Caleb Porter – shush crowd – Columbus Crew

Columbus Crew head coach Caleb Porter added some spice to the Hell is Real rivalry on Friday night.

During his postgame press conference following their 2-2 draw at TQL Stadium, Porter threw some shade in FC Cincinnati's direction. The hosts led by two goals during the first half and were up a man from the 42nd minute onward after Crew right back Harrison Afful was shown a second yellow card.

But the defending MLS Cup champions fought back to salvage a road point, leaving FC Cincinnati winless in their first four games at their new soccer-specific stadium.

“I think it says everything about our guys,” Porter said. “Obviously you can taint the result by saying we were down 2-0 – this, that. This is an incredible comeback, an incredible result. They have to be devastated over there in that other locker room because how can you be up 2-0 and up a man and not win the game?”

After the back-and-forth match closed out Week 12 in MLS, Porter rushed toward the traveling Crew fans and showed plenty of raw emotion. He raised a solitary finger to his mouth, indicating that their Ohio rivals were silenced.

Columbus entered with 11 players missing through injury or international duty, adding more value to their performance. They’ve now rallied from two goals down in back-to-back games, with last weekend's 2-2 tie against New England serving as the Lower.com Field opener.

“I'm not celebrating a draw, I'm celebrating the mentality of my team,” Porter said. “I love my team, I love this group. I love their attitude. And, yeah, we are on the road and you can't forget that. We're playing a team that's desperate and they were up two goals and up a man. It's just incredible that we were able to get a result.”

The Crew, in large part, were rescued by one goal and one assist from Lucas Zelarayan, the MLS original’s club-record signing. Playing as the front-runner in a 4-4-1 formation after Afful’s dismissal, he scored in first-half stoppage time and then set up a 77th-minute equalizer from Miguel Berry.

Porter showered superlatives on Zelarayan, making clear how he feels the Argentine No. 10 slots into the broader MLS landscape. The Designated Player, winner of the 2020 MLS Newcomer of the Year award, arrived last year from Liga MX side Tigres UANL.

“Lucas Zelarayan, a lot of people won't agree with me on this, is the best attacking player in the league,” Porter said. “If he plays like he played today, I don't see a guy in the league better than him. We dropped into a 4-4-1 when we went down a man and basically left him up top and hoped that he would pull off a play, pull a rabbit out of the hat. He was absolutely incredible and the goal he scored to go 2-1 was world-class.”

The Hell is Real derby returns August 27 when Cincy venture to Columbus’ new home for a rematch. Until then, Jaap Stam’s group will surely remember Porter’s pointed remarks about what unfolded just before the 2021 Concacaf Gold Cup break.

“Wish we would’ve sent our supporters home with three points, but I hope they go home feeling good about the comeback,” Porter said. “More than that, I’m glad the Cincinnati supporters leave very disappointed.”