Takeaways from Columbus

Hell is real, and Saturday night showed us it’s going to be eternally intense.

Maybe that’s an overstatement, but the first #HellisReal Derby between FC Cincinnati and Columbus Crew SC in MLS was packed plenty of goals, drama and excitement in the match that ended 2-2 at MAPFRE Stadium.

Here are three takeaways from the derby:

Yes, FCC saw their early two-goal lead evaporate, but they played well, and in the end, earned a solid point in their biggest match of the season.

Some games are bigger than others. Saturday night was one of those occasions.

It was the first rivalry match in league play with Columbus, on top of a match with three new players debuting and a head coach coaching in a different country and for the first time in two years.

Basically, there were plenty of factors that could’ve gone against Cincinnati early, so credit to the visitors when Darren Mattocks scored the first goal and Emmanuel Ledesma had the second. Both were well-worked plays that ignited the away supporters and shell-shocked Columbus. The first 35 minutes were excellent.

But then the rest of the match unfolded, which included a weak penalty conceded before half time and a stunning shot from Petro Santos to level the match. In stoppage time alone, Crew SC hit the cross bar twice and USMNT forward Gyasi Zardes missed from three yards away.

“We got a result, and in the end, we were more lucky with the point than Columbus was,” FCC Head Coach Ron Jans said. “The first 35 minutes, I think we were the better team. …In the end, the last 10 minutes, they hit the bar twice. I don’t think we deserved the win, but I’m happy with the point and we deserve it because of the fighting spirit.”

The draw was Cincinnati’s first since April 7 against Sporting Kansas City and first on the road since March 10 at Atlanta United FC.

Honestly, if you knew ahead of time that FCC would earn a point in Columbus – after losing four-straight matches – you’d take it. The visitors did.

Andrew Gutman is going to be a very, very good player for the Orange and Blue.

In his MLS debut, the left back was Cincinnati’s best outfield player. The only player with a better performance was Przemysław Tytoń, who delivered one of the best individual performances by any player this season.

By halftime, Gutman had completed all 14 of his passes, in addition to a tackle. He finished with 85% passing accuracy from 40 passes, but those stats hide what he did best. When given space, the 22-year-old took it and exploited Columbus’ right side routinely.

“When I was coming here, everyone kind of knew a lot of my game was to get forward, and (the backline) game me the freedom to do that, within reason,” Gutman said. “They covered me well when I was out of position. I pick and choose when to get forward. I wasn’t just going forward 100 percent of the time.”

Maybe the best thing to say about his performance was he was both exhilarating and refreshing.

Mathieu Deplagne deserves credit, but he’s not a left back and finally got to play on the right side. He looked comfortable and played well. As for Gutman, he provided the attacking mentality of a winger and defensive responsibilities of a center back.

For a team that’s conceded goals regularly, it’s hard to watch Gutman against the Crew and not get excited for what comes next.

Ignoring the final score for a second, the rivalry was even better than we hoped it’d be.

The last time the clubs met was in June 2017. It was a cup match, and the teams were in different divisions. There was no guarantee they’d meet each other again anytime soon.

Of course, right as FC Cincinnati earned an MLS expansion bid, Crew SC supporters had to fight just to keep their club in Columbus.

There have been plenty of moments that felt like the two Ohio teams would never meet in league play. 

So, when they did, the fact it was more dramatic than predictable makes the next matchup on Aug. 25 at Nippert Stadium all the more exciting.

MAPFRE Stadium was sold out and saw an invasion of FC Cincinnati fans. Forward Darren Mattocks said it even sounded like a home game at times. But once Columbus started creeping back into the match, the home supporters were in full voice.

MLS talks about the value of rivalries. Well, the league just saw one of its best ones for the very first time. There’s something special in that.

In the end, there were no bragging rights. The only tangible item both teams went home with was a point. 

But they also went home with memories, and perhaps a deeper distaste for their opponent.

When the MLS schedule came out, it felt like the league paired the #HellisReal Derby matches too close together. Maybe they did.

But after Saturday, the biggest feeling is this: the rematch in Cincinnati truly can’t come soon enough.

What comes next

Following the draw, FCC host New York City FC on Saturday night at Nippert Stadium. The match is Cincinnati’s “Salute to Service,” and sees a rematch from the June 6 clash when the Orange and Blue lost 5-2 at Yankee Stadium.

Columbus comes to the Queen City the following Sunday night.