Well, Hell Is Real turned out to be Fun As Hell. Head coach Ron Jans’ debut on Saturday against the Columbus Crew was a thrill a minute, and the end result, a 2-2 draw, saw FC Cincinnati snare its first points in nearly a month.
Here are some thoughts on the Hell Is Real rivalry with Columbus, the goalkeeping of Titi and FC Cincinnati’s newcomers…
Maybe the players were extra fired up for their first derby game, and maybe they were intent on impressing the new head coach. In any case, the visitors came out hot as Hades, pressing Columbus—which prefers to play out of the back, just like FCC—all over the pitch. Jans had FC Cincinnati looking like Liverpool through the first 25 minutes.
FC Cincinnati’s first goal was due to exceptionally poor marking by the Crew, permitting Darren Mattocks a free header off a corner kick. The second goal could also have been attributed to a mistake by the Columbus back line, as a cross found its way through a tangled web of players to the feet of Emmanuel Ledesma, who quickly capitalized for his third goal in his past four appearances.
One of FC Cincinnati’s recurring bad habits is to concede just prior to halftime, and the Orange and Blue fulfilled that axiom again Saturday evening. The mistake came from an unlikely source, too, as center back Maikel van der Werff needlessly shoved an airborne Gyasi Zardes around 15 yards away from goal—well out of scoring range for Zardes, known more for his hustle and team play than his prowess around the goal mouth—and created a penalty for the Crew on the doorstep of halftime.
The second Columbus goal was a wonder strike from Pedro Santos. Absolutely nothing FCC goalkeeper Przemyslaw “Titi” Tytoń could do about it. Titi was filling in for typical starter Spencer Richey.
Titi had himself a night, though, notching four saves, including a couple of close-up stonewalls that preserved the draw late in the match. Admittedly, he and FC Cincinnati’s defense were bailed out by the woodwork and a ghastly open-goal miss by Zardes, but Titi nonetheless showed out in just his sixth league appearance of the season, justifiably earning himself a spot on MLS’s Team of the Week.
FC Cincinnati’s three latest signings debuted on Saturday. Left back Andrew Gutman started and went the full 90-plus minutes, displaying his ability to get forward and link up well with the attack. Gutman completed 85 percent of his 40 passes, though he did find himself out of position defensively on a few occasions because of a zest to play in the attacking half. His presence ensured that Mathieu Deplagne, playing out of position most of the season at left back, returned to his more natural slot at right back. Once Greg Garza gets healthy, I wonder if Jans will be tempted to try Gutman—named the best collegiate player in America in 2018 while at Indiana University—as a midfielder to ensure his most talented 11 players see the pitch.
Midfielder Joseph-Claude “Joe” Gyau, a familiar name to nerdy U.S. men’s national team fans like myself, and Derrick Etienne Jr. also debuted, seeing action in the second half as substitutes. Gyau, 26, spent much of the past nine years in Germany and should give FCC an attacking boost. Etienne, 22, is another attacker who arrived on loan via New York Red Bulls. His loan is only through the end of the season, though FCC retain an option to buy Etienne from Red Bulls. Bet on Jans giving the youngster a long look.
Hell Is Real got the ESPN+ treatment Saturday night, but when the two squads meet again on Aug. 25 at Nippert Stadium, it will be in front of a national FS1audience as part of MLS’s Rivalry Week.
Next up for FC Cincinnati: a home date Saturday night vs. New York City FC, which sits fourth in the East standings. NYCFC throttled FCC 5-2 on June 6 in one of the Orange and Blue’s worst defensive displays of the season.
Grant Freking writes FC Cincinnati coverage for Cincinnati Magazine. Off the pitch, he is the associate editor for Signs of the Times magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @GrantFreking.