In their biggest match of the season, FC Cincinnati produced their most comprehensive performance, upset their biggest rival and reignited a playoff race.
Here are the takeaways from Wednesday night’s 2-1 win over Columbus Crew SC in the final #HellisReal Derby at Nippert Stadium:
Stam: “It’s a deserved win”
Since Stam has arrived, his message has been clear: The team will start with the basics, grow in confidence, then translate that into producing results.
The Orange and Blue have achieved that using a back five, when the club quieted some of the top MLS attacks and earned clean sheets.
But that led to another issue. Cincinnati could stop other teams, but it struggled to score. So, the 4-3-3 was reintroduced, and for the first time since Stam became the team’s head coach, FCC played a match in the style the Dutchman wants to maintain throughout his tenure.
“It's very satisfying, because we spoke about it many times,” he said. “In a lot of games, we were very close to getting the result, but at the end of the day, you don't get it, which at that time is disappointing because you want to see progress. By winning games, you see it even more and people outside see it even more when you're winning games.
“You want to secure these three points, and you want to make sure that you win this game. The team in total, they’ve done very well. Everybody's worked very hard for it, and I think it’s a deserved win.”
FC Cincinnati started the derby on the front foot and were rewarded in the 17th minute when Yuya Kubo, who had been the match’s best player to that point, converted his penalty – the team’s first in 2020.
Cincinnati continued dominating the rest of the half, but conceded an avoidable penalty, which led to Columbus leveling prior to halftime.
In the second half, Nick Hagglund became the unsung hero by winning duels, making interceptions and eventually scoring the game winner in the 49th minute.
“I feel like my goal was just the tip of the iceberg in terms of performances out there tonight,” Hagglund said. “I’m really proud of everyone and what they put out on the field today, even on short rest after Columbus had a strange week, but for the most part we were rested and ready to go. I’m proud of everyone.”
Edwards: “This is what everybody dreams about”
Back when FC Cincinnati were still in Tucson during preseason, Bobby Edwards stood on a chair at the front of the dining room and introduced himself. While other new players were shy, Edwards stood with confidence. It was a moment when everyone was laughing with him.
But before he went back to his seat, he defiantly roared, “I’m going to be the best damn third-string goalkeeper in MLS.” The room erupted in cheers and laughs.
That…was quite an introduction to FCC, and Wednesday night was quite the introduction into MLS.
With Przemysław Tytoń and Spencer Richey both sidelined with injuries, Edwards stepped in and delivered a confident and comfortable performance in the dominating derby win.
“This is what everybody dreams about,” Edwards said. “I said it before all the credit goes to the guys in front of me. I by no means am going to sit here and take credit for what just happened on the field. That was probably, in my opinion, the first time we had a start-to-finish collective match, and that’s how we knew we were capable of that. It took us some time to get there, but I’m proud and I’m overjoyed. It’s been great.”
His only misstep was hardly his fault. With Cincinnati controlling the first half, a preventable penalty conceded forced Edwards to try to stop an Artur penalty. While Edwards dove in the correct direction, the shot was just out of his reach.
He finished the match with a save and three punched clearances.
Cherish it, FCC. You beat Columbus at Nippert – again
The Hell is Real Derby, which started at Nippert Stadium with an unlikely win against Columbus in 2017, ended in the same fashion in 2020.
Just as Djiby connected on the game-winning header in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, Hagglund was virtually in the same spot when the Cincinnati native scored his first goal for his hometown team.
“For me, to play in this game, especially against Columbus and get the game-winner, for a Cincinnati kid, it’s awesome,” he said. “It’s an awesome feeling and the performance from the guys was incredible.”
FC Cincinnati grew as a club because of the atmosphere at Nippert Stadium, which became a cauldron of noise for four seasons. That atmosphere got the team into MLS – which meant matchups against Columbus on a regular basis.
No one expected the clubs to meet four times in 2020, but Cincinnati won the game that mattered the most to the club: against its biggest rival in the soon-to-be old home.
Cherish it, Cincinnati fans. We’ve waited three years for this moment.
And, as if the occasion couldn’t get any sweeter, Hagglund brought out the Ickey Shuffle for his goal celebration.
Stam – and a decent amount of Hagglund’s teammates – had no idea what the celebration was, so consider it another cultural lesson from the self-proclaimed Skyline Boy.
“First off, it was a bummer that I couldn’t enjoy it with the fans,” Hagglund said of his goal. “It was something I was always looking forward to, to celebrate it with the fans. Now that was a bummer, but I did do the Ickey Shuffle. So, I feel like that did justice for Cincinnati.”
What comes next
The Orange and Blue host D.C. United on Sunday night at Nippert Stadium. It’s the second meeting between the clubs inside the venue the season, and it could be a critical match for FCC to add points to their playoff push.
Cincinnati sits three points outside a playoff spot with 16 points from 18 games. D.C. United have a league-worst 12 points and have an interim head coach.
There are six games remaining in the regular season.