On Thursday night, FC Cincinnati held their first-ever Town Hall at “4th & Vine – a first financial community,” located directly across the street from the club’s downtown offices.
The reason for the event was simple:
“It’s for good conversation about the state of the club and the future.”
That’s what President Jeff Berding said about the event, which lasted approximately 90 minutes and included Berding, Head Coach Ron Jans and General Manager Gerard Nijkamp answering questions about the club, the present and the future.
Here are the main points to take away from Thursday night:
“I didn’t know what I didn’t know.”
This is the biggest statement of the night, and came from Berding minutes into the town hall. The topic was about building the team toward this season, but focused on the team’s performances in MLS.
FCC are winless in their last eight and sit bottom in the league standings.
At the start of the season, Berding served as both the President and General Manager, but hired Nijkamp to assume the GM duties in late May.
Discussing it in early September, he said he wished he hired Nijkamp a year earlier to build toward 2019 rather than make chances midway through the season.
Including current head coach Ron Jans and assistant coach Yoann Damet, who served as interim head coach for three months, Cincinnati has used three head coaches through 28 league matches.
“This year’s been horrible from that vantage point,” Berding said on the team’s play this season.
FC Cincinnati aren’t waiting around until the 2019 campaign ends to build toward the future.
Nijkamp and Jans are busy analyzing and evaluating which players fit into FCC’s plans beyond this inaugural season. There are six games to find out.
But there are also six opportunities to win matches and achieve something for fans, Jans reminded supporters in attendance. The remaining matches feature opposing sides fighting for a postseason spot.
“Now it’s time to fight against setbacks,” Jans said. “We will never give up. Let them underestimate us.”
And there’s also work beyond the first team.
On Saturday, the two FC Cincinnati Academy teams play their first matches against Minnesota United FC. The teams – and Academy – offer a pathway toward developing MLS Homegrown players.
During the town hall, a slide was presented showing a pyramid with the Academy on the base, reserves in the middle and first team at the top. The point was the Academy can form a pipeline to fill the first-team roster, in addition to reserve players. If/when players are sold, then money can be reinvested in the pyramid to help grow the whole pyramid all together.
“We have a great future in front of us,” Nijkamp said. “But we have to focus on today.”
In previous interviews, the general manager said the goal is to build a foundation toward having a championship-caliber team in 2021 when the stadium opens. In 2020, FC Cincinnati want to reach the playoffs. In 2021, they want to close in on an MLS Cup.
In saying this, it’s a message from the Orange and Blue about what fans should expect.
But there’s more to it.
In order to achieve these goals, money needs to be invested into the team, and as Berding put it, “We’re not shy about spending money.”
He cited the West End Stadium, which will cost more than $250 million. He also mentioned the $150 million MLS expansion fee and the $35 million Mercy Health Training Center, which opens this month.
“This year’s been lean, no question,” Berding said. “But we feel it’s night and day from where we were a year ago.”
By the time the 2020 MLS season begins, FC Cincinnati will have already sold some suites, premium seats and made sponsorship agreements. That’s money to be invested into the first team, the team president said.
Because of this – and the stadium opening soon – the club believes it’s “well positioned” for future championship contention.
Could Cincinnati have a USL affiliate as early as 2020? Berding said there have been initial discussions that could result in that happening.
Having an affiliate would mean FCC could send reserve players to a club in the USL Championship to log minutes and gain experience. An easy example would be the New York Red Bulls II teams that Cincinnati played against from 2016-18 in the USL.
An affiliate could be a team to loan MLS SuperDraft picks to, or even provide a starting point for players recovering from an injury or time away from the field.
Berding said there could also be a possibility of the team establishing a USL One team at some point. That third-division club would be similar to North Texas SC for FC Dallas, for example.
FC Cincinnati are open and interested in bringing a National Women’s Soccer League team to the city.
Once the West End Stadium opens, and if NWSL has a round of expansion, there’d be interest in the Queen City to establish a team. In fact, Berding said that “would be brilliant.”
Conveniently, one of the world’s best players happens to be from Cincinnati: Rose Lavelle.
Berding said he wants to see her play in her hometown again, even if that means for the U.S. Women’s National team like the 2017 friendly against New Zealand at Nippert Stadium.
“That would be extraordinary,” Berding said.
He also added that between now and then that the club would continue to support women’s soccer in a variety of means, including looking to bring the USWNT back to Cincinnati, or even elite-level clubs to further showcase the women’s game.
The past three seasons saw the Orange and Blue host international clubs in friendly matches. FCC didn’t do so in 2019, and here’s why…
Berding thought it’d be more meaningful for the U.S. Men’s National Team to be able to play in Cincinnati for the first time, so the club pursued that. In early June, the USMNT hosted and lost, 3-0, to Venezuela.
In addition, there wasn’t a natural break during the FC Cincinnati league schedule to add another match without it potentially affecting the health and minutes of players in either the MLS season or 2019 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
More European clubs can play here, but the bigger ones are almost exclusively interested in playing on grass. While FCC play at Nippert Stadium, they have a turf surface.
As for friendlies in 2021 and beyond?
“You can certainly count on it,” Berding said.
West End Stadium will have a grass surface.