A familiar foe returns for the Dirty River Derby

Every spring, supporters of FC Cincinnati and USL club Louisville City FC cross their fingers and hope the US Open Cup gods grant them another rendition of the Dirty River Derby (DRD). Wednesday night marks the first replay of the derby since 2019, in which Cincinnati holds a 5W-2D-4L advantage.

What started with off-field banter between two cities in close proximity involving plastic, the DRD has had many memorable moments on and off the field in USL and US Open Cup competitions. The rivalry features special moments that include the infamous Djiby Fall bite game, melting cleats, heated supporters matches, a beekeeper hat, brown emojis, a game played over the span of two weeks, streamers, wacky inflatable tube men and more!

Check our some of our favorite photos of the DRD.

Not only have the teams played each other, there have been several players that have suited up for both clubs and played vs. the opposing team. Aodhan Quinn and Kadeem Dacres defected to the Orange & Blue in 2017 with FCC forward Luke Spencer going South that same season. Current Nati SC defender Pat McMahon joined Los Morados in 2018 with inaugural FCC’er Antoine Hoppenot and MLS draft pick Ben Lundt venturing into Kentucky in 2019.

The biggest hurt came in 2020 and 2021 with FCC club legends Corben Bone and Jimmy McLaughlin leaving FCC to join Louisville in subsequent years. Midfielder Tyler Gibson joined LouCity in 2022 and still patrols the middle of the park in Lynn Family Stadium. We still have much affection for this group regardless of which color they wear.

Wednesday night’s match marks the first time that none of FC Cincinnati’s players were part of the team’s USL history and only defender Nick Hagglund has any rivalry experience.

Louisville still boasts the names of Niall McCabe (injured) Cameron Lancaster, Brian Ownby, Sean Totsch, Oscar Jimenez and Paolo DelPiccolo who still harbor feelings for FCC. After speaking with Benton of on this week’s podcast, you can gather that this match has significant importance for the USL side, including those veterans.

What remains to be officially seen is how does FC Cincinnati line up for the match? Reports from Sunday’s match note that many FCC2 starters were either kept out of the squad or given limited minutes. Defenders Isaiah Foster, Ian Murphy and Bret Halsey, goalkeeper Alec Kann and attacker Arquimides Ordonez were left out while Joey Akpunonu and Stiven Jimenez split the first half in a defensive midfield role, each getting just 20 to 25 minutes of time on the field.

It is highly likely that head coach Pat Noonan will have to rotate a banged-up first-team squad with members of the MLS Next Pro side. While FCC could still see veterans like Dom Badji, Alec Kann, Alvas Powell and Hagglund, look for many of the youngsters to make their debut in an intense derby match.

If 2023 is anything like 2022’s US Open Cup match, expect the youngsters to get 60 to 75 minutes with veterans like Lucho Acosta, Junior Moreno or even Yuya Kubo (now available) to enter late if the game is in reach. It is possible that some international players such as Obi Nwobodo could also get a nod in reserve as the cup has changed their international player rules to reflect their league’s regulations.

Just because FCC is playing a young lineup doesn’t mean that the club is throwing in the towel.

“We’re approaching it to go and win a competition,” Noonan said in a club release. “So the starting point of that is we have to have success on Wednesday, and we have a very tough matchup against Louisville City. It’s kind of a game-by-game, it’s ‘let’s go into this competition with the understanding we’re trying to win a trophy. And six games to do that, with Wednesday being the starting point. But you know, we can’t even think about the end product and result in being a part of a final if we don’t have the right approach and mentality for Wednesday, which I don’t see to be a problem for our group. But this will be a good early test for us against the top, or one of the top teams, in USL.”

While expectations should be kept in check, it will be exciting to see Jimenez, Akpunonu and Foster get their first team debut. With the roster in flux going into the summer, this game could be a measuring stick in how they can compete vs. the senior talent of Louisville.

Louisville enters the match third in the USL Eastern Conference. The 2022 USL Cup runner-up squad features several young and talented players with defender Joshua Wynder being recently called into the USMNT and former Sporting KC forward Wilson Harris. Coach Danny Cruz is known as one of the more tactically proficient coaches in the USL and will have his group ready to press the FCC defense and win the ball in dangerous spots.

Wednesday night will be joyous for one group of supporters and agonizingly painful for the other. The first Dirty River Derby in TQL Stadium should be a fun one and there will be certainly many storylines going into the match.

How to watch and attend

Kickoff is scheduled for 7pm at TQL Stadium – Tickets can be had for as low as $10!

Stream: Bleacher Report Football YouTube and the B/R App
Broadcast Talent (English): Mike Watts (play-by-play), Kacey White (analyst)

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