The second leg of the "Hell Is Real" derby at Columbus on Sunday could see FC Cincinnati sweep the Crew in the season series for the first time since entering Major League Soccer in 2019.
Cincinnati (15-2-6, 51 points) took the first leg 3-2 at home on May 20. However, a lot has changed for the Crew (10-7-6, 36 points), who underwent a makeover during the month-long break for the Leagues Cup.
Notably, star midfielder Lucas Zelarayan (10 goals, seven assists in 20 matches) was sold to Al-Fateh of the Saudi Pro League. Also departing were goalkeeper Eloy Room and center back Milos Degenek in separate deals.
In return the Crew brought in wing back Julian Gressel from the Vancouver Whitecaps, center back Rudy Camacho from CF Montreal, Ukrainian center back Yevhen Cheberko and the biggest prize, former Los Angeles FC standout forward Diego Rossi on a transfer from Fenerbahce of the Turkish Super League.
Rossi, 25, scored 48 goals in 104 matches (100 starts) for LAFC. In the COVID-shortened 2020 season, he led MLS with 14 goals in 19 matches.
Crew coach Wilfried Nancy said Rossi has his own style and is not a replacement for Zelarayan.
"Lucas was there before," he said. "Diego is now the new (designated player), but he doesn't think about this. I like the fact that he came in and is not a vocal guy but when he talks, he is precise. He likes to act."
FC Cincinnati sit atop the MLS standings and are on pace for a franchise-best point total. Like the Crew, however, Cincinnati exited the Leagues Cup in the knockout round via penalty kicks on Aug. 4.
Unlike Columbus, Cincinnati is eyeing another non-MLS trophy when it hosts the incomparable Lionel Messi and Inter Miami on Wednesday in a semifinal of the U.S. Open Cup.
But first things first.
"When we lose, I don't like it. But now we can go on for more," Cincinnati captain Luciano Acosta said after the Leagues Cup ouster. "We have the (Open Cup) and we have the league."
—Field Level Media