The long-awaited clash between FC Cincinnati and Columbus Crew SC finally occurred. FC Cincinnati fans saw this as an audition against the founding club in Major League Soccer. A second-half goal by Cincinnati’s Djiby Fall stood tall against the Major League Soccer Crew as the hometown USL club stood tall in a 1-0 victory in the Fourth Round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday.
One of the stories of the match was found in the stands at Nippert Stadium. An announced crowd of 30,160 shattered the Modern Era (1995-present) attendance record for a non-final. The previous record was 20,376 set in Third Round of the 1999 tournament when the Colorado Rapids of MLS hosted the Seattle Sounders of the USL’s A-League. The match’s attendance was boosted by the fact that it was a doubleheader with the US Men’s National Team as they played against English club Derby County in a friendly. the field. The announced attendance of 30,160 seemed to play a role for the hometown team.
Both clubs began the evening like heavyweight boxers as they tried to get a feel for one another and learn each others tendencies. Initially, Cincinnati were quite content with committing numbers to defense while Columbus threw numbers forward and committed to the attack looking for an early advantage.
Crew SC midfielders Federico Higuain and Justin Meram were catalysts for the Columbus offense as they looked to get the attack going. While Fall was relentless for Cincinnati. Fall was responsible for the two most threatening scoring attempts in the first half. He harassed Crew SC homegrown defender Alex Crognale through a series of bumps and scuffles and bumps to try to rattle the rookie.
One of the brightest stars for Cincinnati was goalie Mitch Hildebrandt. He had two clutch saves in the first half stopping dangerous shots by Meram and Hector Jimenez. Things got interesting towards the end of the half as Crew SC defender Waylon Francis committed a foul just outside of his 18-yard-box and led to a dangerous Cincinnati set-piece. The opportunity was foiled and referee Yours Marrakchi blew the whistle to signal halftime.
The second half showed that both teams would come out a bit more aggressive. The game was a tactical stalemate until the defender Justin Hoyte was subbed into the game for Cincinnati. Hoyte was the primary assist on the 64th minute goal that was scored by Fall. Hoyte lofted the ball on a cross that took a deflection off of Crew defender Alex Crognale and Fall was engaged in an aerial battle with Jimenez in which he leapt above the shorter defender to head the ball into the back of the net for the lead
The goal from Fall made Nippert become unglued. Chants from The Bailey of “F-C-C” began to ring out across the stadium as fans began to sense that this could victory could become a reality for the USL side.
“It was an event for our team, our club and our city,” said Cincinnati manager Alan Koch as he touted the fan’s performance.
Koch wasn’t the only one to take notice of the fantastic atmosphere. Crew SC manager Gregg Berhalter added, “This is what makes soccer special, it’s great to give Americans a real cup atmosphere. That’s exactly what this is. You have our fans who were amazing, their fans were amazing and it made an atmosphere that was electric. For the spectators that’s what you want to see.”
Both groups of supporters affectionately dubbed the match the “Hell is Real” derby. It’s in reference to an infamous sign one encounters on the drive between Cincinnati and Columbus.
Berhalter was asked if Cincinnati was deserving of an expansion bid into Major League Soccer. He simply responded: “That’s above my pay grade.”
Koch was asked if he considered this a rivalry with Columbus.
“People can say it’s the first game so there’s not a rivalry,” he said. “Of course there’s a rivalry.”
Random #USOC2017 fact: FC Cincinnati is the first club in the Modern Era to win three consecutive 1-0 games.