When the preseason schedule was released and the rumors started flying about the teams FC Cincinnati would face off against, this was the date soccer fans in the state of Ohio circled. FC Cincinnati versus Columbus Crew SC. Hell is Real. These two teams have played a handful of games this preseason but the stakes have never been this high. The Carolina Challenge Cup will host the first Hell is Real derby, featuring both as MLS clubs.
Let’s be honest, this match means more to the fans in terms of bragging rights. For the players on the field, this is a time to get things fine-tuned before the MLS season starts next weekend. With only one scheduled friendly left before the start of the season, this is the last chance for players to show their coaches why they deserve to be on the field to start the season.
This preseason has been entertaining and beneficial for this club and the fans. The preseason is a time for the team to come together and gel before heading into the season. That is certainly the case with FC Cincinnati. Throughout their time in Bradenton and Charleston, this club has seemed to grow more comfortable with each other on the field. Coach Alan Koch has used many different lineups and formations thus far this preseason.
Like we have said so far with every game, continuity is one thing that will help drive this team this season. With this being the last friendly before the season, this game will be crucial for guys to get used to each other. The last match against Chicago (match report here) saw the first 70 or so minutes look dreadful, while the final 20 minutes were some of the best played by this team so far.
Formations have always been something we have been looking for each and every match. Koch has rolled out a few different formations so far this preseason but has stuck with the 3-4-3 the last two matches. Will he continue with that formation and will it feature what we think will be our number one team? That will be one thing to look for in this matchup against a tough Columbus Crew side.
Last season was one of the most difficult seasons for the Crew. The rumors of Anthony Precourt moving the club to Austin, TX., were all the buzz. The club managed to fight through all of those off the field distractions and finish 5th in the Eastern Conference. The Crew did see a change at manager, with Gregg Berhalter taking the reigns of the US Men’s National Team. Former Portland Timbers manager Caleb Porter was named as Berhalter’s replacement. This was a solid hire for the Crew, who should continue to be a force in the East.
Columbus does field some solid talent. Designated player Federico Higuaín is clearly the top player on the team. Higuaín, 34, has made 179 appearances for the Crew, bagging 54 goals. Another one of their top talents is goalkeeper Zack Steffen. Steffen has been one of the top goalkeepers in MLS. His success has opened up a door for a massive opportunity, a move to English giants, Manchester City. The move will take place this summer so Columbus will need to capitalize on his time between the posts. Forward Gyasi Zardes is the main source for the goals. Zardes scored 19 last season, helping Columbus in their march to the playoffs. Along with Higuaín, midfielders Will Trapp, Justin Meram and Niko Hansen are tasked to getting the ball to Zardes.
The Crew will be a serious player in the Eastern Conference and with Porter at the helm, could be a contender for the MLS Cup. This match will certainly have the passion off the field from the stands but with a chance to win the Carolina Challenge Cup, don’t expect either club to treat this like a friendly. This turned into a full-blown rivalry as soon as the final whistle blew at Nippert Stadium and FC Cincinnati moved on in the US Open Cup back in 2017. Expect nothing different in this matchup as both clubs are looking to fine-tune themselves before the season starts next weekend. Once again, the match will be streamed on the Charleston Battery website, so make sure to check it out as this will be the last chance to watch the club this preseason. As always, stay tuned to Cincinnati Soccer Talk after the match as we break down the final preseason match in 2019.