FC Cincinnati began at a high-top table and with five wooden chairs inside Jeff Berding’s kitchen. Future dreams and goals were written on a legal pad.
Sunday night, the club played its MLS home opener before a sold-out crowd. Only four years separated the start to now.
Everything the Orange and Blue – and most importantly, the fans – have achieved is simply remarkable. That the club continues to outdo itself reiterates how far soccer has come in this city.
But Sunday night was at its peak.
For years, dreams were about MLS nights at Nippert Stadium. One finally happened – and was better than anyone could’ve hoped for.
The stadium has never been louder for a soccer match. From the opening whistle to the last, chants echoed in the lower bowl, backed by rhythmic drum beats. The air smelled like sulfur from goal celebrations and the players reminded everyone why they originally fell in love with the club: a sense of pride, happiness and belonging.
FC Cincinnati belong in MLS.
The crowd deserves praise. Supporters don’t need to hear outside compliments from European clubs and coaches to know what they have is special. They already know. Instead, what happens going forward is for the rest of MLS, the country and the international soccer audience to see, too.
Before kickoff, fans poured through Clifton streets singing while holding banners and scarves. Eventually, Commissioner Don Garber joined the Supporters’ March and praised the atmosphere.
“If it wasn’t for the stadium, for The Bailey, FC Cincinnati wouldn’t have been in Major League Soccer,” Garber said.
It’s a safe bet that MLS is just as happy FCC is in the league as the club is excited for its new home.
Once the match started, the party continued and reached a fever pitch in the 15th minute when Leo Bertone’s free kick dropped into the path of a sprinting Kendall Waston. The captain and center back thumped the ball in with a back-post header for the first goal at Nippert in MLS history.
It was a storybook start that kept getting better.
In the second half, Allan Cruz scored with a cheeky backheel in front of The Bailey. Two minutes later, Cincinnati scored again when Mathieu Deplagne first-timed a Darren Mattocks cross.
3-0. The rout began and the romp raged on.
For an FC Cincinnati side that was pummeled 4-1 in the season opener at Seattle Sounders FC, the club’s response was battering the Portland Timbers in the home opener.
“That was the performance I was looking for for this city,” said Cincinnati-native and center back Nick Hagglund. “It’s what the city deserved, and I was just really proud that we got to give it to them.”
There’s no downplaying what happened Sunday night. Off the field was a party, of course. But it carried over onto the pitch.
The Orange and Blue toyed with the reigning MLS Western Conference champions. The passing was fluid and attacking chances flowed. It was gleeful.
“I’m glad we could reward the city and our fans in a game that was very, very special to this community with a great performance and, honestly, a huge three points,” FCC Head Coach Alan Koch said. “Our fans are the reasons why we are where we are today. I’m glad we could give them that sort of performance.”
What made Sunday more special, though, was its significance.
The new dream is for every home match to replicate that sound and fury moving forward. Maybe that seems unrealistic. But then again, so is building an MLS team from scratch in four years.
The home opener was celebratory because FC Cincinnati had finally arrived at the place where they always wanted to go.
And once they got there, something marvelous and unexpected happened: it was even better than we always dreamed it would be.