FC Cincinnati midfielder Caleb Stanko is heading into his seventh Hell is Real Derby on Friday (6:30 pm ET | ESPN, ESPN Deportes), and on Wednesday he fanned the flames of their rivalry with the Columbus Crew, making the observation that "I think this could be a great opportunity for us to start a run of wins" and going as far as using words like "dominate" and "humiliation."
Stanko's assessment of the match as a points-grabbing opportunity comes in part because of the Crew's six-match losing streak, which has sent the defending MLS Cup champs below the Eastern Conference playoff line. Stanko characterized that as the Crew "struggling to get points as well," acknowledging his team's own toils through the summer. Though FC Cincinnati have drawn seven of their last 10 matches, they haven't won outright since a 2-0 June 26 victory over Toronto FC in Orlando.
Stanko also vividly remembers what happened the last time these rivals faced off. In a July 9 match at their new home, FC Cincinnati went up two goals and a man before halftime, yet the Crew fought back to salvage a 2-2 draw.
"I think that this one is gonna be a little bit spicier than the last one, just because of how the last one went down," Stanko observed. "I feel like we are a little bit scarred from that last one. I think that there were some questionable calls, and unfortunately, we didn't have anybody to give it back to them, to inflict some pain on them. So I'm hoping that the team will be mentally prepared to be able to just dominate them in their stadium."
Stanko also had some choice words for a fellow Caleb – Crew coach Caleb Porter – who taunted FCC fans with a shushing gesture following the Crew's comeback draw in their last meeting. At the time, Porter said in his post-match comments: "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?”
"Everyone told us you know, we heard about that, and that always sticks in your mind," Stanko said of Porter's TQL Stadium diss. "I mean, at least it does for me. I mean that kind of stuff pisses me off, it really makes me upset to see because it's in our home stadium, so we want to do similar things like that to them. We want to be able to make them have a terrible day where they are not winning the 50-50s, they are getting scored on and maybe even a little bit of humiliation like they did to us."
Stanko predicted a physical match against a team that he suggested has "maybe become complacent" following their championship campaign, though he also noted that he and his teammates need to be "more clinical in the final third" to get on the path to victory.
Though Stanko's clearly keen on the rivalry, he noted that he tends to tune out one aspect of the rivalry: the "Hell is Real" sign on I-71 that gave the cross-state contest its colorful name.
"Usually, I'm on my phone or I'm listening to music," he noted. "I don't even see it. I'm sitting on the wrong side of the bus." But, as he added, "I think the media team does a good job of posting about it and getting out the message."