Opinion: USMNT Visit Reiterates Cincinnati’s Soccer Renaissance

The United States Men’s National Team is coming to Cincinnati.

If that reads like a surprise, it shouldn’t.

After all, since FC Cincinnati started playing in 2016, the club’s popularity and success has ballooned from the second division to Major League Soccer. Milestone after milestone keep happening along the way. 

With that in mind, it’s only fitting the USMNT visit for the first time.

But it’s still a surprise.

This club moves too fast to slow down and reflect, but Thursday morning’s announcement is a chance to do so.

Four years ago, professional soccer in this city was on life support.

Disregarding college programs, the biggest club was in the fourth tier and played at a high school stadium. The effort to build something big was there – it’s just the success wasn’t.

Fast forward to now. Cincinnati has an MLS team with the league’s third-highest average attendance per game (28,047).

When the Men’s National Team hosts Venezuela in a friendly here on June 9, it’ll mark the second time a U.S. national team has played at Nippert inside two years. The reigning FIFA World Cup champion-U.S. Women’s National Team beat New Zealand 5-0 on Sept. 19, 2017. 

Think about that: an MLS team is thriving here. The national teams want to play in Cincinnati. As if we needed another reminder how rapidly this city’s soccer renaissance is growing, along came this announcement.

Yet, technically the match is a friendly. 

The U.S. will be preparing for the Concacaf Gold Cup, which begins a week later. Then, the Americans will vie to continue its reign as the continent’s best national team. For Venezuela, it’s a tune-up before Copa America – South America’s international tournament.

During the match, we might see different lineups and formation tinkering. After all, USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter will be a week away from the team’s first major international tournament since the calamitous failure to quality for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. 

For anyone who attends the match at Nippert Stadium, they’ll see a new-look national team. For anyone watching across the country or world, they’ll see Cincinnati’s new-found passion and appreciation for world’s beautiful game.

That’s why June 9 matters: it’s an honor.

Of course, in the lead-up to the match, the media will compare Cincinnati to Columbus, which has been considered USMNT HQ with the country’s success beating Mexico at MAPFRE Stadium.

Could Cincinnati be the new place to play El Tri? Or other key matches or friendlies? 

Maybe those are questions worth asking and answers worth pursuing.

But in truth, what that Sunday afternoon at Nippert Stadium represents is the moment when everything comes full circle for the city’s older soccer fans.

Those who remember driving to Columbus to watch the Crew in MLS or the USMNT will never forget the moment they can watch their country’s best XI so close to home.

We don’t need to travel elsewhere to find the best soccer anymore. Now, it comes to us.

What’s more, as one of the 23 host city finalists for the 2026 FIFA World Cup, Cincinnati could very well be featured on the international soccer stage. 

That could mean World Cup matches will be played at Paul Brown Stadium, or the city could serve as a training site where national teams will be headquartered in the Queen City and train at FC Cincinnati’s Mercy Health Training Center or at West End Stadium.

While that’s still a future dream, it’s a reminder of what we’ve achieved.

These successful milestones aren’t just from FC Cincinnati’s ambition or Jeff Berding, the club’s President and General Manager, campaigning for the FIFA World Cup to come to our community. The milestones come from everyone: for those who’ve followed FCC from the start, or are just starting to now. We’re all playing a part.

Roughly five years before USA vs. Venezuela, I was lucky enough to see the USMNT play in the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. I remember the pride and excitement of being in Arena das Dunas when John Brooks’ header sealed a 2-1 win against Ghana. 

Now, Brooks is being advertised as key player to watch when the USMNT play in Cincinnati. That hasn’t set in yet.

But when it finally does, I can promise you the pride I have in watching our city’s passion will be as much as it was seeing our country on the biggest stage. That’s a feeling many local soccer fans will cherish and savor.

The USMNT at Nippert Stadium is something we’ll never forget – and maybe the start of things never being the same again.

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