Through hard-fought battles and a season’s worth of work, FC Cincinnati has earned the right to claim home-field advantage for the entirety of the MLS Cup Playoffs. As Supporters’ Shield champions, FCC will play just one road game this postseason – the guaranteed second match of Round One, a Best-of-3 series – with the rest being held in the friendly confines of TQL Stadium no matter the opponent or the playoff round.
TQL Stadium has been a fortress for The Orange and Blue, with a league-best 13-2-2 (41 points) record. The atmosphere at FCC’s home grounds has made it one of the more difficult places to play this season. With 15 of 17 matches being sellouts, the supporters have created a hellish environment for visitors, so much so that visiting managers and stars have made note of the challenge that The Orange and Blue face when protected by The Bailey and TQL Stadium.
Throughout the season, MLS head coaches have highlighted FCC’s home environment as a cause for concern when visiting the Queen City.
“We know they’re going to be really dangerous. We know they have a really good atmosphere and crowd there, which is part of their current success,” NYCFC head coach Nick Cushing said ahead of The Pigeons’ August 26 visit to TQL Stadium. “If we can win in Cincinnati, it will give us such a platform (for the future).”
“For a team like Cincinnati, in that atmosphere, things go their way and they take advantage of it,” Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith noted before their July 15 visit.
“We knew this was going to be a tough test,” Seattle Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said after the third game of the season back in March. “There were some challenging moments away from home, we didn’t pass that test.”
“At home they are strong,” said Orlando City SC gaffer Óscar Pareja. “That’s our biggest challenge, beating them at home is our biggest challenge.”
TQL Stadium not only serves as a hellish environment for visiting clubs, but also as a supportive den for home players to lean on.
“Our fans have been incredible for our group,” FCC head coach Pat Noonan said in the immediate aftermath of winning the Supporters’ Shield in Toronto a month ago. “I’ve seen our fan base grow. I’ve seen them back this team in a way that others had prior and it’s really special to see them rewarded in a way like this where they can celebrate (Supporters’ Shield) with their club.”
“I feel like the atmosphere is always great at TQL Stadium no matter who is here or not. It’s always electric,” defender Nick Hagglund added.
FC Cincinnati will learn their first postseason opponent of 2023 on Wednesday night based on the result of the Eastern Conference Wild Card Round. The New York Red Bulls host Charlotte FC in a one-game showdown for the right to visit TQL Stadium in Round One. Both managers have had positive, reverent things to say about The Orange and Blue’s home grounds.
“Their form at home is really impressive,” New York Red Bulls head coach Troy Lesesne. “We can’t afford to make mistakes against an opponent like this. … It’s no surprise that they’ve won the Supporters’ Shield.”
“(FC Cincinnati is) very dangerous,” Charlotte FC boss Christian Lattanzio said ahead of their September 23 visit. “They have a solid structure, a solid foundation, and a very good team, which we know.”
In addition to the glowing reviews that The Orange and Blue’s home grounds have earned, the play on the field has backed it up, making for the perfect combination of quality and atmosphere for a championship side.
FC Cincinnati have conceded the third-fewest home goals in MLS play this season (13), own the best home win percentage (.824), and earned the most outright home wins across all competitions among MLS clubs in 2023 (17).
The MLS Cup runs through TQL Stadium. And if you believe the numbers and, most importantly, the other MLS head coaches, that’s no easy feat.