling in and it is possible both could play as Cameron had to leave Wednesday’s match early.
Hernández and Zelarayán should have chances on rookie goalkeeper Roman Celentano. but beating out Obi to lose balls has proven very difficult for attacking players.