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Crew survive poor first half display, earn 2-2 Hell is Real draw

The Black & Gold steal a point late in Cincinnati

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at FC Cincinnati Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Columbus Crew’s trip Saturday had all the features of a rivalry match. FC Cincinnati supporters filled TQL stadium, used a video of Historic Crew Stadium’s famous burning scoreboard in the starting lineup announcement and even embedded “Anthony Precourt was right” messages on their scoreboards throughout the match.

Once the game got onto the field though, Cincinnati backed up the trash talk, controlling the scoreboard until Black & Gold fullback Steven Moreira tied it in the dying seconds, giving the Crew a 2-2 road point.

Stats in soccer are deceptive sometimes. Looking at the end of the first 45 minutes, The Black & Gold had 60 percent m possession and 223 passes with a 86 percent accuracy. All the makings of a dominant first half? It wasn’t that dominant, however. Columbus was disjointed and struggled getting the ball out defensively.

FC Cincinnati started the attack in the fourth minute. Midfielder Aidan Morris, starting in place of Artur, had two tackles to keep the home side off the board, but the pressure persisted.

Cincinnati created their chances off pressuring Columbus and going fast on the counter. Early on, Morris, rookie Will Sands and center back Miloš Degenek each answered the call to stop advanced passes into the Cincinnati’s offensive penalty area.

In the 10th minute, midfielder Lucas Zelarayán and the Crew had a rare counter attacking chance of their own. Winning the ball at midfield, Zelarayán and Cucho Hernández went up against three Cincinnati defenders, but the Crew’s No. 10 opted instead for a long shot from midfield. It was an ambitious effort, even with goalkeeper Roman Celentano out of position. This was only one of two shots for the Black & Gold in the entire first half.

Instead, it was Cincinnati with the offensive firepower. The home side had nine shots, with three giving FC Cincy a real chance at going up early, with goalkeeper Eloy Room and the Cincinnati attackers helping keep the match level at 0-0.

The 27th minute saw Morris pass back to goal, but the ball landed at the feet of forward Brandon Vazquez. Room came up big, diving to save the shot on goal. The other three good chances for Cincinnati all ended up going over the crossbar.

Of the three, the worst was a shot by Vazquez in the 34th minute. Receiving a pass, with an open net, only two or three feet from the goal line, Vazquez’s one-touch shot flew over the crossbar. Cincinnati didn’t take long after that to go ahead.

In the 36th minute, Cincinnati turned the ball over at midfield and midfielder Luciano Acosta sent a pass forward to Vazquez on the break. Sands kept the attack onside, but tried to retreat back and make a slide tackle. The tackle wasn’t timed to stop the attempt and Vazquez slotted the ball past Room, putting the home team up a goal.

Cincinnati almost added another in the 45th minute, but a ball deflected off Room that was buried into the net by the home team was called offside. Columbus went into the half down a goal and needing to show much more than they did in the first half to compete.

The Crew looked different in the second half. Early in the second stanza it came off set pieces. The Black & Gold found free kicks on both corners of the penalty area, with Zelarayán making Celentano make two saves for shots finally on target for the visitors.

In the 61st minute, winger Derrick Etienne Jr., who didn’t start in favor of Kevin Molino, entered the match and helped put Columbus and Cincinnati level.

Down a goal, it was Hernández creating the goal instead of scoring. Hernández sent in a cross from just outside of the penalty area to Etienne, who headed it beautifully into the bottom right corner of the net. On replay, Etienne appeared offside, but it was a close play, likely offside in leagues around the world who use offside lines in their VAR technology.

The goal stood, with the Bailey, Cincinnati’s supporters’ section, erupting in anger at the replay on the board, that was even slowed down, paused and zoomed in by the in-stadium production crew as almost a means to help the referee change his mind.

It didn’t matter much though, because three minutes later Columbus put the match back in the hands of Cincinnati. The Crew initially tried clearing the corner kick from FC Cincy but the ball landed at the feet of center back Matt Miazga. At the top of the penalty area, Miazga took a shot that deflect off a diving fullback Steven Moreira, and passed Room for the match-leading goal.

Columbus tried bringing on more offense with forward Erik Hurtado and defender Mo Farsi, but it didn’t turn into a chance at goal until the final minute of second half stoppage. With the match seemingly over, Moreira buried a volley on the run, giving Columbus a point on the run.

Rivalry Strengthening

What looked like a defeat was saved at the final moments, and it, a controversial goal and a night filled with trash talk on the field, and heated moments between sides, created another chapter in a budding rivalry.

While it doesn’t have the same attention as an El Trafico between Los Angeles teams, it might be the most entertaining in MLS.

Set Pieces

In the latest edition of a recurring segment on Crew match recaps are set pieces. For the eighth time this season, Columbus gave up a set piece. This time it was off a deflection, but an open Miazga had clear space in the penalty area to take a shot.

The questions been asked all season about set pieces, but there don’t seem to be any answers.

What’s Next

Columbus doesn’t have a lot of time to think about Saturday’s result. On Wednesday, the Crew welcome their first of two back-to-back home matches. First up is Inter Miami CF. On Saturday, Sept. 3, the Crew welc