While it’s possible to say Cincinnati has been waiting for Major League Soccer forever, that wouldn’t be entirely true.
Don’t take that as an indictment of the city or its many soccer fans. Rather, FC Cincinnati’s rapid ascent from an idea to an American soccer phenomenon only adds to the movement’s lore.
That’s not to say that some in the city haven’t wished for MLS to come to town for decades. There definitely were some – *raises hand.* But after routinely seeing FCC crowds of 25,000-plus, it’s easy to forget that Cincinnati was a backwater in professional soccer just five years ago.
Previous efforts to make the pro game stick in the Queen City seemed forever cursed. No less than eight teams had come and gone prior to FC Cincinnati’s 2015 unveiling. It seemed the city’s soccer fans would forever be relegated to supporting foreign and domestic clubs from afar or turning out in small packs for semi-professional matches.
Today though, things couldn’t be more different.
Long considered a baseball town, FC Cincinnati flags are just as likely to be draped from a downtown balcony as the Cincinnati Reds variety. It doesn’t require a walk through all seven of Cincinnati’s hills to see that FCC gear is now just as pervasive as that of the NFL’s Bengals, Xavier University or the University of Cincinnati, too. Players and coaches regularly feature on local television and radio. FC Cincinnati stepped onto the local sports scene like it had been here forever.
So why the quick buy-in? Timing is sometimes everything.
Long laden with underperforming professional sports teams, Cincinnati sports fans needed something new to get behind – a new hope on which to rest the city’s sporting dreams. Fresh-faced and shiny new FC Cincinnati was launched directly into that void. And completely detached from the Queen City’s established sports traditions, that gave the fledgling team’s supporters opportunity to create their own.
“I’d like to think we’ve played a pretty significant part in helping this club on their way to MLS,” offers Chris White, president of FC Cincinnati supporters group The Pride. “Honestly, it still kind of catches me off guard when I hear people talk about how incredible our supporters are.”
FCC supporters have brought plenty of color – and numbers – to historic Nippert Stadium.
Along with fellow supporters groups like Die Innenstadt, The Briogaid, and others, the supporters created something the city had never before seen.
With matchdays situated in the middle of the University of Cincinnati’s densely packed campus, supporters march from surrounding bars and fuse into one larger group along the way to Nippert Stadium. Once inside, the historic stadium’s steep concrete stands amplify the supporters’ rallying cries and chants. And for the next 90 minutes, they fill the stadium with sound.
In truth, the experience they’ve created has become as much of a draw as the action on the field.
When crowds in excess of 30,000 pack into Nippert’s tight confines to join in the festivities, the results can be truly impressive. Standing pitchside prior to FC Cincinnati’s 2017 U.S. Open Cup semifinal against the New York Red Bulls, former US Soccer president Sunil Gulati was impressed: “This is like Europe,” he said.
On Sunday when FC Cincinnati welcome the Portland Timbers to town for the club’s inaugural MLS home match (5 pm ET | FS1 in US; MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada), the club’s supporters will once again have the eyes of the soccer world upon them.
Will they be able to inspire the Orange and Blue to victory? They’ll certainly try, but there’s no doubt they’ll make the Queen City look good while doing it.
D.J. Switzer is a Cincinnati native, freelance journalist, and founder of American soccer website and podcast Wrong Side of the Pond. His work has been featured in The Cincinnati Enquirer, by The American Outlaws, and he currently covers FC Cincinnati for Pro Soccer USA.