A while back, TEB had a chat with FC Cincinnati ahead of a pre-season friendly match against the Eagles. During the interview, we touched on the possibility of the club becoming an Major League Soccer (MLS) club.
Well, that day finally arrived at the end of May so now we can talk about how it happened and why. We sat down with the Cincy Soccer Talk Podcast to on their exciting news.
Q. How did the MLS bid come about?
The beginning of FC Cincinnati’s journey to become a MLS franchise can be traced back to August 2015. That was the date FC Cincinnati was introduced as the newest United Soccer League (USL) club. During that announcement club president Jeff Berding mentioned that FCC would like to join MLS one day. That comment was initially laughed at, but over the course of the 2016 season FCC blew up lower division soccer attendance records and quickly earned the attention of MLS.
The league commissioner, Don Garber, visited Cincinnati in late November of that year and his visit spurred on the expansion process. Over the next 18 months, Cincinnati worked to increase the support of the club to over 17,000 season ticket holders, from plans to build an urban core stadium, and locked up key corporate sponsorships at levels rarely seen at the largest clubs in MLS. All of the factors needed including the ownership by one of the most wealthy Cincinnatians helped lock in Cincinnati’s place in MLS for 2019.
Q. The club is new, how ready do you think the club are for what is coming?
FC Cincinnati, while new, has certainly broken every record off the field over the past three seasons in lower division soccer in the United States. Attendance, sponsors, government support, and so on have all been present over the past three years. Even on the pitch FCC has performed well with a third place finish in 2016, a semi-final round appearance in the domestic cup (US Open Cup) in 2017, and being on top of the table in 2018. With the elevation to MLS there will be some issues such as an elevated ticket cost, restricted access to the club, and a higher threshold for success on the field. So far the supporters and the club have overcome any challenges and I assume that will continue.
Q. There is a big step up from USL to MLS – do you think Cincinnati has enough talent to be competitive on the field?
The David Beckham/Designated Player rule got a lot of focus with teams bringing in big name players such as Bastian Schweinsteiger, Carlos Vela, or Sebastian Giovinco. Those players matter when comparing the two leagues, but when you begin to look at players 7-12 on your rosters, they may not have such a huge difference from players 1-5 on a quality USL roster. Due to limitations placed on older or later developing players, there are many quality players on some of the elite USL teams. Some of these players were pushed out of the league in favor of a cheaper, younger player due to salary cap restrictions, yet you see them compete toe-to-toe in the US Open Cup. I would be lying if I said we would bring up half our roster, but the ones we do bring up, mixed with some Designated Players or TAM/GAM players, there is a chance FCC could compete in year one.
Q. What type of fan culture does the city have?
FC Cincinnati supporters are traditionally a welcoming and inclusive group. The organised supporters groups do charity work throughout the city and support varying causes such as this month’s prideraiser. These groups are also known for cheering for 90+ minutes in “The Bailey”, the organised supporters section in the North end of Nippert Stadium. The German heritage of the city is prevalent with groups known as Die Innenstadt, the Pride Norden, and Die Nordlowen along with large groups, the Pride and the Bailey Bastards bringing the intensity. FCC differs from the traditional American tailgates prior to games, instead preferring to partner with local pubs for pre and post-match activities. Approximately one hour before matches the various groups with fans numbering in the thousands, meet on Vine Street and march roughly a mile into the stadium. It is a special atmosphere.
Q. Would you be able to attract Designated Players to Cincy?
A designated player has been one of the hot topics in Cincinnati over recent weeks. Expansion clubs Atlanta United, New York City FC, Orlando City, and Los Angeles FC went all in trying to recruit quality designated players to compete while Minnesota United signed their first one partly into their first season. From what members of the front office have said, they will be recruiting at least one elite level designated player to the club in year one. The turf and lack of a fully functional training venue may deter some high level Europeans from being interested originally but the club will release plans for the training grounds in a couple of months. The club was aggressive in signing former Arsenal man Justin Hoyte last season, former Israeli international defender Dekel Keinan (Cardiff City/Crystal Palace) and Argentine Emmanuel Ledesma (Middlesbrough/Queens Park Rangers) this season, so I think there will be enough interest from high level players in 2019.
Q. How does the media cover the club?
By now, you probably believe I am living in a dream scenario in Cincinnati. Honestly, the media coverage in Cincinnati is another shocking part of our story. We originally created Cincinnati Soccer Talk because there was very little coverage of the team. However, things changed when we hosted Palace. The 35,000 fans that packed that match sent a message to our area that the club is for real and should be treated like the other major sporting teams in the area. There is not a day where the radio, print media, and television are not covering the club. It has been so crazy, that the local weather people have tried to come up with clever ways of predicting the climate around the matches. The city is truly mad about soccer. When you see how New York, Chicago or other big markets treat their local professional club, then you see how our local media swoon over the club, you realise how special it really is.
Q. What is the stadium plan for the future?
FC Cincinnati will build a 21,000+ seat stadium in the West End Community in time for the 2021 season. The West End ajoins one of the fastest growing urban areas in the country, Over the Rhine. Fans will be able to walk from their homes, bars, or walk two blocks from the area’s streetcar line. The state-of-the-art stadium will be expandable to over 30,000 seats in time. Most ask me why only 21,000 seats. I believe that number will be about 25,000 when it is all said and done. Deposits for MLS season tickets begin in July and the club will use those details to plan for the future. The privately funded stadium will sit walking distance from thousands of Cincinnati residents and in my opinion will be a model stadium for the league.
Q. You potentially have a derby in Columbus, if the club stays where it is, but what do you guys have to say on the Save the Crew Movement?
Many of us in Cincinnati grew up watching Crew SC matches on television. While they may not have been our main team, we respect their fans and support what they are doing. Many members of CST went up to Columbus this weekend to support Crew SC fans at their match against New York Red Bull. We do not want anyone to lose their club and keeping our Hell is Real derby partner would be a bonus. Columbus and Cincinnati have only played once, a domestic cup match in 2017 that over 30,000 people attended. Over 1,000 Crew SC fans travelled down to Cincinnati for that game and made the atmosphere something to behold. I think a Crew SC-FCC derby would be one of the best things to happen to MLS in some time and hope it could be a reason Crew stays in Columbus.
Q. What clubs or fan bases are you looking forward to seeing next year, and likewise, what clubs are you guys going to miss next year?
Many fans of FC Cincinnati are very excited to see Chicago and hopefully Columbus come back to Cincinnati. Those clubs could form the foundation for regional rivalries that only strengthen the game. For me, I would really love to see Seattle Sounders or DC United. Those are two huge clubs in American soccer and I think having them in Cincinnati would really make me feel like we made it.
We of course will miss out on having our current rival Louisville City FC coming to Nippert. This is a club who has won trophies at the expense of FCC, but have done so at a huge financial disadvantage. Louisville is going to open one of the best D2 soccer venues in the country in 2020, and I would have liked to have seen the squad they put together when that happens. Their coach, James O’Connor (Stoke City/Burnley/Sheffield Wednesday) is the best non-MLS coach in the US and has worked miracles in Louisville. His name has been linked with some bigger clubs and it wouldn’t shock me if he is leading an MLS side in 2019.
Q. Since this is going to go live, give us a little bio on the podcast, the contributors, where we can find you guys, etc?
Cincinnati Soccer Talk is a fan-run, fan-supported website and online show. We produce two shows each week with our weekly live show on Monday nights and our match preview shows on Wednesdays. Our staff writes stories and cover the team in their free time to get more Cincinnatian’s interested in the club.