It has not been a good season for Columbus
and FC Cincinnati.
They sit next to last and last in the Eastern Conference with three-fourths of the 2019 season played. But for one evening they could look ahead to the bright future of a new rivalry.
The Crew and FCC battled to a 2-2 tie before 20,865 fans, the largest regular-season crowd in Columbus since the 2015 season when the Crew hosted MLS Cup. About 3,000 fans made their way from Cincinnati and filled one section of the upper deck at Mapfre Stadium.
The rivalry has been dubbed "Hell is Real," named after a billboard sign off I-71 between Columbus and Cincinnati, and the first half sure felt hellish for the Crew, which fell behind 2-0 on goals by Darren Mattocks and Emmanuel Ledesma in the first 23 minutes.
But Columbus got a break at the end of the first half when Dutch defender Maikel van der Werff was called for a clumsy foul on Gyasi Zardes, who converted the penalty kick to cut the deficit in half.
Pedro Santos evened the score with a shot from 25 yards in the 63rd minute, and the Crew piled on the pressure, culminating in a wild stoppage time.
With an open goal in front of him, Zardes hit a shot off the crossbar and over the goal, David Accam's shot was deflected by van der Werff off the crossbar, and Cincinnati goalkeeper Przemyslaw Tyton made two saves.
"I was ready to celebrate," Crew coach Caleb Porter said of Zardes' sitter. "I was ready to celebrate three or four times, to be honest with you. I mean, some of the saves -- they’re in the net. I mean, the Accam one that hits the post. My guys did everything they could to get the three points for our supporters. Everything."
Porter said he was proud of his players.
"I think I’m going to choose to be look at the glass half full today," he said. "I’m proud of my team’s fight, the resiliency – again – to come back, this time come back from down two. Unbelievable fight, proud of their heart, proud of all the intangible things you want to see in your group and in your team."
The game was the first since Dutchman Ron Jans took over this week as the FC Cincinnati head coach.
"I don't think we deserved the win," he said, "but I'm really happy with the point and we deserved it because of the fighting spirit and the first 35 minutes.”
Both coaches agreed the atmosphere was special.
"I really liked the atmosphere, the intensity,” Jans said.
Porter, who is in his first season as the Crew head coach, said the crowd was the loudest of the season.
"I had goosebumps before the whistle blew just looking at the crowd," he said. "They did their part today."
Photo: Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire