“Cup Season” is coming to TQL Stadium, and it starts next week. Concurrently with the Major League Soccer regular season, it will bring a “beautiful game festival” to Cincinnati’s West End specifically and to the region overall.
Between Wed., April 26 and Thurs., July 27, TQL will host at least six matches, on at least five dates, in addition to FC Cincinnati’s seven MLS home games during the span. The additional matches will come in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and the Leagues Cup (both involving FCC) and in the Concacaf Gold Cup (likely featuring the U.S. Men’s National Team and certainly other national teams from across the region).
“Cup season is another opportunity to showcase FCC, the city of Cincinnati and the sport of soccer in this region,” said Jeff Smith, FCC’s Executive Vice-President of Sales. “It presents a great chance for our loyal fans to experience something a little different and for new fans to become involved. It puts Cincinnati on the national and international stage and showcases TQL as the premier soccer stadium in America.”
Here’s a closer look at the three competitions coming in part to TQL. For ticket information, fans may visit FCCincinnati.com/Tickets or call (513) 977-5425 (KICK).
U.S. OPEN CUP
Next Wednesday at 7 p.m., FCC will host Louisville City FC of the USL Championship in a third-round game of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. (MLS clubs receive byes into the third round while lower-tier sides are competing to get there.) The match is the next chapter in a historically feisty series between the Ohio River rivals that began when both were in the USL.
“The Open Cup is an event that’s dear to our hearts here,” said Smith. “We have a great history in it, and we want to feature it particularly to families with kids and others who might not normally be able to come to an MLS game, whether that be due to pricing or to areas in the stadium where seats are no longer available.
“We have tickets beginning at as little as $10, and all food and beverages will be 25 percent off the regular prices. For kiddos, for youth soccer teams, this is a date folks really ought to consider.”
Fans can buy tickets to next week’s U.S. Open Cup fixture against Louisville City FC, HERE.
The Open Cup is the oldest ongoing national soccer competition in the United States, dating to 1914, more than 80 years before the 1996 birth of MLS. It has long stood out compared to other U.S. leagues and competitions for the breadth and diversity of its format. A single-elimination knockout-style competition, it has since 2014 featured at least 80 professional and amateur clubs, and this year’s total was an even 100.
The competition will span the summer, closing with the Cup final on Sept. 27. FCC could host additional games pending advancement beyond the Louisville match. The Open Cup champions receive a berth in the 2024 Concacaf Champions League, in addition to $300,000 in prize money.
Longtime FCC fans avidly recall the national notice their USL side gained in the 2017 Open Cup, with a Round of 16 win over MLS Chicago Fire and a spirited 3-2 loss to MLS New York Red Bulls. Played in front of packed houses at Nippert Stadium, the games earned FCC an ESPN endorsement for “major league atmosphere” and helped propel the club’s rise to MLS membership in 2019. FCC had been awarded the somewhat unusual home dates against MLS opposition due to its remarkable home support at the USL level, outdrawing many MLS sides.
“For a lot of local fans, the 2017 Open Cup is their first real memory of FCC,” Smith said. “I’ve had people tell me, ‘I had never watched an entire soccer game before those two.’ Those games were key in bringing us national credibility. They were huge in the development process to where we are now.”
Next week at TQL, “Lou City” will be the USL club seeking an image-building conquest of an MLS side. In 2019, Cincinnati’s first year as an MLS member, FCC defeated Louisville 2-1 at Nippert Stadium in the Open Cup before losing at Saint Louis FC. The Open Cup was not staged in 2020 or 2021, due to the Covid pandemic, and in last year’s Cup, FCC defeated USL Pittsburgh Riverhounds 2-0 at TQL before losing at MLS New England Revolution.
CONCACAF GOLD CUP
Barring an additional date (or dates) for FCC in the Open Cup, the next “Cup Season” action at TQL will come on Sun., July 9, with a massive international doubleheader in the Concacaf Gold Cup knockout quarterfinals. Matches will be played at 5 and 7:30 p.m., and if the U.S Men’s National Team advances through the Group Stage, as top analysts very much expect, the USMNT will be among the four competing sides.
The Gold Cup is Concacaf’s premier event for national teams, occurring every two years. It determines the continental champion of North America, Central America and the Caribbean. (“Concacaf” is short for “Confederation of North and Central American and Caribbean Association Football.”) The USMNT qualified for the 16-team Group Stage this year by being one of the top eight teams in the Nations’ League, which is based on results in international competition. The July 9 winners will advance to the semifinals while the losers are eliminated.
“For the casual fan, or even for some of our season ticket members with a traditional sports background, events like the Gold Cup can be a little confusing,” Smith said. “They may wonder, ‘Why are we (the U.S.) in this? What does it mean, why is it important?’
“The answer is that this is a really cool event that presents all the fun, color and pageantry of international soccer at the highest levels, and the championship is a prized trophy internationally. It’ll be our first time doing a doubleheader, our stadium was hand-picked for it, and we’ve negotiated pretty affordable pricing (with Concacaf). USMNT games and other international games can be a steep ticket in a lot of instances, but I think our fans are going to look at what they’re getting – two really great games – and say, ‘Wow, this is a very reasonable deal.’"
FCC players might well be on the roster for USMNT’s expected appearance at TQL. Striker Brandon Vazquez, defender Matt Miazga and goalkeeper Roman Celentano were with the USMNT for their friendly this past Wednesday night vs. Mexico.
The U.S. defeated Mexico 1-nil in the 2021 Gold Cup final, avenging a 1-0 loss to El Tri in the 2019 final.
INAUGURAL LEAGUES CUP
The 2023 Leagues Cup will open a significant new chapter for North American soccer, as MLS and LIGA MX (Mexico) will pause their respective seasons so that all 47 first-division clubs in Canada, Mexico and the United States can compete in the World Cup-style tournament.
Every team will play two matches in the Group Stage, with the top two teams from each three-club group, as determined by points, advancing to the Knockout Stage Round of 32.
FCC has been placed in Central Group 3, with Sporting Kansas City and Chivas Guadalajara, and as one of the top 15-seeded MLS clubs in the competition, based on the 2022 MLS standings, FCC will host both their Group Stage matches. TQL will host games three times in the span of 13 days, as following their July 15 MLS regular-season match vs. Nashville, the Orange and Blue will face Kansas City on Sun., July 23 and Chivas on Thurs., July 27.
No matches in the Leagues Cup Group Stage will end in a tie. Each team receives one point if the game is tied after 90 minutes, and the winner of the subsequent penalty shootout will earn an additional point. Regulation wins will count as three points.
Following the Group Stage, the 30 advancing teams will be joined in the Knockout Rounds by 2022 league champions Los Angeles FC and Pachuca, which have byes through the Group Stage. The Leagues Cup Final and Third-Place game, which will determine the three qualifiers in the 2024 Concacaf Champions League, will be played on Sat., August 19.
As previously announced by Concacaf, the Leagues Cup winner will qualify directly for the 2024 Concacaf Champions League Round of 16, and the second and third place Clubs will qualify for the Champions League Round One.