Columbus Crew 2 could not be in a more different position than FC Cincinnati 2 when the two sides face off Sunday at TQL Stadium. At this stage in the MLS NEXT Pro season, Crew 2 is on at the top of the Eastern Conference with 41 points, on the cusp of securing a playoff spot, while Cincinnati is at the bottom of the East with 13 points.
However, despite the record differences, the Black & Gold have reiterated that they understand the importance of the derby and the consistency they must bring to win such a game.
“They are a team that is more talented than the standings may appear,” said Crew 2 head coach Laurent Courtois this week. “The whole club waits for this type of game. The whole soccer scene waits for this type of game, so it’s an easy motivation talk.”
Crew 2 is coming off a bounce-back 3-0 victory against New York City FC 2 after losing a surprise game against Philadelphia Union 2 the week prior. In the first matchup between the two Ohio-based teams just last month, Columbus dominated, winning 4-0.
FC Cincinnati most recently dropped a 3-2 result to the Union 2 and will hope to earn bragging rights that can carry the team into next season. Cincinnati leads the league in tackles won per game at 11.8. If FC Cincy loses the ball to Crew 2, the home team will be more than comfortable getting it back.
“I feel like it’s going to be a different Cincinnati,” said Black & Gold defender Justin Malou. “We know how much this game means.”
The areas that FC Cincinnati 2 really lacks in are both scoring attempts and shots against. Cincinnati ranks the lowest in the league in scoring attempts with 174 all season, resulting in the third-least number of goals scored this year at just 21. This bodes very well for a Columbus team that leads the league in clean sheets with 10 on the year and the highest save percentage at 77.9 percent. Offensively, Crew 2 has scored the second-most goals this season with the Golden Boot leader in Jacen Russell-Rowe, making Cincinnati's defensive focus as crucial as it’s ever been.
“We work for each other, I feel the bond we have off the field and training shows on the field in being very focused on the little details to not getting scored on,” said Malou when talking about the defensive group.
Black & Gold fans have taken to social media to label the derby “Heck is Plausible” (a play on the Hell is Real Derby for the first teams) and Laurent Courtois seems to love it.
“It builds our own identity, if it has to be called that, so be it, it’s going to be a t-shirt for us,” said Courtois.