MHTC sets new standard for FCC, MLS alike

Jeff Berding finally had time to stop and reflect.

Three hours earlier, he arrived at the Mercy Health Training Center and toured the new facility alongside MLS Commissioner Don Garber. Next came a meeting with Garber, Owner Carl H. Lindner III and others before a grand-opening ceremony.

After that was an open house, then lunch and a champagne-less toast.

But all of those moments had come and past, and Berding was finally able to stand peacefully on the second floor of the new facility. He was looking into the new conference room. Beyond that were FC Cincinnati’s three practice fields.

“How about this?” Berding said with a grin. “We’ve come a long way from the third floor of the building.”

FCC have come a long way from Berding’s legal pad and kitchen table.

Four years after the club’s founding – and a month following its inaugural MLS season – FC Cincinnati unveiled its biggest project to date: the Mercy Health Training Center.

While the Orange and Blue used a temporary facility on the site throughout 2019, Wednesday morning marked the grand opening of the team’s permanent headquarters – a 34,000 sq. foot building on 24 acres that cost $35 million.

It’s a building MLS Commissioner Don Garber called the new standard for clubs across the league. It’s a building influenced by some the best facilities on the planet.

Upon entering into the Mercy Health Training Center, there’s a trophy case with space to fill. (So far, only the 2018 USL Supporters’ Shield rests behind glass.) Looking beyond that, there’s a new sports performance area that rivals some of the top clubs in the world.

Gary Walker, who joined FC Cincinnati after working for Manchester United FC, called the new practice facility comparable to one of the world’s biggest clubs.

“In terms of the actual quality, attention to detail, and the technology and equipment that we’ve got, it’s very comparable,” Walker said.

On the right side of the building sits the academy wing, which contains four locker rooms. Its design is impressive, but not world-class. That’s intentional.

Dan McNally, the team’s director of soccer operations, said, “You have to fight from here to get through there.” He pointed toward the double doors leading the to first team locker room, player lounge and dining area.

Along the way, there’s even a barber’s chair, too.

“This is the biggest (project) to date,” Berding said about the Mercy Health Training Center’s completion. “We win an MLS franchise, but really, we played with our USL infrastructure, if you will, because we made the transition so quickly. So, for us, this really represents – if you will – the major league beginning for FC Cincinnati in a way that will propel us internationally.

“This is a sport where to win you need great players from all over the world,” he added. “We can bring them here to Milford and have literally the best training facility in North America available to our players and it’ll be a huge selling point. We want to win trophies for Cincinnati.”

That was the message that carried throughout the 40-minute ceremony.

Lindner offered similar praise of the building.

“With the opening of the Mercy Health Training Center, we align ourselves with the elite clubs in North America,” he said. “We've designed and built one of the very top training facilities on our continent, right here in our own Greater Cincinnati area, our beloved town. This is, simply put, as good as it gets for our players, with the first team world class talent that'll take these fields every day. The world's top talent is going to take notice of what we've done here in Milford.”

So many things about FC Cincinnati have seemed too-good-to-be true. There was the Crystal Palace international friendly, the U.S. Open Cup run and 23-games unbeaten. That doesn’t include MLS confirmation, the 2019 home opener and more.

But through all of this, moments continue to get bigger and better.

For as important as MHTC is – after all, it’ll house FCC players every day of the year – this is just the training facility.

Come 2021, the West End Stadium will open and become the standard for soccer-specific stadiums across the continent.

It’s easy to forget what this club is working toward isn’t the norm. Garber’s praise of the practice facility is a reminder.

The Mercy Health Training Center will house the first team, the side that represents The Bailey and all the supporters. It’ll house the Academy, where Cincinnati’s future MLS Homegrown Players will play before signing professional contracts. It’s a recruitment tool to help lure world-class talent to our community.

Plus, with the 2026 FIFA World Cup coming to North America, Cincinnati is among the candidates to be a host city. It’s looking more and more likely that MHTC will literally host the planet’s best soccer players, be it as a competition site or as a training headquarters.

There are so many possibilities that MHTC provides.

A little more than a year ago, the facility was nothing but gravel and dirt.

Soon, it could house the best soccer franchise in MLS. If that seems too good to be true, just remember the Mercy Health Training Center feels that way, too.