Cincinnati wasn’t supposed to be the setting for one of the darker moments for the U.S. Men’s National Team since they failed to qualify for the last World Cup, but somehow that happened Sunday afternoon at Nippert Stadium.
The U.S. suffered a 3-0 defeat to Venezuela a week before the club’s first major international tournament since their historic World Cup gaff.
That’s not exactly promising, is it?
But that’s not a problem for which Cincinnatians need to find a solution.
After all, while Sunday’s match was supposed to be about the national team, it was also an opportunity to showcase the city’s rabid passion for soccer. In that regard, it was a massive, massive success.
“Everything about the stadium was great,” USMNT Head Coach Gregg Berhalter said. “I love the intimidating environment. I love that the fans are right on top of the field … (It was) everything we imagined it’d be.”
Hosting the Men’s National Team for the first time, the atmosphere was a continuation from when the current world-champion U.S. Women’s National Team visited in 2017. If that match was an opportunity for Cincinnati to show its passion for the sport, Sunday’s match was simply another reminder.
The crowd of 23,955 fans was the largest the USMNT have played for so far in 2019. (That’ll change next once the Gold Cup begins, but those matches are part of a tournament.)
For Cincinnati, it was the atmosphere we’ve come to expect. For the national team, it was a warm welcome that left a great impression for everything that happened in the stands and off the field.
“I thought it was great,” goalkeeper Zack Steffen said. “I thought the fans were great. They were loud. At times it was hard for me to talk to my backline. When it’s like that, you know it’s like a great crowd.”
Maybe because we’ve come to expect large, rabid crowds, statements like Steffen’s have become the norm. But what made Sunday so special – and essentially the reason why Nippert has hosted both the men’s and women’s national teams – was the reality of how quickly the sport’s following has grown here
As recently as four years ago, Cincinnati didn’t have professional soccer. Now, we have an MLS club and just hosted the U.S. Men’s National Team for the first time. For everything that’s become the new normal, it’s also a reminder that it’s not basically everywhere else.
What Sunday proved is the friendly was only the introduction between the USMNT and the Queen City. There’s no doubt they’ll return in 2021 when FCC’s new stadium in the West End opens. Perhaps they’ll even host Concacaf Gold Cup matches.
At this point, it’s a genuine possibility that Cincinnati could potentially host World Cup matches when the 2026 FIFA World Cup comes to North America. Think about that for a second ...
Yes, the American loss to Venezuela is worrying. At this point, the only hope is that Berhalter and his players can regroup and reclaim the Gold Cup for a second-straight time. We’ll have to wait.
But during that wait – and for whatever comes next – we’ll know we had our afternoon entertaining the national team.
The best moment of Sunday wasn’t the match, however.
In fact, by the time the game kicked off, the moment already belonged in recent memory.
During the national anthems, renditions of the U.S. and Venezuelan songs played just like any other time. But then something happened during the American one.
Midway through the “Star-Spangled Banner,” the music stopped and something occurred more beautifully than anyone could have imagined.
The singing got louder and louder. Soon, the anthem roared throughout Nippert Stadium and bounced around the horseshoe. It was a moment of enormous pride and passion.
For winger Tyler Boyd, who made his American debut after playing previously for New Zealand, he called it “A very emotional experience” and “A dream come true.”
“It gave me goosebumps,” Boyd said.
Cincinnati fans tend to do that to you, Mr. Boyd.
Sunday afternoon was just another reminder – and a first of many for the USMNT.