*Note: This editorial was edited by ColumbusCrewSC.com and provided by MLSsoccer.com
The Hell is Real derby comes to the MLS is Back Tournament, as FC Cincinnati and Columbus Crew SC meet in Group E play on July 11.
It will mark the third match between Crew SC & Cincinnati in MLS play, with the Crew most recently taking a 3-1 victory at Nippert Stadium on Aug. 25, 2019.
FC Cincinnati (0-2-0) dropped each of their first two games of the season against fellow Group E members, first to the New York Red Bulls, then to Atlanta United. After a league-worst record in 2019, Cincy lost both by a single goal in both games.
As both teams prep for the group stage schedule, both teams are dealing with roster obstacles, as rotations will inevitably be involved, though Head Coach Caleb Porter said the roster rotation will not affect the Crew on Saturday.
On the other side, Cincinnati Head Coach Jaap Stam will experience his first MLS regular season at the helm of the 2019 expansion club.
In terms of preparing for the relatively unknown, Porter understands it's a balance between focusing on their own execution and being prepared to adjust when needed.
"You can only prepare for the guys for what you know, and then you have to be ready for things that might change and be adaptable. So most games, it’s the same – you have to understand what they’ve done in the past and use that as a kind of reference point and plan for those things because you’ve seen them," Porter said.
"There’s some mystery with what they’ll do but we can look at the first two games, we can see key players, definitely we can predict trends, and then we have to focus on ourselves too and make sure we execute because if we execute then that will dictate what happens in the game."
Cincinnati Enquirer beat writer Pat Brennan spoke with Neil Sika and Jordan Angeli on Inside The Crew this week and said Cincy forward Jurgen Locadia, who scored in his first MLS match with a second-half finish against RBNY, will likely not play in the opener vs. Columbus.
That said, Porter said they are prepared for what he described as a deep FCC attacking group.
"Their attacking group is really deep actually, so with the [five] subs we have to be prepared for a lot of different guys to either start or come into the game. They’ve signed some really good players and they are dynamic in the attack. We are going to have to be smart, especially in transition. That’ll be key in this game, the transition moments."
Columbus went 1-0-1 through the first two weeks of the season back in March, with new playmaker Lucas Zelarayan scoring his first club goal in his debut on March 1.
With the group stage matches translating to the regular-season standings, defender Jonathan Mensah emphasized the importance of bringing home three points in the opener.
"It’s a game we need to win to make it to the next round. First game of the group stages we need to get three points in the bag," Mensah said.
In line with Porter's comments about focusing on themselves and combined with the tough conditions in central Florida during the summer, Mensah said how important the physical and mental aspect will be in addition to the tactical.
"They are a tough team. We are working on our game plan and we need to stick to that. We’ve been watching film on them but we don’t know what they are going to bring, so we just need to prepare mentally, physically, and tactically to be able to win that game."
Following a disappointing 2019 that saw a lot of one-goal games turn into draws and draws turn into losses, Porter said he think that experience and the roster additions will hopefully add to the mental strength of the team during this time, something he sees as a potential difference-maker.
"We have to adapt to the heat, we have to adapt to the game time, we have to be ready to adapt to the opponent and what they’re going to do … but I think good teams always find a way to win and I think that’s really important that under all the circumstances. Can your group make enough plays individually and collectively to get the three points and find a way to win? So that mental toughness is something we’ve talked a lot about in our group since last year. Building on the end of the season and to start this year, we feel like we are in a much better spot to find ways to win games, close out games, start games strong and execute in a more consistent way game-in and game-out. I think that’s going to be hopefully a strength of ours in this tournament."
- WATCH: TV, streaming information for July 11 match vs. FC Cincinnati
- RSVP: Live Virtual Fan Experience & Drive-In Theatre Watch Party on July 11
Kickoff on Saturday is scheduled for 10:30 p.m. ET.