Ohio clubs about 120 miles apart will renew their rivalry near Orlando, Fla., on Saturday night in their opening match of the MLS Is Back Tournament.
The opening battle between Group E combatants at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex will see the Columbus Crew (1-0-1, 4 points) face FC Cincinnati (0-2-0, 0 points).
"It means a lot not only to us but our fan base back in Columbus," Crew forward Gyasi Zardes said.
Cincinnati debuts former Netherlands defender Jaap Stam as coach.
He was appointed May 21 to replace Ron Jans, who resigned in February after an investigation into his use of racial slurs. Yoann Damet was the interim coach the first two matches -- a 3-2 loss at the New York Red Bulls on March 1 and a 2-1 defeat at Atlanta United on March 7 -- before the COVID-19 pandemic led to the suspension of the MLS season.
After his hiring, Stam held virtual conferences with the players while awaiting clearance to enter the United States. He finally met the team in person June 16.
"He's very clear what he wants from us," defender Tom Pettersson said. "He demands a lot from us, which is very good. You can't just show up at training and play the way you want and don't be focused, don't do your best. It's exactly what we need right now if you see the results we've had in the past."
The Crew opened the season with a 1-0 victory against New York City FC on March 1 and drew 1-1 at the Seattle Sounders six days later. The Crew had a scare last week when an unnamed player tested positive, but there have been no further cases since.
"We're really pleased that no one else has gotten this," Crew coach Caleb Porter said Wednesday. "That's the biggest win thus far of the tournament after a pretty rough couple days when we learned we had a positive."
In three matches last season, including one in the U.S. Open Cup, the sides had an even 1-1-1 record.
--Field Level Media