Make room for the MLS, Ohio

Camille McDonald is a first-year exercise science major. She is a guest writer for the Newswire from Columbus, Ohio.

It’s obvious that Cincinnati is a sports town. You can barely enter the city without seeing the massive Paul Brown Stadium or signature Great American Ball Park. It’d be hard to find an Ohioan who hasn’t heard of the battle of Ohio – the exciting, but often anticlimactic, clash between the Cleveland Browns and the Cincinnati Bengals.

But it’s time for Ohioans to take note of a new rivalry: The Hell is Real Derby. FC Cincinnati (FC Cincy) and the Columbus Crew are both members of Major League Soccer (MLS) and are bringing a better battle to the field than the NFL.

Before you can understand the value of this rivalry, it’s important to understand each team’s backstory. Each team comes with its own baggage – both dealing with their own trials and tribulations in the wild world of professional soccer.

The Crew was just a few months away from being snatched from its historic Columbus home and transferring to Austin, Texas, because of an ambitious but greedy owner. Thanks to a massive support group and a few wealthy investors, the Crew is in Columbus to stay, complete with new ownership.

Cincinnati, on the other hand, took the lower United Soccer League (USL) division by storm,  breaking the league’s attendance records time and time again, topping off at just more than 25,000 fans at one match in 2017. Its entrance to the big leagues excited the Queen City immensely, and its stadium continues to rank third for fan attendance in the league.

But why is it called the “Hell is Real Derby?” Anyone who’s embarked on the drive down I-71 toward Cincinnati knows the answer. A massive billboard in a field of nothingness littering the highway reads, “Hell is Real,” written in bold and commanding letters. It’s hard to miss, unfortunately, as the billboard is practically screaming at innocent passersby that hell is, in fact, real. FC Cincy and Columbus Crew fans decided that this Ohio emblem would be the perfect way to respect their Ohio roots, all while representing the competition between the two teams.

The unfortunate uniting factor between FC Cincy and the Columbus Crew is that neither team is over the .500 mark this season, and both  have struggled greatly with injuries and losing streaks. Luckily, this didn’t seem to matter to the 30,611 fans who showed up to the recent battle in Cincinnati and the 20,865 who supported the Columbus Crew just weeks ago. While the first match ended in a nail-biting draw, the central Ohioans took this year’s bragging rights in a 3-1 stomp down on Cincy’s home turf.

It’s time to take notice of the Hell is Real Derby. While neither team may be quite as consistent as the Seattle Sounders or as dominant as Atlanta FC (basically the New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints of soccer), each team’s deeply rooted fans should be enough to convince Ohioans to take notice of Ohio soccer. For a minute, let’s forget about OBJ and Baker Mayfield, or Sonny Fray and Ryan Finley, and let’s start talking about Gyasi Zards and Allan Cruz.

Sure, it’s probably reasonable to count both soccer teams out, but just for this season. The Columbus Crew and FC Cincy aren’t going anywhere; both are the MLS teams of the future. While we can’t ignore the Bengals and Browns’ annual showdown, the Hell is Real Derby is here to stay.