FC Cincinnati - 2019 - Bailey sings for you

The third MLS edition of the Hell is Real Derby between FC Cincinnati and Columbus Crew SC will come under unique circumstances.

When meeting Saturday night (10:30 pm ET | FS1, TUDN in US; TSN in Canada) at the MLS is Back Tournament, there won’t be thousands of raucous fans in the stands or chants emanating from The Bailey or Nordecke. There won’t be any fans, actually, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Still, Cincy left back Greg Garza stressed that it won't detract from the intensity between these Ohio rivals.

“Even though you’re down in a different city, you’re not playing in front of thousands of fans .... at the end of the day, of course, you’re still fighting for something there, you’re still wanting to prove a point,” Garza said on a conference call Thursday. “I think it’ll be a special game.”

Aside from wanting to claim their first MLS win over Columbus – the Crew hold a 1-0-1 series lead so far – Cincy will be making their debut under head coach Jaap Stam. Starting spots are usually up for grabs when there’s a managerial change, and it’ll be players’ first chance to impress.

“It’s going to be our first game after working together for three-and-a-half, four weeks,” Stam said. “Everybody is looking forward to this particular game. There’s a lot at stake. I think the players, they want to prove themselves, they want to show themselves as well.”

One player who’s unlikely to feature is striker Jurgen Locadia, a Designated Player whose loan from Brighton & Hove Albion was extended earlier this summer. Stam previously said Locadia could be out for a couple of weeks with a thigh injury, and added on Thursday that they need to cautiously bring him back into full training. But the match could mark the debut of midfielder Siem de Jong, who arrived last offseason from AFC Ajax.

Even without Locadia, midfielder Haris Medunjanin stressed that Cincy can make a statement in Group E. They’re also drawn against Atlanta United and New York Red Bulls, two clubs that Garza expects to be contending for an MLS Cup spot each year, but they’re not intimidated by that.

Rather, this Hell is Real Derby is the first step in proving that this new-look, Stam-molded group could impress.

“I always think as a football player, you want to measure yourself with the best teams,” Medunjanin said. “You want to show that you also are part of MLS, put Cincinnati back on the map again, that we have a good team, that we have good players so nobody can say, ‘Oh that’s an easy three losses for Cincinnati.’ I think we should fight for our pride and show that we need to represent Cincinnati over here and represent ourselves also, our pride."