There is a running joke on the FC Cincinnati subreddit about “Hope the Atmosphere”. It came from someone who made a post about not being able to make the game, and with a small typo, created a meme. In fact, it’s the inspiration for the name of this blog. And it perfectly encapsulates these last few weeks of soccer news and mayhem we have seen here at home and around the country.
Soccer, to me anyway, always represented something more than just another sport to be a fan of. It was rivalries that dated back to two centuries previous. It’s the fact that teams and clubs are extensions of their communities and neighborhoods. Religious, political, and class associations abound in soccer. Clubs that exist solely to be a protest to another team make this sport so much more. The fact that it is played all over the world, and beloved all over the world, brings the world together like nothing else can. Last year, FC Cincinnati fans at a home game had a minute of silence for the Iraqi Real Madrid fans who were killed watching their favorite team. That’s a team in Cincinnati, Ohio honoring the lives of Iraqi men who were guilty of nothing but loving their favorite Spanish club. What other sport brings the world together like that?
And that’s what always drew me to this sport. The storylines and world community are simply unmatched. This sport allows communities and entire countries to express themselves, and to prove themselves, to the rest of the world. And that is what makes these past few weeks so, confusing?
The USA will not be playing in Russia at the 2018 World Cup. A devastating and heartbreaking sentence to have to write out. A USA team that trounced Panama was unable to even get a draw away at Trinidad and Tobago. The aftermath has proven a lot of people right about their misgivings of USSF, President Sunil Gulati, and even MLS. A reexamination of how the sport operates in the United States is underway, not by anyone with actual power of course, but with fans and soccer journalists. Even well respected personalities like Taylor Twellman and George Quraishi are openly and seriously discussing promotion and relegation. And as a fan of a lower division team, and advocate of said system, this is of course, exciting. The assault on the “pay-to-play” model is underway and a refocus on youth soccer can only produce a more positive outcome for soccer in the United States. So while missing the World Cup is a massive disappointment that could negatively impact the rise of soccer in this country, it may come with a silver lining fit for a king. Dare I suggest, the remedies being bandied about now, give me hope.
And if you had misgivings about MLS after the World Cup debacle, this week probably pushed you over the edge. Columbus Crew swindler Anthony Precourt looks set to move the first MLS team ever to a city that has never asked to be in MLS, has had a few lower division team fail, and had their own team moved to Orlando who then joined MLS. Without even the lame pretense of an attempt to finance a new stadium or new location for the team in Columbus, the team is set to up and leave in 2019. Oh, and did I mention this was all announced hours after season ticket deposits were accepted. And they’re not giving refunds. An unbelievably savage move from a front office that up until this week seemed at best indifferent towards its fans. And there will be people who will say “well Columbus should have bought more tickets” and the like, and they’re not wrong, if just insensitive. But it looks like this plan was in the works since the beginning of Precourt’s ownership in 2013. So no matter what happened since then, this move was likely to happen. Which also means it has the implicit blessing of MLS. So we have a league that is being blamed for stifling the men’s national team by refusing to implement promotion and relegation now doing the very American thing of uprooting one of its founding member clubs to move them to a “cooler” city. It’s hard to have hope in American soccer when nonsense like this happens, but here we are.
And on a more selfish note, the Columbus move opens the door for FC Cincinnati to join the league, even if Detroit is a possibility as well. Talk about mixed emotions. I despise the idea that teams can be relocated. I understand moving a team from one neighborhood to the next, sure. But to uproot an integral part of the community to make a little more money is despicable. And yet there is a tiny part of me that sees this as an opportunity for my team to make it to the first division with fewer obstacles. And I can even understand some FC Cincinnati fans who are more excited about this news than sad. But for me, it really kills the allure of MLS. To lose our most obvious rival, a team a lot of Cincinnati soccer fans grew up watching and rooting for from a distance, is now on its deathbed. I mentioned before that soccer was always something more to me and this move of the Crew, well, it smashes that idea. It destroys the ideal I had of soccer. I, naïvely apparently, hoped soccer might be the sport to change the American sporting landscape for the better, that rejected moving teams and billionaire owners happy to let their teams wallow in mediocrity while telling fans to “trust the process”. And now, that hope is gone.
Which finally brings this blog about FC Cincinnati to FC Cincinnati. I have written in previous blog posts that FCC is the first Cincinnati team that has given me hope. That they were not going to settle for what the world gave them and they would fight to be the best. And now FCC is in the playoffs. Having only lost two games since the Open Cup run ended, the team appears ready to make some noise in the playoffs. The only question is, which FCC is going to show up tomorrow? Is it the tournament FCC, the one that knows how to play with its back against the wall and being an underest of dogs? Or is it going to be the team that can’t be bothered with road game. Will we have Open Cup Mitch and Djiby? Will we have a constantly rotating lineup that can’t seem to find chemistry? So many questions to be answered tomorrow in Tampa. And weirdly, it all seems, I don’t know, less important than what is going on off the field?
Do we really care about the USL playoffs if we’re heading to MLS in a few years? FC Cincinnati is in the middle of trying to find a stadium site in Cincinnati should MLS come calling. The team is doing everything they can to line up a suitable stadium site. But the stadium is only happening if MLS does call our number. And that seems to be more likely given the news about Columbus Crew. With MLS doing its best impression of the NFL, soccer fans around the country are demanding change, because what we are doing now has led to our country not making the World Cup in 2018.
So getting back to the theme of this post: hope. I have hope that FC Cincinnati can do well in the playoffs. I have hope that FC Cincinnati will be granted access to the top division. I also see hope in fan protests to the Columbus Crew moving. I see hope with more and more personalities bringing up promotion and relegation. I even have hope in the next USSF presidential election, as silly as that is. Soccer fans in this country deserve something better, they have suffered through and struggled to get to this point. Cincinnati soccer fans have fought and fought to make our team respected and noticed around the world. If you are the “soccer guy” or “soccer girl” at work or at family get-togethers, you know exactly what I mean here. We’ve managed to get this far, now let’s hope the future is bright.