Best odds: 12/5
FC Cincinnati are set to play host to Columbus Crew at the TQL Stadium in Ohio on Friday evening (just after midnight in Europe). It will be the 11th match of the MLS season for the hosts; 12th for the visitors.
Cincinnati succeeded a lower-division team which bore the same name in 2018, and was admitted to the MLS the following year. They ended the first season in 12th place in the Eastern Conference, followed by a 14th place finish in 2020. Naturally, they failed to qualify for the play-offs on both occasions.
Things aren’t looking much better this time around either. At the moment, Cincinnati are 12th in the conference with 11 points from the 10 matches they’ve played so far, the same as Chicago in 11th and three more than Inter Miami and Toronto, the only two teams sitting lower.
The form of the team led by former Dutch international Jaap Stam hasn’t been bad, considering their table position. Their last-six record begins with a 1-2 triumph away to Montreal, after which they lost 0-1 at home to New England. That was followed by a 0-2 defeat at home at the hands of Colorado, a 0-1 win away to Chicago, and a 0-2 win away to Toronto. In the last match, they drew 1-1 away to Houston Dynamo as Alvaro Barreal struck in the fifth minute to cancel out a Tyler Pasher opener for Houston, which came two minutes earlier.
Stam won’t be able to call upon midfielder Allan Cruz and defender Roland Matarrita. Both are currently away on international duty, representing Costa Rica at the Golden Cup.
Barreal is Cincinnati’s top scorer with three goals at the moment, and much will depend on the performance of the 20-year-old winger.
The history of Columbus Crew is significantly richer than that of Cincinnati. The franchise was founded in 1994, and they’ve been competing in the MLS since 1996. They’ve won the title twice so far, lifting the trophy in 2008 and 2020, which means they are the reigning champions at the moment.
Things haven’t exactly been going the way the title defenders would have wanted this term. They are currently ninth in the Eastern Conference with 16 points, though the tally is the same for D.C. United and New York Red Bulls who occupy the two spots above, while New England, sitting at the top of the table with 24, have played two matches more.
In their last six matches, Crew beat New York City away by 1-2, Toronto at home by 2-1, and Chicago at home by 2-0, but their winning streak ended there for the moment. It was followed by a 1-0 defeat away to Philadelphia and a goalless draw away to Austin. They drew 2-2 at home against leaders New England in the last game, coming back from two goals down through Gyasi Zardes and an own-goal by New England’s Andrew Farrell.
Coach Caleb Porter will be missing starting goalkeeper Eloy Room, winger Derrick Etienne, midfielders Liam Fraser and Kevin Molino, as well as forward Zardes, all through international commitments at the Golden Cup.
On top of that, midfielder Aidan Morris misses out with a knee injury, which means Crew’s play is likely to revolve around playmaker Pedro Santos.
Crew would be the favourites against Cincinnati in normal circumstances, but missing such a large number of players, it won’t be easy for them. If there ever was a time for Cincinnati to get something from a match against the defending champions, it’s now.
Best odds: 12/5
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