"It means everything": FC Cincinnati look to make statement in first Hell is Real at TQL Stadium

Another home match for FC Cincinnati means another chance to pick up their first win at TQL Stadium, but there's added incentive when returning to their new home Friday night to host the Columbus Crew in the latest Hell is Real Derby (7:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+).

Describing the upcoming match, FCC center back Nick Hagglund declared "it means everything."

FC Cincinnati head coach Jaap Stam said they're focused on building upon their three-match unbeaten run. In recent weeks, the Orange and Blue have beaten Chicago Fire FC and Toronto FC before drawing Houston Dynamo FC last weekend.

"We are approaching it the same way as every game," Stam said ahead of the match. "We know we are facing a very good team, a very good side that can play some very good football as well. They’ve got their strengths but still, we need to keep continuing in what we’ve been doing the last couple of weeks and the progress we’ve been making. The work rates, the quality at times going forward, creating opportunities, defending well, and scoring goals and hopefully we can score more."

The significance of this Ohio-centric rivalry match is undeniable. Hagglund said the first thing he looked for on the 2021 MLS schedule was Cincinnati's meetings with Columbus, as did Crew head coach Caleb Porter. This clash also comes one week after Columbus opened Lower.com Field, their own soccer-specifc stadium and the third of 2021 MLS-wide.

"This is definitely one of those games that’s a bit bigger than the others, mainly because of our supporters and how bad they want to beat the city down the street," Porter said in the buildup. "I think I had Austin circled twice. I think I had this one circled three times."

Porter acknowledged Cincinnati's winless start to life at TQL Stadium as an additional factor. They dropped their May 16 opener against Inter Miami CF, then subsequent games against the New England Revolution and Colorado Rapids.

"They’re going to be very desperate and they’re going to have a lot of intensity and reason to want to get a piece of us and to want to get three points," Porter said. "It’s going to be a chippy game. I think it’s going to be an emotional game."

The opportunity to snap their home losing streak and earn Hell is Real bragging rights is enticing to Hagglund. In eight past versions, Columbus hold a 4-2-2 series edge.

"It’s super important for us to put a mark on the new stadium with this rivalry," Hagglund said. "It’s been a little one-sided so far but this is an opportunity to make it new, to give TQL a great first Hell is Real."