I have lived in Cincinnati for the past two years and I’ll tell you what, it’s sneakily a very passionate and sports crazed city. When it’s the Crosstown Shootout (a college basketball rivalry between University of Cincinnati and Xavier), the city shuts down. When it’s gameday for the Bengals, all of the Skyline Chilis are filled and the riverfront bars are packed with a gameday concert going on outside. And of course the Reds which makes Opening Day look like a holiday with a parade, a concert, and having a big ol’ party right outside the stadium. People love their sports here. But there is something else here that is big and it’s taking the whole city by storm. What that might be is a second division soccer team called FC Cincinnati.
What people don’t know about this city is that soccer has always been huge here. There had been a few professional teams that have tried here, but it never amounted to anything. Then comes in a former Bengals front office executive and former City Council member, Jeff Berding, to be president of a new soccer club with a mission to not only make a successful soccer team here in the city, but to also bring Major League Soccer here. What has happened here the first two seasons has been remarkable. The crowds have been absolutely nuts as I have been to two games and each time I enjoyed it because of the atmosphere. Some players who are in the MLS and once played in Europe like Bastian Schweinsteiger said some some of the crowd experiences were comparable to games in Europe. That’s attractive for any MLS team and for MLS. In fact, some of the crowd numbers the team has is better than even some in England and they out draw more than all, but six clubs in the MLS.
The quality of play has been no slouch either as the team continually manages to find solid players. The fact they have found players like Sean Okoli, Austin Berry (who has since retired), and Djiby Fall, it also attracts fans because of how well you’re playing. They have made it to the playoffs two years in a row which brings in even more fans.
Don Garber, the MLS commissioner, saw first hand how crazed the city was with the team and the sport when FC Cincinnati made a magical run in Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup beating the likes of MLS teams Chicago Fire and Columbus Crew. He saw how much soccer was loved here in the city. It should be a slam dunk of a decision to put an MLS team here.
Also, since MLS is trying to help grow the sport here in the country, Cincinnati is a perfect melting pot of what soccer could be like in our culture here in the United States. Soccer will never be bigger than baseball, basketball, football or even hockey, but it could become engrained in the culture. Just go to one game this upcoming season at Nippert Stadium and you will see what I mean. Just look how rowdy the fans get in their section called The Bailey which is where the most passionate fans sit each game.
One of the prerogatives for getting a team in the MLS is building a new stadium. The dilemma for the franchise is where will they put a team in the city. There are two spots in the city that are being looked at and it’s the West End neighborhood and Oakley neighborhood. If they were to pick a spot in the city, it should be Oakley, but the problem would be costs. There is one other spot which is not technically in the city, but basically is, and in my opinion would be the best for the franchise. That place would be Newport, Kentucky. A small town in Northern Kentucky that is on the other side of the bridge from Cincinnati (it literally is as I can see into Newport from my apartment). That area has an area called Newport on the Levee which has restaurants, movie theater, bars, and an aquarium. But fans can also hang out on the riverfront on the Cincinnati side of the bridge where there are plenty of restaurants and bars for them and then lead a march across the bridge to the stadium for the games. I honestly think that would be really cool and makes the most sense. Some people don’t like the fact that it’s not technically in the city limits (or Ohio for that matter) and they want it to feel more authentic. I think that’s just a ridiculous thing to get upset over, but I get their gripe. However, in my opinion, this is the best option. And with FC Cincinnati saying it will privately finance their building of a stadium, Newport should jump all over it.
Now I have heard from two different people (one randomly from sitting next to them on a plane who claimed that they knew about this while going to the city on business) that Cincinnati will get the next spot in the MLS, though it is not 100 percent set in stone so it could easily go to either Sacramento or Detroit, which were the other finalists. It seems Garber has seen what I’ve seen and that’s great. If Cincinnati was to get the next franchise, don’t be surprised. The fact that I’ve heard the same story from two different people, who don’t even know one another, leads me to believe that it is true. And hopefully it is as this city deserves another professional sports team here.
*Here’s a video that will give you an idea of what the FC Cincinnati craze is like.