by Eric Turner
It was May 29, 2018, the day all FC Cincinnati supporters had been waiting for. But before we get to that, let me share some of my fan story...
From the start of this club being announced in 2015, I was all in. The club had Jeff Berding as the GM, the Lindner Family as owners, and a Hall of Famer, John Harkes, coming in to lead this team, but how was this round of professional soccer in this city going to go?
The club seemed different from those that preceded it. The Kings, Saints, even going back to the Silverbacks and Cheetahs—all hadn’t succeeded in bringing out the underlying fandom here in this city. I don’t know if it was the front office, the venue, the signings of Austin Berry and Omar Cummins, but we were all curious as to where this would lead. We were gonna find out on April 9!
That Inaugural home match versus Charlotte, there was a buzz of where this club was heading. Fourteen-thousand-plus fans coming together all with the same mindset walking into Nippert Stadium that first match. "I hope we’re not the only ones going to be here,” I thought.
The next week, FC Cincinnati broke the USL home attendance record! Two months later, they broke the Ohio attendance record during a friendly match versus English Premier League standouts Crystal Palace. We had one piece of the puzzle that was forming: a passionate fan base.
Fast forward to the next preseason. Koch in, Harkes out. The amazing US Open Cup run of that season. On the way knocking off MLS teams—the Columbus Crew, Chicago Fire, and taking the Red Bulls to overtime before coming up short in the semifinals. This is when supporters started to believe in the possibility of expansion to the MLS. Then the following season, winning the Supporters Shield in the USL and breaking the unbeaten streak, we had the second piece to the puzzle: national attention.
The campaign #MLS2Cincy began. The front office placed an expansion bid to join the MLS, along with nine other clubs, and after meetings, FC Cincinnati was among the final four. All we needed was a stadium. Months and months of #buildithere and #mlstonewport campaigns from battling supporters.
In the end, we ended up with three possible sites for a stadium. The social media fest of why "it should be built where I want" was toxic, dividing supporters. On top of that was the uncertainty of if we were getting the bid, and to make it worse, it was the offseason. If we wanted the MLS, we needed a stadium site and plan. A ground swell from supporters from #build-it-here, as well as a few key politicians, and all of a sudden we had a site...Oakley? During a supporters group meeting we heard that the West End was probably where it would end up, but there's some work to be done. But now we had a third piece of the puzzle.
And back to May 29. As a member of the The Briogáid, a non-profit social organization focused on the support and following of FC Cincinnati, I was invited to a special announcement with MLS commissioner Don Garber. This was it, the moment supporters, front office, and everyone else affiliated with FC Cincinnati had waited for. Tears, high fives, hugs, a mix of all emotions. Talking to Taylor Twellman, the retired American soccer player, was a bonus. But for all the work that had been put into this club, in three years, to receive a Major League Soccer franchise, just wow! Tom Grabo, our local FCC Superfan, added, "Look at what we can build, look at what this city can do!"
Now back to this Sunday, March 17: our first MLS home game. It's been a long offseason. Expansion drafts, Superdrafts, USL squad players signing, GAM/TAM, preseason matches, and two road games to start the season. The first game was rough, but we're going to have a lot of firsts this season. Starting with our first goal, a real crack from Leo Bertone to give us our first lead in a match. But that was short lived giving us our first MLS loss to Seattle, 4–1. Several hundred traveling Briogáid members made it out to the match. The very next game we took our first point from a match versus the defending MLS Cup Champions Atalanta United, leaving 70,000 fans in a panic down there. The game ended with a 1–1 tie.
Will there be another first this Sunday, like a win? FCC fans like me are hoping so. One thing is for sure, the Bailey section of the stadium will be buzzing regardless.
I asked Matt Warman, a fellow Briogaid member, what this first home game and home season means to him. "We have a WORLD CLASS soccer team in our city,” said Matt. “Players that I have seen on TV, and rooted for, from Europe are coming to our stadium!”
“To see my dream is awesome,” he continued, “but to see it with my new friends is special beyond belief!"
It’s a sentiment of many of the Blue and Orange marching into Nippert Stadium on March 17.