State bragging rights outweigh playoff implications when Columbus travels south on Interstate 71 to face expansion FC Cincinnati in round two of their budding derby at Nippert Stadium on Sunday.
The teams tied 2-2 in Columbus on Aug. 10 in the first "Hell is Real" derby, so named by the supporters groups of both clubs for a forewarning billboard seen by travelers heading south on the interstate about midway between the cities.
Cincinnati (5-18-3, 18 points) scored the first two goals before the Crew (7-15-6, 27 points) salvaged a point and their pride.
"It was a nice game in Columbus and now it's going to be a battle here at home with a full stadium," Cincinnati captain Kendall Waston said. "I know it's going to be packed and everyone is going to be ready and that's going to be a very, very nice environment."
FCC would love to put another dagger in the Crew's slim playoff hopes. Columbus saw its 2-0-4 streak snapped in a 1-0 loss at New York City FC on Wednesday and is seven points back of the final qualifying spot in the Eastern Conference with six matches left.
"We must work together, stay together, and just help each other and focus on the next games," Crew goalkeeper Eloy Room said. "I still have confidence that we can win the games, because we showed in the second half (vs. NYC) that we can play with the best teams."
The Crew's opponents have scored the first goal 19 times (1-13-5) this season, including in the past five games.
"We have not been able to put together a complete game," Crew forward Romario Williams said. "It has been in batches of 20, 25, 30 minutes."
Cincinnati long has been out of the postseason hunt but is averaging 27,657 fans for 12 home games.
"They've been supporting us all this season through difficult moments," Waston said. "What we want now is to win and to bring some happiness."