It was a big deal just for FC Cincinnati to get the opportunity to host Major League Soccer’s Columbus Crew SC.
The match was going to be a win for the second-year United Soccer League side regardless of the outcome, thanks to the record crowd anticipated before the gates even opened.
»PHOTOS: View 24 images from the match
But FC Cincinnati wanted to make the storylines center on more than the packed stands at Nippert Stadium, and the home side delivered in front of an electric throng of 30,160 fans.
Djiby Fall’s header goal in the 64th minute lifted FCC to a 1-0 win Wednesday in the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup and the first “Ohio Derby,” a preview of a potential rivalry series should FCC earn a bid into MLS. The attendance smashed the fourth-round record of 19,298 set in 2011 in a match between MLS side Sporting Kansas City and USL’s Saint Louis FC.
“It’s a big result for us as a club, it’s a big result for us as a city,” FCC coach Alan Koch said. “There are occasional upsets (in the U.S. Open Cup), but it doesn’t happen very often at this stage. It’s a very special moment. I think I would be amiss to say it’s just another victory.”
»PREVIOUS ROUND: FC Cincy tops Louisville FC to advance in US Open Cup
FC Cincinnati embraced the roll of the underdog and came at Columbus with a lineup featuring top two scorers Fall and Danni Konig playing together for the first time.
Though the tandem seemed out of sync at times, both players had a hand in the game-winning goal, which Koch said was a part of one of the best 90-minute performances by the club as a whole. Konig ran onto a ball in the corner, passed it back to Justin Hoyte, who had just entered for Lakota West High School graduate Matt Bahner six minutes prior, and Hoyte sent in the game-changing cross.
Fall initially headed the ball to himself and then won the challenge in the air with Hector Jimenez for the second header, which he looped beyond reserve goalkeeper Brad Stuver’s reach into the upper right corner of the goal, sending the home fans into an absolute frenzy.
“It was a good cross from Justin and I fought for the ball, and I was just happy to get another chance at it,” Fall said. “I’m very happy.”
Columbus wasn’t underestimating FCC, either. The Crew, which had never lost in the fourth round, played a lineup with several regular players, highlighted by midfielders Federico Higuain, Justin Meram and Wil Trapp and defender Nicolai Naess, who had all started 14 games or more in 16 league matches.
Stuver, playing in place of Zack Steffen, was one of just two Crew starters with less than 400 minutes of playing time entering the match.
And for most of the game, the Crew was the better club. Columbus outshot FCC 19-5 (11-3 in the first half) and had possession 59.6 percent of the time. Cincinnati had a few exciting chances, but the Crew had far more – especially late in the game.
Mitch Hildebrandt did just what the “Mitch Says No” chants promise, denying the Crew of that elusive equalizer behind a valiant effort from a three-man back line in the 3-5-2 formation new to FCC this year. The 2016 USL Goalkeeper of the Year finished with five saves.
“We wanted to win, obviously,” Crew coach Gregg Berhalter said. “But we’ll bounce back because we have to.”