Rivalry Week

Diego Rossi seeks Hell is Real bragging rights: "We can keep this streak up"


Columbus Crew intercepted the ball and went to work. They passed, they probed and, eventually, the chance was there. Diego Rossi streaked forward and received a pass from Alexandru Matan. Rossi took a touch with his right, he shot with his left and he celebrated.

Rossi’s goal put the Crew up 2-1 on Monterrey in the Concacaf Champions Cup semifinal second leg, a lead they wouldn’t give back. It was a team move – isn’t it always with the Crew – but it was capped off by Rossi, a player few would have expected to see with Columbus at all, much less scoring in the CCC semis at this time last year.

“It was a really, really great moment,” Rossi told MLSSoccer.com this week. “It came early, too, which helped us be able to control the game. It was a happy moment since I got the goal, but also since I knew we were closer to going through thanks to it.”

The 26-year-old also scored in both legs of the Crew’s quarterfinal triumph over Tigres. He scored last year in the Eastern Conference Final edition of Hell is Real against rival FC Cincinnati, who the Crew will again face this Saturday at Lower.com Field as part of Rivalry Week presented by Continental Tire (7:45 pm ET | Apple TV - Free; FS1, FOX Deportes).

Columbus calling

Seeing Rossi score is nothing new at this point. Seeing him do it for the Crew isn’t all that new either. But at this time in 2023, he was in Turkey while the Crew were cruising with Lucas Zelarayán pulling the strings. After Zelarayán’s departure in the summer transfer window, Wilfried Nancy's side needed another star in attack and brought in Rossi as a Designated Player.

Rossi had options after two years with Fenerbahçe but was intrigued by the chance to play in Nancy’s system, to work with the strong players already on the roster, and to feel the vibe around a city that continues to fall more and more in love with the team that represents it.

“The idea the team has about its style of play and the club’s whole project: We’ve got a good stadium, a good training ground, you could see the team getting a lot better. All those things came together so that I made my decision,” said Rossi, a Uruguayan international and former LAFC standout.

“I knew the league already and more or less understood the style of the league. That was important to be able to go back to a place I’d already been and adapt quickly.”

The adaptation couldn’t have gone much better. Even as he worked out his role alongside fellow star forward Cucho Hernández, Rossi has helped the Crew lift MLS Cup 2023 and now has them one win away from the CCC crown.

Built for derbies

This weekend sees Rossi and the Crew head into a rivalry showdown with Cincinnati, the latest high-stakes edition of the Hell is Real derby. Not long after his return to the league, Rossi helped sink the Crew’s Ohio rival, creating and then finishing off the chance that sent the 2023 Eastern Conference Final into extra time.

He gestured to the celebrating away fans at TQL Stadium, having just put himself squarely in the history of the young rivalry. Rossi has also played in the Clásico in Uruguay (Peñerol vs. Nacional), El Tráfico in Los Angeles (LAFC vs. LA Galaxy) and the Intercontinental Derby in Turkey (Fenerbahçe vs. Galatasaray).

“Every one is different, but the games are very important at each club I’ve been at,” said Rossi, a 2020 MLS Golden Boot winner and Best XI honoree.

“No matter what team I’m at, they're very special moments, not just the games themselves but the week leading up to them. I’ve been able to play rivalry matches in several countries, and they’re always great games.”

Whether it's the four goals he scored during an MLS is Back Tráfico, the playoff goal against Cincinnati or helping Fener past Galatasaray in April 2022, Rossi clearly has relished playing rivalry tilts.

Competing with idols

He looked ready for the bright lights at a young age. After a year with Peñarol’s U-17 team, where he played with future Real Madrid star Federico Valverde and Wolves defender Santiago Bueno, Rossi moved to the Carboneros’ first team full-time and tallied 13g/11 assists in 51 matches from 2016-17.

Despite playing on the Peñarol side of the Clásico Uruguayo that divides Rossi’s hometown of Montevideo, Uruguay, he grew up idolizing a product of rival Nacional, Luis Suárez. Now, he’s fighting for the same trophies as his idol, coming up against him directly when the Crew square off with Inter Miami CF.

“Honestly, when you’re little you can dream, but it’s difficult to imagine just how far you can go,” Rossi said. “As time goes by, there are moments where you end up crossing paths with the players you watched. I’ve crossed paths with a lot of top-class players, which is great.

“Suárez is one of them, and I’m happy to be able to face him and I’ve also spent time with him in the national team. I’m happy to have been able to face that class of players.”

The Crew forward is doing what he can to put himself in the same class. Last year, he added the MLS Cup to his trophy case, which already included LAFC’s first Supporters’ Shield in 2019. Now, with the CCC final vs. Pachuca looming on June 1, he’s eyeing the chance to win a continental title, book a FIFA Club World Cup spot and further Columbus' notoriety on the international soccer map.

First things first, he wants Crew fans not only to have big-picture bragging rights, but also to hold on to the claim as the top team in Ohio. Right now, he points out, he’s two for two after helping the Crew to a 3-0 win in August 2023 at Lower.com Field before December’s playoff triumph.

“The derby is very important and it’s really nice and special,” he said. “We hope this weekend we can keep this streak up.”