FC Cincinnati announcement

OPINION: A look back on that first day

By the time I sat behind a camera at FC Cincinnati’s initial press conference on Aug. 12, 2015, I had already heard plenty of hype and speculation about this new soccer club that was supposed to make everything different.

I wasn’t convinced.

Back then, I was 20 and had just finished an internship with the Cincinnati Saints in the National Premier Soccer League. The Saints were a fourth-tier team where employees worked hard and matches had a good environment, but attendance numbers were low. Like, maybe 250 people at most and 50 at worst.

The Cincinnati Dutch Lions, another fourth-tier outfit, were another team that literally shared the same street a mile away. There were two nationally prominent men’s college soccer teams – Xavier and University of Cincinnati – in the area, too.

Back then, I was a freelancer, and I called around teams and coaches for a story and they basically said, “Yeah, we know FCC are coming, but if fans aren’t coming out in droves now, why will they once we add another team?"

All of this is cringeworthy revisiting, but it shows just how far – and how lucky – soccer has come in this city.

Something just felt different during the FC Cincinnati club announcement.

For me, seeing Mayor John Cranley sitting there offered instant validity that, oh, this might be something big.

And having John Harkes, a former USMNT and Crew midfielder, as the first head coach? Wow, this is real.

Driving back home with my neighbor, Tom Gelerhter, I saw a billboard on I-71 and thought, “OK, I’m sold.”

These might sound like minor details, but for someone who grew up driving to Columbus for Major League Soccer, having a legitimate team miles from my home felt surreal.

We know what happened next.

During the 2016 preseason, FC Cincinnati beat New York City FC, an MLS team, and won a trophy. That was legit. Getting more than 14,000 fans at the first home game – so many people the Orange and Blue were running out of merchandise – was also legit.

By the time the 2016 season ended, Cincinnati had the USL MVP and the Goalkeeper of the Year. In November, MLS Commissioner Don Garber visited and said FCC were a potential option for an expansion club.

Aaron Doster | USA Today

A year later, after Cincinnati’s improbable Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup run, the city was – in my opinion – the favorite for an MLS franchise. A few months after that, the expansion bid was secured, the Orange and Blue won the USL Supporters’ Shield and shattered almost every record the USL had on record.

Then 2019 arrived, Leo Bertone scored that goal in Seattle and FCC thumped Portland in Nippert Stadium’s MLS debut.

Today is FC Cincinnati’s fourth birthday, and there are nine matches left in the inaugural first-division season. By the time that wraps up, this city, which didn’t have a club four years ago – just some mock scarves, jerseys and a vision – will have a team in “FIFA20” and no more chatter about MLS expansion and future dreams.

Those dreams are already unfolding.

In 2021, the new stadium opens in the West End, which should complete this young club’s beginning chapters. What follows after that will simply be a team competing annually to represent this city and to win championships – just like the Bengals and Reds.

Maybe all of this sounds obvious, but it didn’t even sound like a far-off fantasy in 2015, just some crazy thoughts in a city where professional soccer had always been a thought, but never came to fruition.

It has, and it’s been better than we ever could have imagined.