It is no secret that Cincinnati sports fans have had a rough go of it for nearly three decades now. As a diehard Reds fan, I have never seen a Reds team win a postseason series. In 2010, the Redlegs were no-hit and swept in three games by Philadelphia. In 2012, Cincinnati lost a 2-0 lead in a best of five series against the eventual World Series champions. The next year, Pittsburgh knocked Baker’s team out of the Wild Card game. Cincinnati is now on their way to finishing last in the division for the fourth straight year.
While the Cleveland Browns going 1-31 over the last two years is less than ideal, our Bengals counterparts have not been able to enjoy a playoff victory since the Reds won the World Series in 1990. In a recent study by The 10 and 3, Cincinnati was named the “most miserable” sports city in the United States.
Hell is Real
I was aware that a professional soccer club began in Cincinnati in 2016, though I did not keep up with it. My brother considered himself a Columbus Crew fan at the time, so we made the decision to go down to Hell is Real in the 2017 Open Cup. It was my first time attending a professional soccer game, and I loved it. Everything about the atmosphere was just different than any other sporting event. As a student at Ohio State, it’s hard to beat out 108,000 people screaming their heads off for three and a half hours. But never had I seen quite the spectacle that was The Bailey. The chanting, singing, flags, banners and smoke were an entirely new experience for me as an American sports fan. It was incredible.
In the 64th minute, Djiby Fall headed the ball into the back right corner to give FC Cincinnati the 1-0 lead over Columbus. Even the most casual soccer fan knew that this was a sort of David and Goliath in the making. Nobody expected a USL team from just down I-71 to upset the Major League team in the state capital. Hearing over 30,000 people erupt for a “European sport” made it clear that this could be something great for the city of Cincinnati.
Putting out the Fire
Two weeks later, Cincinnati faced off against another MLS squad in the Open Cup. This time, it was the Chicago Fire. After the fun I had at the previous Open Cup match, I decided to pick up tickets to The Bailey for the big game. The match was to be televised nationally on ESPN.
A late Andrew Wiedeman goal sent The Bailey into frenzy. That is, until it was called back due to an (incorrect) offside decision. The match came down to penalty kicks after 120 minutes of yelling, screaming and chanting. Mitch Hildebrandt and the crowd of 32,287 provided one of the loudest, most exciting sport moments of my life.
Soccer capital of America
FC Cincinnati stunned the Chicago Fire, and it was the biggest event to celebrate for Cincinnati sports fans in almost three decades. On top of that, it provided national exposure for the city’s up-and-coming club on the Ohio River. The United States Soccer Federation called Cincinnati the “capital of American soccer“.
Are they right? The argument can certainly be made. The city, rooted in German and Irish heritage, is a powder keg for soccer. All that was needed was committed ownership and publicity. The fans took it from there. Three years ago, not many could picture Cincinnati soccer as it is today: Upwards of 30,000 fans filing into Nippert Stadium in the middle of summer. Supporter groups marching from local pubs into The Bailey. A rivalry with one of Major League Soccer’s original members from two hours to the north. Critics have said for years that soccer just could not work in America. Cincinnati is proving that wrong on a daily basis.
Welcome to the big leagues, Cincinnati
After the orange and blue’s Open Cup and USL runs came to a close, then began the arduous preparations for the club’s MLS bid. Nashville received their invitation in December while Cincinnati fans stood by in anxious anticipation for six months.
On Tuesday, May 29, Major League Soccer is set to extend an invitation to FC Cincinnati. MLS Commissioner Don Garber, FC Cincinnati President Jeff Berding, owner Carl Lindner and Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley will all be present for a “special announcement” at Rhinegeist Brewery at 5:30 p.m. A celebration for fans will also be held at Fountain Square.
The invitation is a cause for celebration in the Queen City. Three years after an experiment began in Nippert Stadium, FC Cincinnati is heading to the Major Leagues. And for those Cincinnatians who dislike FC Cincinnati or the sport of soccer — embrace the excitement. Soon enough, the addition of FCC to the MLS could mean this great city is competing for three major sports titles each year. We are in for a fun ride.
Oh, and before the Knifey Lions make their jump to the MLS in 2019, there is some unfinished business to deal with this summer. FCC is fighting for first place in the USL, and MLS squad Minnesota United visits on June 6 for the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. No one likes us, but that’s okay. Soccer in Cincinnati is a real movement — it’s exciting, and it’s here to stay.