OBETZ, Ohio — Despite being a charter member of MLS, Columbus Crew SC have never had the thrill of a genuine, high intensity local derby.
In the early years of MLS, the Crew claimed D.C. United and the Chicago Fire as rivals. More recently, the Trillium Cup between the Black & Gold and Toronto FC was born. But all of those teams had other, more intense rivals and were at least six hours outside of Columbus.
That is until this season when FC Cincinnati joined MLS and the Black & Gold had a new neighbor in its state, just 110 miles south.
"I feel as if the rivals in the past have kind of come more from a sporting perspective," Columbus native and Crew captain Wil Trapp said. "They weren't so much a consistent thing. Whereas this, the ability for us to both be in the same state, in a small state at that, just brings proximity, it brings tension, in a good way. So for us, that's palpable and we feel it certainly more than the other ones."
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The first-ever MLS meeting between the new Ohio rivals — dubbed the "Hell Is Real" Derby — takes place on Saturday when Cincinnati travels to MAPFRE Stadium. But this comes after a U.S. Open Cup pairing in 2017 when the Black & Gold traveled to Nippert Stadium to face a USL FC Cincinnati. Despite playing close to a first-choice lineup, Columbus fell 1-0 in front of 30,160 fans.
On Saturday, it will be rather different Crew and Cincinnati teams. The Black & Gold have only four potential players who featured in the Open Cup game available, and FC Cincy has also turned over its roster since joining MLS
Columbus is also now led by first-year head coach Caleb Porter, a veteran of arguably the fiercest MLS rivalry of them all, coaching the Portland Timbers for five seasons in Cascadia Cup clashes against the Seattle Sounders.
Porter is excited to once again be involved in these type of games.
"Really important," Porter said of the upcoming clash. "You're fighting for your city, respect for your city and bragging rights. It's a rivalry that will grow as the tensions grow through games and the stories and what happens in these games. This is the first one, so we want to kick it off right."
While the two sides have only met once in competitive play, the animosity grew off the field. Supporters of the teams began the social media insults before this week and that is expected to continue Saturday at MAPFRE Stadium in front of a packed house of both home and traveling fans.
Given the Crew's recent turnaround, eight points in the last four matches, every game is important. Facing Cincinnati for the first time in MLS play, though, gives this match an added intensity that is only found in rivalries.
"With this being a rivalry game, it's important that we keep that winning feeling, that we keep the momentum," Porter said, "and obviously with our supporters, we know this game means a lot and we're fighting for Columbus versus Cincinnati and we want to make a statement for our city."