The Orange and Blue are unbeaten in their three previous fixtures after coming back to draw the Houston Dynamo 1-1 last Saturday, while the reigning MLS Cup champions erased a two-goal deficit last weekend to draw the New England Revolution 2-2.
A season that looked destined for failure once again has turned around dramatically for FC Cincinnati, and all it took was a three-game road trip for their fortunes to change.
Jaap Stam has seen his side collect seven points from their last three games, with an opportunity on Friday to set a new franchise record for their longest unbeaten run which, if they can pull out a win or a draw, would be four.
Some key additions to the defensive line are starting to pay dividends, with centre-backs Geoff Cameron and Gustavo Vallecilla showing a lot of chemistry and composure, as Cincy have only conceded once in their past three matches.
The next job for this team will be to improve their play at home and give their fans something to cheer about, losing all three of their fixtures at TQL Stadium this year and going scoreless in their last two matches there.
They have looked good over the past three weeks, but they have also faced teams who have been struggling near the bottom of the Eastern Conference table, including Toronto FC and the Chicago Fire.
On Friday, we will see what they are made of, as they battle not only the defending league champions, but a side that Cincy have only beaten once in their last six regular season matches, and they were scoreless in three consecutive fixtures against the Crew in 2020.
As they prepare to play game number 12 in their 2021 MLS campaign, the defending champions are still looking to find some consistency, unable to string together a series of positive results thus far.
They seemed to be coming into form just before the international break, winning three in a row, but they ended the month of June without a win in their final two fixtures, failing to score each time.
In 2020, they were incredibly sound defensively with nine regular-season clean sheets, but so far in 2021, the shoe has been on the other foot, as they have struggled to score goals and have been shut out in six matches already.
Last week, Caleb Porter saw his team dig themselves out of an early hole, falling behind 2-0 to the New England Revolution after only 30 minutes of play, and he hopes that his side can carry over that momentum against their state rivals on Friday.
Away games have not been kind to Columbus lately, as they have won only one match on the road so far and have failed to score in four outings.
It will not get any easier for the Crew, as Friday is the first of three matches in 12 days for them, but with two games against teams above them in the table (New York City FC and Nashville SC), it is an opportunity for them to climb back into a playoff position.
Cincinnati will be without centre-back Maikel van der Werff, who has a groin problem, while Yuya Kubo has been invaluable for the Orange in Blue in either midfield or attack, leading the team with 24 tackles won, which is the fourth most in MLS.
The Orange and Blue officially signed striker Arquimides Ordonez to the first team roster as a Homegrown Player for the remainder of the season.
The Crew will be missing central midfielder Aidan Morris, who still has a knee injury, so expect to see Pedro Santos take up some extra responsibility as a playmaker, currently leading the team with two assists in 2021.
Columbus will be missing five critical figures to their squad on Friday because of the Gold Cup, including starting keeper Eloy Room, who is representing Curacao, Derrick Etienne is with Haiti, Liam Fraser is with the Canadian team, Kevin Molino is with Trinidad and Tobago and leading goalscorer Gyasi Zardes will join the United States.
Lucas Zelarayan is second in team scoring with three goals this year, two of which have come on the road.
FC Cincinnati possible starting lineup:
Vermeer; Castillo, Vallecilla, Cameron, Gyau; Acosta, Stanko, Kubo; Ordonez, Brenner, Barreal
Columbus Crew possible starting lineup:
Bush; Afful, Jonathan, Wormgoor, Abdul-Salaam; Hairston, Kitchen; Matan, Espinoza; Zelarayan, Santos
We say: FC Cincinnati 1-0 Columbus Crew
Neither side have been particularly potent offensively, as Cincinnati and the Crew are the second and third lowest-scoring teams currently in MLS, but the Orange and Blue have made great strides defensively with a solid back four who are starting to gel as a unit.
Cincinnati have not fared well in their previous regular-season matches with the Crew, but they are playing the defending champs at a good time, with Columbus missing their starting keeper and leading scorer, while Cincy have momentum on their side, riding a three-match unbeaten run.