FC Cincinnati’s 2-2 draw last Friday evening vs. Columbus wasn’t a disastrous result. But given how well things broke for the hosts in the season’s first edition of Hell Is Real, a tie was definitely a disappointing result.
Next up is an away match on Saturday night for Jaap Stam’s road warriors against a surging CF Montreal side that hasn’t dropped points since losing 2-1 to FC Cincinnati on May 22. That second-half comeback triumph was the Orange and Blue’s first victory of the season and kickstarted the team’s excellent recent road form (10 out of 12 possible points from their last four road matches).
Montreal has played well since blowing a 1-0 advantage with 20-ish minutes to go in the teams’ first meeting, seizing 11 out of 15 possible points over its previous five matches. Montreal hasn’t been racking up goals, scoring just five times over their hot streak, but it’s been resolute defensively, allowing just 11 goals all season, tied for the lowest in the Eastern Conference.
As for last week’s rivalry match, Hell was very Real for Columbus for almost the entirety of the first half. FC Cincinnati started things off by scoring the quickest goal in MLS this season, with left back Edgar Castillo—starting only because Ronald Matrarrita is playing for Costa Rica in the Gold Cup—firing a worldie in from just outside the 18-yard-box after Lucho Acosta sucked in half the Crew defense with a touchline run and pass through the penalty box. Acosta doubled FCC’s advantage in the 24th minute, and then the hosts’ fortunes really took a turn for the positive when Columbus’ Harrison Afful picked up his second yellow card in the 42nd minute—meaning the visitors would be forced to play the rest of the match with 10 players.
The first 45 minutes were an impressive showing by the home team, and it should have continued into the second half, with FC Cincinnati ideally hunting ravenously for a third goal to bag the win. Instead, Columbus’ best player, Lucas Zelarayan, scored a first-half stoppage time stunner from around 30 yards out. Seeing the goal live and on replay multiple times, it appears that FCC goalkeeper Kenneth Vermeer didn’t think Zelarayan would rip a shot from that distance, because the Dutch keeper barely shuffled his feet. One hell of a goal to be sure, though.
And despite playing down a man, Columbus controlled the second half tempo with their well-drilled possession game as FCC lost composure. Zelarayan blasted an effort off the crossbar in the 62nd minute, an indication of the Crew’s hold on the game. The inevitable equalizer finally arrived in the 77th minute after FC Cincinnati center back Gustavo Vallecilla was dusted by Miguel Berry, who did well to slip the ball over a charging Vermeer. Vallecilla was caught ball watching and lost track of Berry, and in turn FC Cincinnati wound up blowing a golden opportunity against their shorthanded rivals, who were missing starting goalkeeper Eloy Romo and striker/FCC killer Gyasi Zardes (seven goals vs. FC Cincinnati), each of whom are away on international duty.
Columbus coach Caleb Porter went full heel after the final whistle, shushing the TQL Stadium crowd and delivering a gem of a shit-starting quote postgame: “They have to be devastated over there in that locker room. How can you be up 2-0 and up a man and not win the game?” It’s quite rare in any sport for a head coach/manager to call out the opponent’s shortcomings—let me be clear, I’m here for the trash talk—and you can bet FCC players and staff won’t forget Porter’s words, especially with the two squads facing off in Columbus in late August. I also wouldn’t be shocked if Porter himself was the subject of The Bailey’s tifo the next time Hell Is Real takes place in the Queen City.
For now, FC Cincinnati must move on and collect positives from the match. After all, the club did extend its unbeaten streak to four games, and FCC does boast a brief but strangely successful history against Montreal, winning both of the meetings by 2-1 margins, with each match breaking winless droughts (four matches in 2021; seven in 2019).