COLUMBUS, Ohio — On Saturday, Hell is Real met MLS. And it did not disappoint.
For a rivalry between Columbus Crew SC and FC Cincinnati still in its infancy after just one previous meeting, which came in Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup play, the first MLS derby between the sides lived up to the billing at MAPFRE Stadium on Saturday.
It began when Darren Mattocks gave the visitors the lead after 16 minutes before Roland Lamah doubled the advantage seven minutes later, stunning the home side. But, like many legendary rivalry games, Crew SC fought back, pulling out a 2-2 draw thanks to a Gyasi Zardes penalty kick and a Pedro Santos wonder-strike.
"Unbelievable fight and I'm proud of their heart," Columbus head coach Caleb Porter said. "I'm proud of all the intangible things that you want to see in your group and your team."
While the comeback by the Crew helped write the first chapter of this MLS rivalry, it was the missed chances for the home side that will likely go down as something of lore on both sides.
Zardes missed a sitter from inside the six-yard box in stoppage time, while David Accam hit the crossbar. Cincinnati goalkeeper Przemyslaw Tyton came through with big saves late in the game to make his team's two-hour drive home that much more enjoyable.
"In the end, I think we were more lucky with the point than Columbus was," Cincinnati head coach Ron Jans said. "In the end, the last 10 minutes, they hit the bar twice so I don't think we deserved the win but I'm really happy with the point."
The fanbases were already in rivalry mode before the match began with the club supporters trading taunting cheers and attempting to drown each other out. And with the biggest regular-season crowd at MAPFRE Stadium since September of 2015 watching, the raucous atmosphere continued into the game.
After Mattocks’ opener, the Cincinnati supporters in the stadium's upper deck could be heard loud and clear
"I was wondering if it was our home game," Mattocks said. "That's what it felt like."
But when Zardes pulled a goal back just before halftime, and especially when Santos bagged his equalizing golazo, the Crew fans drowned out the visitors.
"What a great crowd," Porter said. "I want to thank our supporters for coming out full force and giving all they had. It was the loudest game I've been a part of here as the head coach of the Crew and the supporters made me very proud."
Saturday was only the second meeting between the sides, but they have another coming up in short order. Cincinnati and Columbus play again in 15 days at Nippert Stadium during Heineken Rivalry Week, in what will undoubtedly be another intense chapter of the rivalry.
"This looks like the start of a great rivalry," Mattocks said, "and tonight definitely showed that it can be right up there with maybe the Portland-Seattle (rivalry)."