As players left the field and fans exited the stadium, Nick Hagglund walked slowly toward the locker room and took time to reflect. Eventually, he stood before The Bailey, applauded the supporters and received a roar in return.
In the hometown kid’s debut at Nippert Stadium, he started and helped FC Cincinnati earn their first win and first clean sheet as an MLS club.
“That was the performance I was looking for for this city,” Hagglund said. “It’s what the city deserved, and I was just really proud that we got to give it to them.”
FC Cincinnati beat the Portland Timbers 3-0 on Sunday night before a sold-out crowd of 32,250 fans. At least 200 of them were associated with Hagglund, he said half-joking.
Growing up in West Chester, the center back went to Lakota West High School before playing college soccer at Xavier. Eventually, he joined Toronto FC for five seasons. This offseason, he was traded to FC Cincinnati and became the club’s first Cincinnati native on the MLS roster.
With all the sentimentalism and emotion that comes from the city finally seeing its first-division club at home, Hagglund felt the same. After all, more than any other player on the current roster, he understands how quickly the club rose from nothing into its current self.
“If you would have told me 10 years, five years, three years ago that there would be a stadium was that loud, cheering for soccer, I would have called you crazy,” Hagglund said.
He’s not crazy. He’s just back in the new Cincinnati, and on Sunday, the rest of the country and an international audience saw it, too.
From the opening whistle, FCC produced their best performance of the young season. Defensively, the backline was stout and kept the Timbers quiet other than two strong saves from goalkeeper Spencer Richey.
Going forward, the midfield strung passes together and created opportunities. For everything that went wrong in the season opener at Seattle Sounders FC, everything went right in the home opener against the Portland Timbers.
The clean sheet and three quality goals only reiterated that.
“It’s great execution of what we have been working at and training (for),” Hagglund said. “We went from getting shellacked in Seattle, and a gritty performance in Atlanta. So, coming home and putting it all together a little bit, it puts confidence in the team going forward.”
Things will look different for FC Cincinnati moving forward.
Next week, Hagglund’s fellow center back, Kendall Waston, will be on international duty with the Costa Rica National Team. Someone else will have to join Hagglund centrally.
But even looking beyond next Sunday at New England Revolution, what follows will be different: the Orange and Blue will never have another “first” MLS home game.
Rather than always wondering what Nippert Stadium is like on matchday, Hagglund now knows and has an expectation. That his Nippert debut was at its best only made Sunday night all the more special and memorable for the Cincinnati native.
“It was electric through and through,” Hagglund said. “I mean from minute one to minute 90 it was unbelievable.”
Trying to reflect during the match is impossible for any player. But that doesn’t mean Hagglund didn’t formulate a perfect first impression.
“Before the match walking out, everyone in The Bailey — just the stands were already filled by the time we walked out for warm ups, everyone was excited,” Hagglund said. “And then after the whistle blew, just looking at the excitement on people’s faces is what Cincinnati deserves, and that’s what they want, a good performance like that.”