Jaap Stam's first game in charge of FC Cincinnati didn't quite go to plan, but it immediately changed the club's fortunes.
FC Cincy fell convincingly 4-0 to rival Columbus Crew SC at the MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando, as Stam set his side up in a positive 4-3-3 formation. The next time out against Atlanta United, the Blue and Orange played with a more cautious 5-3-2 en route to a win. They then played a similar system against the New York Red Bulls, again picking up a win.
The Crew have continued their strong showings since their Round of 16 exit in Orlando, while FC Cincy have put together a number of positive results with their defense-first ethos. The rivals are ready to face each other once again — the second time in a week and the third time in two months — this weekend. Last Saturday the two sides each took a point in a scoreless draw.
"Honestly, you just need to find one goal against a team that bunkers," Columbus head coach Caleb Porter said. "We don't need to win games 3-0."
“Tactically, it’s not like there’s going to be major changes," FC Cincy head coach Jaap Stam said. "There are certain details you can change that can have a major impact. Hopefully that can work out.”
Porter's side has a strong defensive record, too, having conceded a league-fewest two goals this season. FC Cincy, meanwhile, haven't scored a goal in four games since their return from Orlando. They have kept three clean sheets, one of which came against the Crew.
"We want to take revenge, we want to get the three points," Eloy Room said. "It's nice to play them again quickly. We want to win this game."
Porter suggested that the Crew, who had the edge in possession and shots, deserved to win the game, but Stam disagreed.
“Every coach can react how they want, but if you look at that game, we had the best chances at the end of the game," Stam said. "We should have won that game. They had more possession, but we gave them that possession.”
Lucas Zelarayan will be key in Columbus breaking down a tight defense. The creative No. 10 became the Crew's club-record signing this offseason from Liga MX giants Tigres UANL and has immediately settled into life in MLS with four goals and two assists across seven regular-season appearances (480 minutes.)
"It's pretty simple: He's a special player," midfielder Fatai Alashe said. Alashe was traded from Cincy to Columbus on August 17. "It's definitely good to have him on your team and not opposing teams."
It's not all down to individual moments of brilliance from Zelarayan or any of the Crew's other key attackers, Porter says.
"If you're going to be a team that unlocks the opponent, it's difficult to rely on the individual soloist to do it," Porter said. "You need that at times individually, but you can't rely on that. You have to do it collectively, organized, you do it through movement, combination play and taking what the opponents give you. We did that well from Cincinnati into Philly, I thought we improved. ... I believe in this group, I believe we'll score goals but I also know we'll defend really well. If it takes one goal and we win 1-0, we'll take that."