The final game at Nippert Stadium was always going to be a sad farewell, but it wasn’t supposed to be this gloomy.
After five seasons of “Nippert Magic,” when we witnessed historic results, spectacular goals and a fanbase grow from an idea into the country’s prime example of a soccer renaissance, FC Cincinnati will play their final match in their first home on Wednesday night.
Who they face – Sporting Kansas City – doesn’t matter much to anyone outside the players or coaching staff. Instead, the focus is on saying goodbye to the venue that became a cauldron of noise and one of America’s must-see soccer experiences.
But it wasn’t just about the fans and the large crowds. Much of the magic was about what we witnessed.
The magic started with Sean Okoli scoring a scissor-kick goal minutes into the first-ever home match. In 2017, the magic manifested itself in the dramatic Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup run – complete with Djiby tears, Mitch saying no and, for a brief moment, the belief that FCC were minutes away from the Open Cup final.
Don’t forget the 2018 campaign, when Cincinnati dominated the USL and produced a record-setting season for points earned.
These were just some of the moments that preluded “the moment” we all dreamed of: FC Cincinnati’s first MLS match at Nippert Stadium.
The captain scored first with a thumping header. The eventual 2019 team MVP had a back-heeled goal in front of The Bailey. FCC recorded their first MLS clean sheet.
Moments like these were supposed to be built upon in 2020, when the Orange and Blue would be more comfortable in a new league with a much stronger roster.
Sadly, that hasn’t been case.
Instead, 2020 has been a season of hope turning into “what could have been.” What if FCC played a home opener instead of the season being suspended two days before the first scheduled match at Nippert Stadium? What if the team took the momentum from the MLS is Back Tournament and stormed into the in-market return?
We’ll never know – and those hypotheticals can be discussed at a different time.
Wednesday night is about one more chance at a little Nippert magic. We’ve learned to expect the unexpected, so let’s all ask for a little more.
Whatever happens Wednesday night, we can all appreciate what’s occurred inside Nippert Stadium. The club that was once a dream, became our club and gave us moments we’ll never forget.
There won’t be any chants inside the stadium against SKC, but the tifos will hang from The Bailey as respectable placeholders.
If there’s a silver lining, it’s that the next time we watch this team together, they’ll be in their rightful home – a place built because of your fandom.
And let’s be clear: FCC are ready for their new home. They’re ready to play at West End Stadium and to finish this stage of the “project building” that’s been non-stop for years.
Instead of building a practice facility, starting an academy or pouring concrete at the team’s future home, the “2021” that was always this club’s future will soon be the present. And with that, there’s an increased urgency to win, compete and push for postseason success in a city deprived of professional sports championships.
After Wednesday night, and five years of history, FC Cincinnati will leave Nippert Stadium for good. But what will remain there – and in all of our hearts, minds and memories – are the nights when we witnessed history being made, dreams being realized and living proof that Cincinnati proudly possesses an MLS team.
We did it.