Last year it was announced that Cincinnati would be getting it's first big market professional soccer team. It would be named FC Cincinnati (unimaginatively) and little did anyone know, it would take the city by storm. In its first season FC Cincinnati had record attendance, reached 3rd place in the United Soccer League, and was considered a success in almost every single measure. That left the organization with one question going into its first off-season: why don't we belong in Major League Soccer? So in February, Carl Lindner (owner of FCC) submitted an application to MLS to be one of it's next 4 expansion teams, along with 11 other cities seeking their own MLS team. There isn't news on who's getting chosen just yet, and there will be a long arduous process to figure out who will be accepted. In the meantime, I've constructed a list of 7 reasons why FCC belongs in the best league in the nation.
In its first season in the USL (essentially the Division 2 league under MLS), FCC finished 3rd only losing 6 games while scoring 41 goals and only allowing 27, putting it in the top 5 of both categories. Throughout the season FCC was not a team to be messed around with. Especially at home when they had the largest attendance in the league backing them up. While they only played 30 games compared to the 33 games MLS teams play, their +14 goal differential was beat by only 2 teams in MLS. I fully believe FCC has the skill and capability to take on and beat many MLS teams, and the talent gap isn't as wide as some try to believe. Not to mention they went toe-to-toe with Crystal Palace, the English Premier League team, when they came for a classic friendly game.
2. Cincinnati's Sports History
Cincinnati already has deep sports cultures around its other two professional sports teams; the Reds and the Bengals. Although many feel burned and distraught by them, every year they still pack their way into Great American Ballpark and Paul Brown Stadium. Everyone in Cincinnati knows their sports teams will probably fall apart and disappoint them, but there's something about them that gives fans a little glimpse of hope, and makes them watch year after year no matter how bad the previous season was. As a city with lots of sports history, FCC's continued success will be incredibly welcome among Cincinnati sports fans.
In its first season FCC already had the highest single attendance for a game (24,376), highest average attendance (17,296), and highest overall attendance throughout the season (259,437). FCC's lowest attendance was 11,278, which was still higher than every single other teams highest single game attendance in the league, with the exception of Sacramento FC who's highest attendance is 11,569. There's no question that FCC will fill seats because they always have a healthy crowd that is unseen before in the USL.
Speaking of the fans, FCC has some of the best. FCC already has 6 official support groups that show up to each and every game, even running a small parade through the stadium before each game. They've already got songs and chants they sing at every game, and smoke bombs galore. Going to an FCC game is nothing but fun because the atmosphere at Nippert Stadium is so much fun. If we're being honest, it's better than most football games that take place at Nippert.
FCC is owned by Carl Lindner III, who is also the Co-CEO of American Financial Group, and whose company rolls in about 4.75 billion dollars in revenue. Long story short, Carl is a rich man who has ownership history with the Reds and other businesses. He's footing the 2 million dollar renovation of Nippert Stadium (that should hopefully wrap up in the next few weeks) so that their field can fit FIFA regulations. Carl has been on the record saying he'd be willing to pay for a stadium should the city give him the space for it.
Overall FCC has great support. It has a solid owner (with lots of money), an enormous fan base, and a great partnership with the University of Cincinnati who has leased it's Nippert Stadium to FCC for their games for at least the next three seasons. When Don Garber (Commissioner of the MLS) came to Cincinnati for a town hall and visit with Carl Lindner and FCC, he was met with the full force of FCC support. From the moment his plane touched down, supporters were their for his entire tour of the city. There's no escaping the fact the FCC is in good hands here in Cincinnati.
7. MLS Needs It
I've been a fan of the MLS for almost 7 years now, and if I've learned anything in those years, it's that MLS can be an incredibly complex, confusing, and confounding league. They have so many rules about cap space, how many Designated Players you can have (basically 3 of the best players on your team that get to make more money than all the other players), who get's rights to players that aren't even in the league yet, and the list goes on and on. I could make an entire article about things in MLS that don't make sense. Actually... I might just do that.
What I'm saying is that MLS wouldn't need to do much to get FCC rolling. They've got money, players, and support already. They've got more excitement than some teams already in MLS (I'm looking at you Chicago) and it would be stupid of MLS to not want to adopt and grow an organization that is already so successful. Why accept cities like San Diego or Tampa Bay that don't even have a team to play with yet? FCC is ready to go.
What's holding us back?
The only possible thing holding us back is our lack of a soccer specific stadium. Even though many MLS teams like the Seattle Sounders, New England Revolution, Atlanta United FC, New York City FC, and Minnesota United FC all don't play in their own stadiums, instead using someone else's football stadium (except NYC FC, who uses Yankee Stadium), MLS insists that you need your own stadium if you want to join the league at this point. It's been the only reason why David Beckham can't get his team started in Miami, because the county won't let him build a stadium even though he and his incredibly rich friends are going to pay for the whole thing. If FCC is rejected from the MLS, it would be a signal to Lindner and the owners that they'll need to get a stadium plan ASAP.
For now, all we can do is enjoy and cheer on FCC for their second season where expectations are high. While the out-of-nowhere firing of head coach John Harkes was very strange and unexpected, FCC seems to be in good hands with Alan Koch. An expansion to MLS it still a ways away, but when the time comes, everyone in Cincinnati will be ready.