“If anyone could write it, this is what the story would be,” midfielder Corben Bone said.
When FC Cincinnati left the USL for MLS, they left behind their then-biggest rival: Louisville City FC. Because they’re in different leagues, the only way they could meet again in a competitive match was via the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
So, is it a surprise FCC’s first match as an MLS club in the cup is against Louisville?
“Not really,” Bone said.
Cincinnati and Louisville will meet Wednesday night at Nippert Stadium in the fourth round of the Open Cup. It’s their 11th meeting since 2016 and second in the tournament. But just because the clubs are in different leagues doesn’t mean Cincinnati is taking it any less seriously.
“It’s huge,” center back Forrest Lasso said of the derby. “Coming from a previous club (Charleston Battery), where Louisville knocked us out of the playoffs my first two years, coming here, I hated them.
“Once I got to Cincinnati, you could immediately tell the rivalry it had regionally: the rivalry it had with the fans between the cities and especially with the players.”
From 2016 through 2018, the Orange and Blue were the biggest club in the USL. Their attendance numbers dwarfed other clubs, and they ended their time in the league with a regular-season title and a 23-game unbeaten streak. It was Louisville, however, who won the USL Cup in 2017 and 2018.
But this rivalry is bigger than trophies.
Five players have swapped clubs in the last four years. Ben Lundt, a rookie goalkeeper FCC selected in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft, is currently on loan with Louisville.
As for the matches themselves, the rivalry is split between the clubs. Both have four wins and have drawn twice. A win for either side tips the balance for at least another year – if they even meet in 2020.
And that’s what makes Wednesday special. Yes, it’s a chance for the clubs to meet once more in a matchup that’s routinely produced high-quality entertainment. But with FCC in MLS, they’re guaranteed U.S. Open Cup byes until the fourth round. Louisville have already won two games in the competition just to arrive at Nippert on Wednesday night.
There’s no guarantee they’ll play again anytime soon.
“It’s exciting for us,” Bone said. “For guys who haven’t experienced it, it’s going to be a fun game to play in. This was always going to be the case and I wouldn’t have it any other way, to be honest.”