A vision, a stadium and a smile

By sitting in front of everyone, Jeff Berding was literally the center of attention, yet only no one was looking at him. In fact, no one was looking at anyone, really.

Instead, eyes and cameras glued to two TV monitors on opposite sides of the stage. Frankly, people were more interested in looking at the newer, shiner – and prettier – toy.

This is the situation Berding found himself in on Tuesday morning at Elevar Design Group in Queensgate. On a day meant to celebrate one of FC Cincinnati’s biggest achievements – revealing the final renderings of their future 2021 West End Stadium – everyone wanted a first glimpse at the building they’ll soon see daily in the city skyline.

For Berding, he’d already seen it, of course. He’d also seen several renditions of what the stadium could resemble. Back in June 2017 at the Woodward Theatre, the FCC President helped pull a bedsheet back on a Zoolander-size model of the initial stadium design. Then, the stadium was portrayed across the river in Newport.

Later at City Hall that November, council members voted in favor of building the stadium inside the city limits, but there was an emphasis on an Oakley location. Eventually, plans cemented on a West End site. As you read this, there’s literally a foundation being built there.

So, this was the backstory to Tuesday, to Berding sitting onstage beside FCC Majority Owner Carl H. Lindner III and Jonathan Mallie from Populous, representing the architecture firm for the stadium. And while everyone was looking at the screens waiting to see renderings, Berding had a moment to look down in an apparent daydream.

Seconds later, a nighttime image of the West End Stadium appeared with the Cincinnati skyline as the backdrop. Staring at the site, Berding couldn’t help but offer a small little smile and body language that stated, “This is actually real and happening.”

The truth is, sometimes this doesn’t feel real.

Obviously, those renderings are exactly that – renderings. But if they look anything like the eventual stadium, FC Cincinnati have not only created “The Jewel of the Queen City’s Crown,” but a true soccer cathedral as beautiful as the beautiful game itself.

“I woke up this morning with a smile,” Berding said. “This is a special moment. We’ve come a long way in a pretty short period of time and we’re just enormously excited about the stadium. It’s going to be iconic.”

It’s worth reminding that the club didn’t exist this time four years ago. Until August 12, 2015, it was still just a myth. Even then, the first game didn’t happen until the following March.

Berding can say he’s always believed in FC Cincinnati’s path to MLS and in the city’s embrace of its soccer club, but sometimes things can feel too good to be true – in a good way. Tuesday offered one of those moments.

The moments will continue as soon as Thursday night at Nippert Stadium, where the Orange and Blue host D.C. United in a primetime match on national television.

For context, when FCC were first on ESPN in June 2017 against the Chicago Fire, the game’s atmosphere was a sales pitch to show MLS why the Queen City deserved a team in their league. On Thursday, Wayne Rooney – one of the biggest names in MLS history – will presumably be playing on the field.

Oh, and Cincinnati native and World Cup champion Rose Lavelle will be there, too.

For as frequently as these milestones arrive, that doesn’t make them anymore devalued. If anything, it shows just how far soccer in this city – and this club – have come. Surely that will continue.

And once the new West End Stadium opens in March 2021, the venue will probably hold matches and memories even more special than what we’ve already witnessed. Things tend to unfold that way for FC Cincinnati.

Berding might’ve dreamed of this club’s potential and future, and in turn of building a soccer-specific stadium, but even he couldn’t have imagined things could have unfolded as beautifully as they have.

His smile during the stadium unveiling ceremony expressed he surely knows that, too.