The Curious Case of James O'Connor

I want to prepare FC Cincinnati fans in advance, this post is going to sing the praises of a man most of you despise.  And fair enough, from an FCC perspective, that’s the correct perspective to have of our rival's manager. This is a man who hasn’t exactly warmed himself to the FCC faithful. But this blog post is a bigger picture view of something that I think is worth talking about.

 This photo will serve as the last cheap-shot of this blog post 

This photo will serve as the last cheap-shot of this blog post 

James O’Connor is the manager who has led Louisville City FC from the beginning of their club’s history. For FC Cincinnati fans, he’s THE villain.  For Louisville City fans, he’s frankly the reason why anyone cares about their team. A brilliant tactician who can squeeze more talent and energy out of a lineup than a Finnish hydraulic press can get joy out of a candle. And despite impressive performances in the USL playoffs, including winning it all last year, he’s still at Louisville, coaching on a baseball field. Why?

Well first off, let’s learn a little about James O’Connor.  He was a stalwart in the English Championship and League One.  He was a solid midfielder for teams you’ve actually probably heard of like Stoke City, West Brom, Burnley, Sheffield Wednesday, and finally wrapped up his career in the USL with Orlando City. And he wasn’t exactly a journeyman either, he had teams actively bidding to bring him in, so he’s no slouch of the game.  In 2013 he took on the role of player-Manager for Orlando before eventually moving on to Louisville.

 Red headed JOC playing for Burnley 

Red headed JOC playing for Burnley 

Which lets me point out something that always bothers Louisville fans: they were supposed to be Orlando City B.  They are in USL playing on Orlando’s old league license.  In fact, that’s where their color purple came from, and probably why O’Connor was sent to Kentucky to coach.  Fortunately for soccer, that didn’t quite pan out and Orlando launched their own team for a few years before shutting down the B team for the 2018 USL season.

And O’Connor has been amazing.  I know, as an FC Cincinnati fan, it hurts to admit, but the guy has been incredible.  Louisville City is, for lack of tact, poor. Their ownership is stuck in a bad lease at Slugger Field that prevents them from making very much money off the gameday experience.  Which is probably why they tried to monetize their supporters march last year. Oops.  They do not spend a lot of money on their roster, and because of that they are extremely limited.  In fact last week they had two goalkeepers on their bench in order to have a full bench. And that wasn’t the first time this year they’ve been forced to do that.

On top of that, it seems Louisville always seems to be sent FC Cincinnati’s cast offs  There was no room for old, slow, Pat McMahon on FCC’s reloaded roster, so he was literaly sent down the river. And he went and had the game of his life against FCC in our home opener, shutting down the attack on the wing. Or the one that hurts the most, local product Luke Spencer was forced out of John Harke’s team before the 2017 season.  He landed on his feet in Louisville though, with 11 goals in 30 appearances and lead Louisville in scoring. And that’s the thing about O’Connor, players develop under him and become so much better. Recent departures like Chandler Hoffman and Mark-Anthony Kaye have gone from Louisville to signing MLS contracts.  Kaye can now be seen marshaling the midfield of a star-studded LAFC midfield on Fox Sports and ESPN every weekend after having played for Louisville last year. The talent that is being cultivated by O’Connor on a cash-strapped team playing on a minor league baseball field is incredible. They are a perpetual winning machine. Which brings me to the whole point of this.

Why the hell is he still at Louisville? New England Revolution brought in Brad Friedel this year, a guy that had an impressive goalkeeping career in England no doubt, but had only ever managed the US U-19s before the Revolution. Or Colorado Rapids, who hired a man last seen not getting New Zealand to the World Cup.  Two teams which can be found towards the bottom of MLS standings, hired coaches that don’t have club coaching experience, and are being rewarded with lackluster soccer. I promise you, James O'Connor would take either of those teams to the MLS playoffs this year had he been hired.  Meanwhile in the tiny pond that is the largest city in Kentucky, there is a massive fish waiting to get the call up.   

 Want to run a sick experiment on a professional sports franchise?  Put a TV analyist in charge of the team. 

Want to run a sick experiment on a professional sports franchise?  Put a TV analyist in charge of the team. 

Or at least, I think he's waiting to be called up.  It is always possible that O’Connor has no ambition, has no desire to move on up the coaching ladder. But the fact that he currently holds the highest coaching license you can have from UEFA (Europe) would suggest he has higher ambitions than the US second division. 

When James O’Connor gets his chance in MLS, that will a fantastic indicator that soccer is growing in the United States.  USL should be a breeding ground for, not just young players, but new managers to move up to MLS. There is a terrible lack of American born coaches working at the highest levels of the sport, and opportunity has been a huge roadblock.  But if a second division manager can go on to have success in the top division in the US, it will be to the benefit of every other coach in the US and to the development of the sport in this country. Now obviously O’Connor isn’t American, but he would be a solid candidate to move up and make it easier for other, American, lower division coaches to get their chance.  

And if you are a Timbers or Cosmos fan you’ve probably already fired off that tweet, and I agree with you, Gio Savarese is also in this category. For those of you not familiar, Savarese was the longtime manager of the NASL New York Cosmos who did incredible things with that squad.  But for me, O’Conor has been doing more with far less. In fact, I’d be willing to bet Louisville’s squad payroll is/was equal to about 1.5 Cosmos players. And to my knowledge O’Connor hasn’t even been rumored for an MLS job.

 The battles between Cincinnati and Louisville have been epic, and it's high time O'Connor took that intensity somewhere else, please.  

The battles between Cincinnati and Louisville have been epic, and it's high time O'Connor took that intensity somewhere else, please.  

So while this might come across as a fan of a rival team desperately asking for someone to hire away the coach of their more successful rival, and you wouldn’t be wrong in the slightest, I do think it speaks to the growing nature of the game in the US that a successful second division manager isn’t being considered for jobs in the top division.  Anywhere else in the world and O’Connor would have 1) been managing Louisville this year in MLS, or at the very least 2) been poached by an MLS team and been handed a few million dollars to build the squad of his dreams.  

If you want soccer in the United States to thrive, we need a thriving second division that is a clear pathway to MLS.  And if Promotion and  Relegation is off the table, the talent in the second division needs to start finding its way up regardless.

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Kevin Wallace

We Weren't Even Supposed to be Here

That’s the thing that is hardest to remember in all the hubbub of the pending MLS decision, we weren't supposed to make it to this point in the expansion process.  Cincinnati, and FC Cincinnati in particular, shouldn’t have been this far along at all. We now have fans that are eager to hear what MLS decides who didn’t even know there was an MLS four years ago.  And that’s awesome. But our chances were so low starting off, it’s mind-boggling.  The last time Cincinnati was fliritng with the idea of MLS was when our city was kicking around the idea of bidding for the 2012 Olympics.  So yeah, it was a little far-fetched. 

 Anyone else take off work on January 10th for an event that never happened? 

Anyone else take off work on January 10th for an event that never happened? 

In fact, I think it’s fair to say MLS didn’t want us.  They really didn’t.  Why would they want a team in a small media market, in a state that already has an under-performing MLS team, which plays in a college stadium, and is in its third year?  That doesn’t scream “pick me!” to a league that had 12 teams apply for expansion spots. Oh and we’d need to build a stadium in a city that despises stadium projects. And that stadium has to be built downtown. A downtown that has absolutely no space for a soccer stadium.  A daunting challenge that would test even the most ardent optimist.

You have to keep in mind MLS was actively politicking for St. Louis’s attempt to get public money for a stadium as a part of their bid.  San Diego was also championed by the league.  MLS told San Antonio to move from the NASL to the USL in an attempt to improve their MLS bid, and they did. I don't recall seeing Don Garber at a CPS meeting. 

On top of that, why would they pick Cincinnati when much larger media markets were bidding?  Phoenix and Tampa Bay/St. Pete are massive markets that should have MLS teams.  The Rowdies in particular are owned by a billionaire, in a massive TV market, have a stadium in place, a historic brand, and a natural rival for Miami and Orlando.  And yet, they didn’t make it to where Cincinnati has.

 There was a point in time when FCC fans were really upset our club didn't do something like this. 

There was a point in time when FCC fans were really upset our club didn't do something like this. 

But here we are. Indianapolis, Charlotte, Raleigh, Tampa Bay, San Antonio, St. Louis, San Diego, and Phoenix all failed.  Nashville was selected.  Leaving Sacramento, Detroit, and Cincinnati.  We're still in this thing, and that's incredible.  Detroit would have the wealthiest ownership group in MLS, the largest media market not currently in MLS, and an NFL stadium that despite what the league may say could be home to a successful team. And Sacramento was FC Cincinnati before FC Cincinnati was FC Cincinnati.  And yet neither one has been picked over Cincinnati just yet.  And if they were going to, they would have done so already. We're still in this. 

Meanwhile, back at home, FC Cincinnati has gone out and hired a technical director, a position that wouldn't make sense if we were stuck in USL purgatory.  And they just announced the hiring of a new Vice President of Communications with MLS experience and connections. Oh, and our roster is, honestly, about 50% of the way there to an MLS roster.  So either this is the most expensive case of "fake it till you make it" or we can start reading tea leaves. 

 Or you can read the Jacksonville Tea Men if you're into that sort of thing

Or you can read the Jacksonville Tea Men if you're into that sort of thing

So while waiting for an MLS announcement feels like trying to drive north on 75 at 5:15 on a Wednesday, remember it isn't supposed to be our announcement. It was supposed to be St. Louis's. Or Tampa's. Or Sacramento's. The only reason why we were able to enter the conversation in the first place is because our fans show up in insane numbers.  People can make fun of us talking about attendance all they want, but at the end of the day our attendance is why we'll probably have an MLS team and they won't.  Haters gonna hate. 

So sit back and enjoy the ride.  We have a roster that looks like they finally figured out how to play together in the second half against Pittsburgh. And we are through a tough stretch of the schedule.  Now comes the fun parts.  Burn the league, leave it all behind. 

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Kevin Wallace

 

 

What's All the Fuss About?

This week was an exciting one for fans of FC Cincinnati.  We, probably, saw the end of the stadium drama surrounding the team’s MLS bid.  MLS, probably, voted to accept the team into the top flight of American soccer. And everyone found out the team’s new name would be Fussball Club Cincinnati.  Well, they learned that one for the second time, with the first hint being back in November of 2017.  Or was it back in 2016?  Either way, Twitter had a meltdown, insecure american fans showed their insecurities, and Cincinnati was able to make fun of itself better than anyone else did

 "Guys, the crown is a soccer ball. It's genius"! 

"Guys, the crown is a soccer ball. It's genius"! 

Well, this is a supporter's blog, and our team's name will be changing.  Someone should probably write about that no? Well here's your blazing hot take: I don't really care. 

Look, if I was given power to name the team we'd end up with something like Queen City Soccer Club or Queen City Rangers because I'm unimaginative and think mascot based names are dumb.  I know they're "American" but so are colleges and universities that developed nicknames all on their own. You think the name "Bearcats" was focus grouped and selected? Nah, they picked up the name from a player that had stopped playing for the school for a few years.  NYCFC, an incredibly boring name, has allowed for the rise of the nickname "the pigeons" for the team because, what else was a team from New York going to call themselves?  To declare yourself the "Riverhounds" or something like that (just as an example, obviously nobody would name a team that poorly) just sucks all of the fun and potential history out of the team. 

So, since I can't and shouldn't name the team, I guess the owners of the team can.  And in their first attempt they went with "Futbol Club Cincinnati".  Dumb. Objectively dumb.  From the people who were paid actual real money for this cringe-inducing video, we had a USL team that was very clearly lacking someone who knew soccer on their team. And they went with the Spanish spelling of a word we don't use when talking about soccer.  Sounds about right. 

And yet, this hapless attempt at branding and marketing produced the best lower division club the United States has ever seen. Boom, roasted Cosmos. Passionate fans that show up in droves, record breaking merchandise sales, and one of the best runs in the Open Cup from a non-MLS team in nearly a decade.  All with a dumb name.  And nobody cared. Because why should they?  The name is completely secondary to what the club has become. 

So now the move to MLS looms.  And with it the club is going to change its dumb name to.... another dumb name.  And this is news?  People are upset about this? Or offended by this? It's 2018 and social media is a thing, of course they were. I'm offended at them being offended, so it's all a vicious circle I suppose.

Look, FC Cincinnati has a hard enough time not going by "FC" here in town.  Nobody calls it Futbol Club unless they're making fun of it, which they should.  And now American soccer fans are upset we're taking a dumb name to MLS?  C'mon. 

At least we didn't name the team after a tragedy that killed hundreds of people.  At least we didn't buy the rights to an older team to pretend we have history.  At least we aren't just a billboard for an energy drink.  At least we didn't do a knockoff version of Real Madrid.  Or a knockoff of Real Madrid's nickname, "galacticos".  At least we didn't name our team after a parent team.  And thank god we aren't Columbus. 

 If a European makes fun of our name, remember this is a real team that is actually pretty good and competes in the Champions League regularly.  

If a European makes fun of our name, remember this is a real team that is actually pretty good and competes in the Champions League regularly.  

So the team went from a dumb name to a name that, while also being dumb, at least attempts to connect with the city.  Some Cincinnatians are obsessed with being German.  Like, unhealthy levels of obsession with a nationality.  Despite 44% of the city's population being black and less than 50% of the city being white, people will still claim that 50% of Cincinnati is German.  However you cannot deny the impact German culture has had on the city of Cincinnati.  A classic "Cincinnati-ism" is to say "Please?" when you mean "Pardon?" or "I didn't hear you", a tradition that comes from the German word "Bitte?" which works in both contexts. German culture has made an impact on our city in a number of different ways.  We also like beer, unlike every other city on earth. Like, literally, we might be the only city in the United States that even drinks the stuff.  In fact I heard once that Cincinnati invented beer. So we got that over whatever lame town you come from. 

 We have a plaque so you know it's real.  Also, yes those are hairless nuts at the top.

We have a plaque so you know it's real.  Also, yes those are hairless nuts at the top.

So if someone wants to make fun our club's name, let them.  It'll be the only thing they can dog us for.  It can't be for anything else, because when it comes to the best team in the American lower divisions, we are the gold standard.  It would be really embarrassing to be going to MLS and have to be compared to us

In the meantime, Cincinnati is going to continue to do what it has been doing for three years: exceeding everyone's expectations and building a club on the shoulders of fans and supporters that continue to propel the team to previously unbelievable heights. 

Welcome to the fussing show. 

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Kevin Wallace

Streamer Gate: Clear the Bullpens

The date was August 12, 2017 and it started just like any other summer night. Families and friends all gathered at the Slugger Field diamond to watch the rivalry between USL clubs Louisville City FC and FC Cincinnati. Supporters on both sides were expecting an entertaining night, unfortunately, for some FC Cincinnati fans, their idea of entertaining differed from that of the LCFC security guards.

 That's right, we're talking about war crimes 

That's right, we're talking about war crimes 

Less than a month prior to this game, FCC and LCFC squared off at Slugger Field and all seemed fine. As Chris Marshall, Pride Norden Chapter Head, mentioned, “After the July match, we literally met the other SG leaders, exchanged hugs, scarves, and said our goodbyes and that we look forward to partying with them in August.”  It was at this game in July when Streamer Gate began. As many supporters know, smoke, streamers, and other projectiles are part of the atmosphere used by supporters groups (SG) all over the country. In many cases, the front office (FO) of the home team will give visiting teams a list of banned items so that the SG are aware of what they can and cannot bring into the stadium. During the July match, streamers were thrown and a LCFC fan (@LouCitySting) posted a photo of the mess that FCC fans had made on the field. As you can see below, there is not much of a mess made and this was the beginning of what would become Streamer Gate.

 Just look at the absolute carnage.  It easily took tens of minutes to clean up.

Just look at the absolute carnage.  It easily took tens of minutes to clean up.

With less than a month to plan for their next match, it was only made sense that steamers would be part of the match. As Chris White said, “We checked the code of conduct specifically for streamers and they were not included in the banned items.” Therefore, FCC SG felt that they were okay with purchasing streamers and distributing them to the supporters. Chris added that, “Once we were in Louisville and the streamers had been distributed to everyone, we received word that Louisville had changed the list of banned items to include streamers.” He also mentioned that he told everyone as soon as he found out but figured it would be a short night because there was no chance that message could be relayed to the whole group prior to kickoff.

 Louisville is a city so synonamous with fun that they sent cops into the stands to write tickets for anyone wearing a mask or facepaint.   Seriously

Louisville is a city so synonamous with fun that they sent cops into the stands to write tickets for anyone wearing a mask or facepaint.  Seriously

Jason McGlone, a member of The Pride, was not there in July but did make the trip on the Bailey Bastards bus from Bucketheads to Slugger Field. Having only recently moved to Cincinnati from Illinois and not knowing a lot of where the hate for LCFC came home aside from being a local rivalry, I assumed that much of that came from fans or SGs. During my time interviewing members of FCCs SGs, I have come to find that the frustration comes from the LCFC FO. As Jason said, “We marched in and it seemed pretty drama-free. In fact, once we marched in, I walked over into the Slugger Field concourse to hit the restroom and came across the Coopers (LCFC SG) march.” He mentioned that if there was any “beef” between FCC SGs and LCFC SGs, he would have caught wind of it but instead, he was able to stand there and watch their drummers for a bit before heading back without a word, or even look, from anyone. Jason discusses the back and forth between FCC and LCFC fans as, “100% normal jawing that you would expect from any sports rivalry.” This perspective is important because it proves that much of the frustration felt by the FCC fans on August 12th came from the FO and their lack of communication.

 “This was the guy who kept stirring up all the shit with the fans. He kept pointing at random people antagonizing everyone”

“This was the guy who kept stirring up all the shit with the fans. He kept pointing at random people antagonizing everyone”

Casey is another member of The Pride who had a different experience that night. Casey and his girlfriend met 3 of her adolescent cousins at the game. Her cousins live in Louisville and were wanting to cheer for FCC with the rest of the fans. Casey’s girlfriend was one of the fans who was thrown out of the game and he was then left to care for her cousins on his own. From his perspective, he observed that security did not try to single out individuals who were throwing streamers but instead decided to just throw out the whole first row. Included in that first row was an older couple who he stated were peacefully watching the game with young kids. Casey’s biggest issue was how he and his girlfriend felt after she was escorted. “We somehow felt we had to justify and apologize to her cousins parents about bringing the kids to what should have been a family friendly night filled with soccer traditions of chanting and throwing streamers but instead turned into a hostile environment where we felt we and others were treated unfairly and were unwanted.”

 Pictured above: grown men being VERY upset about tiny bits of paper

Pictured above: grown men being VERY upset about tiny bits of paper

Fans of soccer all over the world can agree that some of the actions of the security guards were unnecessary and over the top. It is also important to note the LCFCs FOs lack of soccer tradition knowledge. As Casey stated and what many fans of American soccer know, streamers are a part of the experience and it is not intended as a malicious act or used to ensue a riot. In the end, LCFCs lack of communication caused fans to have a poor experience, many of whom were not involved in throwing streamers. In the end, no fan makes it a point to cause any harm or problems. Though I am a fan of FCC and a member of The Pride, I was not in attendance at either game and took this as an opportunity to learn more about this great rivalry. After hearing from everyone, is seems to be universally understood that LCFCs FO made a rash decision last minute that caused mayhem and as a result proved that Louisville is indeed full of shit and more shit.

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Mike Madanat

While They Were Away

This week is hype. Home opener, against our rivals, having finally beat Charleston for the first time, and beating our new rivals in Indianapolis.  If you’re not excited right now you might be dead. 

But for the casual fan, you may be looking at the roster and wondering “who the hell are these guys?”  And I don’t blame you. Not all of us could travel down to Florida for the preseason, or braved the weather at UC, and may not be as familiar with the team.  And while it feels like everyone is new, two games in has given us a chance to get more familiarity with the roster, who is likely to start, and what to expect on Saturday. If you’ve been waiting until you had a chance to see the team live to start learning the guys, this is for you. 


Goalkeeper - Evan Newton
Before the season started Newton and Spencer Richey, the other goalkeeper, were expected to split time.  And in the preseason that’s exactly what they did. But after the first two games, it’s clear the former Sacramento Republic keeper Newton has a stranglehold on the starting spot. I don’t think there’s much controversy in the statement “We only won those first two games because of Newton”, he’s been excellent.  Here’s a hot take, Newton has already proven to be a better all-around goalkeeper than Mitch. His command of the box, ability to stop long range shots, and kill crosses in the air are much needed improvements.  He also stopped a penalty, so he’s got that down too.  Now after all this, it’s possible Spencer Richey gets the start on Saturday, but I’d be shocked.  

 Pictured Above: Forrest Lasso's height compared to the average attacker in USL

Pictured Above: Forrest Lasso's height compared to the average attacker in USL

The Center Backs - Forrest Lasso and Dekel Keinan
These two have been great so far.  Lasso was an MLS target this off season who moved from the aforementioned Charleston Battery. And Dekel Keinan moves to FC Cincinnati after a long career in Israel, captaining Maccabi Haifa and playing in the European Champions League.  These two have kept clean sheets so far, but the stats suggest teams are able to get more “expected goals” than FCC is able to produce. One name that has yet to be called is Irishman Paddy Barrett. 

The Outside Backs - Justin Hoyte and Blake Smith
Justin Hoyte was in the squad last year and has been his typical solid self this year on the right side.  Blake Smith came to FCC from Miami FC and went under the radar when he was signed. With Josu working his way back from injury and Lance Laing showing no signs of moving back from the midfield means Smith has won the starting job for now.  He's been a consistent performer so far, but don't be surprised to have Josu make his debut this weekend on the left. 

 These are the beautiful faces you have to remember from last year

These are the beautiful faces you have to remember from last year

Defensive Midfield - Kenney Walker, Richie Ryan, and Will Seymore
So far in 2018 this has been the Walker and Ryan show.  Walker had been is typical Kenney Walker self, shutting down attacks and distributing the ball to the wings.  Richie Ryan came in as a late yet highly coveted signing that has brought a lot of poise on the ball.  He is a calm and cool ballplayer that has been fine if unremarkable through two games.  NASL die-hards are convinced he's an MLS calibre talent, so look for more from him as this team gels.  And if you missed the even-a-foul-in-the-NFL "tackle" on Kenney Walker last week, Will Seymore came in for Walker and was more than serviceable.  A defensive midfield of Seymore and Ryan seems likely for the match against loisville. 

Central Midfield - Corbin Bone
Look, it was really tempting to write an entire post ripping Bone for his performance as a creative midfielder, but the fact is we're 2-0 and whatever he's doing is obviously not stopping the team from winning.  Bone, who spent most of the last two years with FCC playing as a defensive midfielder, has been starting over the biggest signing of the offseason in Nazmi Albadawi.  Bone does not shoot, does not play the incisive pass, doesn't intercept the ball, won't take anyone on in the dribble, and won't win a 1-on-1 for a loose ball.  But he does lay the ball off for the wingers to latch onto and take up field. FCC apparently outbid MLS teams for his talents, and has yet to see the field this year.  We know Koch likes to hold ayers back to play at home, and Naz has been nursing an injury coming out of the preseason, so Saturday could be the perfect time to unleash the not-so-secret weapon. 

The Wingers - Lance Laing and Emanuel Ledesma
Laing and Manu have been the highlights of this team outside of Newton.  Laing is as confident as a player can be on the ball, often looking like an MLS veteran forced to play against a JV high school team.  He can shoot from distance, put in a mean cross, and is a general terror for defenses to handle.  A fantastic signing from North Carolina FC.  On the right side is the former New York Cosmo Ledesma.  Last week at Indy Manu proved his value by placing an inch perfect pass to the head of Welshman for the lone goal that game.  Manu's free kicks have been incredible and it's only a matter of time before they begin to find the back of the net.  His placement of the ball is unmatched in USL. 

The Forward - Emery Welshman
There's not too much to write about Welshman.  He's been serviceable in the first two games, scoring against Indy.  Anyone upset with the workrate from Okoli and Djiby will not have those complaints with Welshman.  This is a position where a shakeup would not be so dramatic with Ameobi, Konig, or Cicerone being viable options.  This is where I'll throw a mention out for Daniel Haber. He's been pure energy when he comes onto the field, tons of fun to watch run himself ragged.  If you liked Jimmy McLughlin, you'll love Haber. 

As for a general style, look for FCC to continue playing in a 4-2-3-1 with  two defensive midfielders, two wingers, a central attacking midfielder, and a lone strikers.  So far the defense tends to back off of attackers, maybe a bit too often, but is patient, waiting for the perfact opprotunity to put in a tackle.  The wings is where FCC focuses the attack, with the central players being used to play give-and-go's to send them down the field.  And then it's up to the wingers to put the ball into dangerous positions and create goal scoring opportunities.  This game against louisville will be the toughest test yet for Koch's tactics, and will be exciting to see how it matches up against louisiville's head coach, and annoying good, James O'Connor.  

 Here's my guess at a starting 11, what's yours?

Here's my guess at a starting 11, what's yours?

Soccer Comes Home to the Queen City!

We’re back! The season can finally begin. This Saturday we finally get to see our boys back home for the home opener of the 2018 season.  I don’t know about you, but even though we’ve had two clean sheets, two goals, and six points already tallied in our first two games, it doesn’t really feel like the season has started until we can welcome the team back to Nippert. While a home opener is already a big to-do, this game has a little extra meaning as we open up against our rivals down the river.

 Here we see Jimmy being forced to stand near actual garbage

Here we see Jimmy being forced to stand near actual garbage

That’s right, this Saturday at 7:00 we kick off the third season of the Dirty River Derby against Loisville City FC. I’m not a fan of hyperbole, but this could be one of the most important games we’ve played in the league. This game carries more than just 3 points on the line. It’s no secret we have a bad relationship with that team down south, but for all our first-time fans and to get the rest of us a little riled up let’s take a quick glance at what makes this game so important.

This season has been already been filled with some great accomplishments. We secured our very first win against Charleston, and we welcomed Indy XI to the USL with an away win, but that doesn’t measure up to the team we’ll see Saturday. Loisville walked away with the USL Cup at the end of the year. Yup, they are the defending champions. And it looks like they have carried some of that success into the new year as they also are 2-0 with victories against newcomers Nashville and the always tough Tampa Bay Rowdies. That in and of itself makes this game important, but while the team down the river has some changes we get to see our overhauled roster take the pitch at home.

 No caption needed for this goofy liar

No caption needed for this goofy liar

But we all know it’s more than just the success of Loisville (I hate saying that) that makes this game our biggest game yet. This whole series has been filled with some really crazy things. For instance, after that hot game in year one,  James O’Connor definitely tried to say the turf was too hot for his players, like hot enough to melt his guy’s boots. But of course a beekeeper/part-time RadioShack employee would complain about that.

Then we have last year, the year of four derbies, and the year of the bite, the cup victory, and streamers! FCC’s first home game last year we had the bite heard round the world. That was the game, which we won, but had Djiby receive a 6-match ban for a supposed bite. Well, the referees didn’t see a bite during the game or none of us could see a bite in the replays, and the USL in one release didn’t mention a bite. But sure a bite happened (it didn’t). That whole situation was a clusterf**k . Okay so Djiby gets a little heated during the game and goes head to head with McCabe. That’s pretty much a non-event in a rival like this but things take a turn after the game when none other than our favorite RadioShack employee accuses Djiby of biting McCabe. Okay, sure, the league will take a look at it and get it sorted out. Well not exactly. During the week after, the league went from having him serve a one-match ban to a six-match ban. They went from violent conduct to explicitly calling it a bite. Go ahead, pull up that game, see what actually happens. I guarantee you won’t see a bite.

 Club Legend 

Club Legend 

Great, we’ll be out of our top goal scorer for six league games… But after our 1-0 extra time win against Cleveland in our opening game of our miraculous Open Cup run, guess who we draw. That’s right, Loisville. And guess who gets to play, that’s right Djiby. While the game itself was rather sparsely attended and the match was not the most eventful, we did pull out the 1-0 victory with the goal coming from the man himself, Djiby. If that’s not justice I don’t know what is.

Then we have our two away matches. While the first game down at the farm club was a victory on the field, it was filled with a little bit of craziness off the field. This is where the now infamous steamers began. Some of us in the traveling Bailey brought a few, harmless rolls of streamers to throw out at the beginning of the match. No harm, right? It’s not like they didn’t stick way out in left field, oh wait they did. For some reason there was quite a bit of hate following upstream on Twitter because of these streamers. So we do what we do best, and we bring in a bunch of streamers to the next game. While I don’t want to steal the thunder of Mike Madanat’s story, the gist is that we had the entire first row of our fans thrown out of Louisville Slugger Field because of these streamers.

These past two years have been filled with a lot of craziness both on the field and off between these two teams and fans. Saturday begins the third year of the Dirty River Derby; Saturday we get to see who is the more dominant team. If I was you, I’d keep my eyes on the Bailey before the game; this year’s tifo is going to be sweet.

- Peter Wietmarschen

 We'll be coming

We'll be coming

Rubber, Meet Road

Here. We. Go.  This is it, the start of the third season of FC Cincinnati’s brief existence.  I’m not sure if you’re allowed to admit this or not, but in year's past, it really didn't feel like the start of the season until the home opener.  Maybe it’s the last two years of trying to get a stream to work in a bar or a friend’s house, figuring out if this version of the Roku can do YouTube live videos or if you have to do a software update.  Or, god forbid, you have it streaming on two TVs and one ends up three seconds ahead of the other one. Blah.  No more, it's broadcast TV for us now.  We’re big league now! Or, not yet. Ugh, now I’m thinking about that.  Quick, a distraction, uhh, we have new kits now too!  . 

 I'm just going to assume this was a hint at an NWSL team, or the club should hire a nutritionist

I'm just going to assume this was a hint at an NWSL team, or the club should hire a nutritionist

Anyway, this year feels different.  I'm actually excited about the start of the season being today.  The team is back, soccer is back, and we finally get to watch our guys play a competitive match.  Not much has changed, just that the club did go out and buy a brand new team, a veritable not-quite-MLS-quality-but-almost all-star team, with the obvious goal of leaving the USL like Sherman left Atlanta. There’s going to be so much salt in louisville, harvests will suffer for five generations.  And while I never want to see a club fold, and I want the most number of professional American soccer teams possible, thank god for the NASL’s troubles eh?  Now we're just swimming in NASL Best 11 award winners and statistical leaders. This squad is not nearly the caliber it is today without the twitter-troll led ball of uncertainty that is the NASL. Hooray?

 This is going to look hilarious

This is going to look hilarious

New coaches have been brought in, a technical director was unveiled this week, and a deep squad.  Last year, this team would have walked the league and it would not have been that close.  Sadly, due to the constraints of our plane of existence being currently limited to the fourth dimension, we have to play the 2018 season with our current squad.  And don’t look now, but the USL has stepped its game up.  And by USL I mean the Eastern Conference because, seriously, who cares about the Western Conference.

Nashville “Stolen Bid” SC, Indy 11, and North Carolina FC all joined the party. And the NASL diaspora has sent talented players to all corners of the league.  On top of that, a coaching change in Pittsburgh and the disappearance of Orlando B and Rochester means this league is not going to be easy.  Also Harrisburg City Islanders changed their name and honestly, for me, it’s the biggest move of the off season and makes me a little less embarrassed to be in the league.  I know that’s petty, but the unimaginative “Penn FC” is sooooo much better than a team from who-cares Pennsylvania having palm trees in their, uhh, crest? Logo? Microsoft Paint project?  Regardless, this league is going to be fun this year.  

 Never forget

Never forget

Today, the season opener is the test for the offseason.  We start on the road, against a team where we recruited one of their best players away, and a team we’ve never beaten before.  If all of the offseason moves, all of the money spent, all of coaching changes, all of the preparation that went into the preseason matters at all, we need to win this game.  I hate putting pressure on a single game like that, and obviously the first game is where a lot of flukey nonsense can happen, but we need to win this game.  This is a team that wants to win the Open Cup and win USL.  If those goals are any measure, we need to win this game to prove this plot to take over the soccer world is going to bear any fruit. And if we don’t win, well, let’s get desperate and start a letter writing campaign to remind the club that Djiby and Okoli are still out of contract.

 I miss you guys

I miss you guys

Cincinnati, here we go.   

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Kevin Wallace

Why the Pride: Abbey Witzgall

Anyone who knows me is usually a little confused when I tell them I'm now a soccer fan. They tend to slip into disbelief when I tell them that I am also on the executive board for The Pride. I'm not what you would call a “sports fan.” Sure, I followed the Cincinnati teams, I fill out a March Madness bracket every year (it doesn't usually go well), I even played some sports, including soccer, when I was younger but I was never the type to get this invested in sports.

 Coming together with friends to focus our passion for FC Cincinnati

Coming together with friends to focus our passion for FC Cincinnati

When I joined The Pride, it was a purely practical reason: I wanted to know when the march from U-Square was leaving and I had heard there was a group text for it. I missed the march that match, funny enough but joining The Pride was one of the best decisions I could have made. My boyfriend had already joined so I figured, why not? Once we went to the first open meeting at Molly Malone's in Covington, I was hooked. This wasn't just sports. This was fun!

Before I started going to FCC matches, I could not tell you the first thing about soccer aside from “get the ball in the goal” and “red cards are bad.” I honestly still don't know much about soccer except now I kind of understand what offsides is. I don't just react to cheering now, I know what we're cheering for. I knew I was fully indoctrinated when one weekend morning I woke up on my own to watch the Tottenham Hotspurs take on Liverpool and woke up my parents with how much I was cheering.

 An amazing night that girls all over the Queen City will not soon forget

An amazing night that girls all over the Queen City will not soon forget

After that first season, I wanted to get more involved and found a way by helping man the sign up booth at the 3rd kit release party at Madtree. It was that easy. I hung out with friends all night, had someone buy me a beer for signing them up for The Pride, and left feeling good. And then it was announced that the position of Membership Coordinator was open on the executive board. I was a little apprehensive at first: what business did I have being one of the people who ran these supporter's groups? I didn't know anything about soccer! I can honestly tell you then, and now, I don't know the difference between Messi or Ronaldo (except for that statue) or most of these players. I applied anyway.

Having been a soccer fan for only a year and a half, all of a sudden I was on the executive board for The Pride. I thought going to FC Cincinnati games was going to just be a fun thing to do on Saturday nights. I thought going to FC Cincinnati games was just a way to root for another sports team. I didn't realize that it would give me new friends, new motivations, propel me into learning the inner workings of local government, or give me a sense of pride in my city that was honestly waning.

 Who knew being a soccer fan was going to be more Sim City than FIFA 18

Who knew being a soccer fan was going to be more Sim City than FIFA 18

When asked to write a blog from a women's perspective, I thought, “Well my perspective isn't really the one all women have about soccer.” and that's okay! For me, my perspective on all this has been different and everyone's will be! What I can tell you is while FC Cincinnati has given me so much, my favorite scarf isn't from any FCC match. The scarf I will treasure most is from the USWNT match at Nippert.

I took the entire day off for that match. I helped set up the tifo at Nippert beforehand and seeing all the pomp and circumstance for women blew me away. This wasn't something where women were the sideshow, they were the main event. Usually, when walking around during an FC Cincinnati match, you usually see little boys running around in kits. At the USWNT match I saw more girls in those kits than I thought possible. To be cliché, those kids are the future of our national teams, which I hear the men's team has some rough spot it's going through. Those women who play for the US are fighters. They fight for equal playing conditions, equal pay, and equal exposure. The fight on and off the pitch to show what is it and what it isn't to be a woman. A woman's perspective on soccer usually is limited to the sideline reporters interviewing coaches at halftime.

My perspective on soccer is this: it is for everyone. Young, old, man, woman, nonbinary people, gay, straight, somewhere in-between, rich, poor, whatever political party, it is for you. Whether you understand the game, or don't really even know who Messi is, it is for you! That is what made me fall in love with The Pride. If they can have me, someone who still doesn't really understand how formations work, on their executive board, it is truly for everyone.

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Abbey Witzgall

What's a Tifo?

What are tifos? Tifo, by definition, is the Italian word for a group of supporters or the act of supporting your team. The displays that take on the same name are rooted in Italian and Eastern European soccer back in the 60s and 70s when the rise of Supporters Groups (Ultras) began.

 Simple but perfect 

Simple but perfect 

If you google the word tifo and search images, you will see numerous forms of choreography ranging from small to large; Some may even show the face of The Joker or Freddy Krueger. Weird, I know, but there is also a reason for what is displayed on tifos and Supporters Groups (SG) can be very creative in their reasoning.

 One of the best displays ever put on by MLS fans

One of the best displays ever put on by MLS fans

For starters, SG are just that; groups of enthusiasts who support a soccer club. Their enthusiasm is, in most cases, excessive to most individuals. To be able to discuss tifos and their history or meaning, one must have a brief understanding of the type of individual(s) who create said tifos.

SG are the individuals cheering, drumming, flag-waving, singing, screaming, and doing whatever they can to support their club for 90 minutes or more. Unlike fans of other sports, such as baseball or basketball, SG practically work all year round and are ran like an organization. You will most likely see, or shall I say ‘hear’, these groups marching to the stadium well before kickoff.

 Dortmund's "Yellow Wall" is world famous for their displays of support

Dortmund's "Yellow Wall" is world famous for their displays of support

A couple of ways SG show their support are by tifos and chants, along with many other forms. These are some of the ways supporters can be creative and gear their chants or tifos towards specific themes. For example, last year, a few MLS clubs created large tifos to commemorate their departed supporters. Seeing these on match day can be a great sight for many match-goers but many do not know what goes into the creation and preparation of tifos.

 Tifos are a primary way supporters can get their message out to the worls

Tifos are a primary way supporters can get their message out to the worls

Large displays in leagues such as the German Bundesliga or the Spanish La Liga, tifos can costs tens of thousands of dollars while smaller tifos can still cost thousands of dollars. Not only do the material for these tifos cost quite a bit, they also take time and preparation. SG will generally have access to the grounds well before the match, so they have plenty of time to lay out their designs for these large tifos.

And tifos are an expression of the soccer culture that the supporters are from.  You won't see a lot of painted banners in England for example, but you will see a lot more spontaneous singing at certain players.  In South America the spectacle is the main job of the supporters, or barras. Confetti, fireworks, banners, and yes streamers, are on display for the full 90.  

 Collaborative efforts between the SGs can produce amazing results 

Collaborative efforts between the SGs can produce amazing results 

When asked which topic I wanted to write about, I chose tifos. Now, I have obviously seen many tifos on TV while watching professional matches, but I have never seen one in person nor been tasked with helping to prepare in the creation of tifos. This year, I am excited to see the types of tifos that the various FC Cincinnati Supporters Groups come up with and I also hope to have the opportunity to help in the creating of tifos. Overall, SG are meant to exude passion and support on match day and tifos can be a big part of that experience

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Mike Madanat

The Lady Lions

In case you’ve forgot we’ve set a few attendance records over the past few years. For the USL we’ve set the highest single-game, play-off game, and total attendance records, and we’ve done it multiple times. We had the highest ever attended soccer match in the state of Ohio when we played Crystal Palace in our first international friendly. When the US Women’s team came last year we had the highest attendance for a friendly in Ohio. We’ve set about every record we can attendance wise, but there’s a whole other league we have yet to conquer. That league is the National Women’s Soccer League.

Today’s Attendance: 23,535, another attendance record for the City of Cincinnati. We’ve seen these headlines before but we can see them again. Here’s where I make the case for FC Cincinnati to start an NWSL team.

The biggest reason I want to see a Lady Lions (that’s what I’m calling them) team is to see the best athletes play in person each week.  If we have an MLS team, we’ll get to see some of the best soccer players play, you see a few world cup players and if you’re lucky you get to see a world cup winner like Bastian Schweinstiger (I’ll never forget him shushing the Bailey). But when you watch an NWSL game you get to watch the best women’s players in the world. Most of the USWNT players play here in the NWSL. That’s right we can watch the current World Cup winners play each and every week.

 How many different areas can we have Cincinnati try and win a trophy?

How many different areas can we have Cincinnati try and win a trophy?

Another reason I want a Cincinnati NWSL team is because of the wealth of local women’s talent. Just for example Cincinnati is home to Heather Mitts and Rose Lavelle. Heather Mitts is three time Olympic gold medalist and Women’s World Cup silver medalist. And while Rose is new to the USWNT she has a bright future ahead of her. Watch out for her in France 2019. Cincinnati has a large number of youth soccer players, some high level youth clubs, and we have the Cincinnati Development Academy which is a partnership with US Soccer and is a direct pathway for girls to reach the Youth National Teams. What better way to capitalize on all the local talent than by starting a professional team where these girls can play professionally.

 Local + USWNT = Cincinnati Talent

Local + USWNT = Cincinnati Talent

Reason three, I want to be able to see the USWNT play here in Cincinnati more often. Yes, we’ve seen the women play at Nippert and yes they have played at Paul Brown before, but I want to see the USWNT play in a stadium built for soccer. When we have a soccer-specific stadium we can have a true place for the women to come and play. We all know the men have Columbus vs. Mexico (Dos a Cero) and Orlando is quickly becoming a stronghold as well. Imagine Cincinnati being that fortress for the USWNT. While having a women’s team isn’t needed to bring the USWNT I’m sure it would be hard for US Soccer to pass up a brand new stadium with the real grass and real fans.

 Coming to a stadium near you? 

Coming to a stadium near you? 

That brings me to my last point, the fans. We already pack the stadium for the men, we’ve set all the attendance records. Let’s do it for the NWSL. Let’s be the Portland of the Midwest. Portland is known for their rabid fans, the Timber Army, but did you know they also pack the stadium for their women’s team, the Thorns as well? In many ways the NWSL is similar to the USL, at least attendance wise. Looking up Wikipedia you can see the league averages about 5,000 people a match. But when you look at the individual teams, Portland averaged 17,000 last year. We can be the next Portland.

I would love to see a NWSL team come to Cincinnati, I want to see the best players in the world play each week. I want to see the local girls have a place to play when they grow up. I want to see more soccer here in Cincinnati. It may not happen next year or the year after that but I hope we see a women’s team here in Cincinnati in the next five years.

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Pete Wietmarschen

Soccer for the People

I want to start off by making a claim that I don’t think is very bold, but I would be happy to hear a counter argument to: Soccer has done more societal good in the world than any other sport, and it’s not even close.  This topic kept coming up in my head this past week as our own FC Cincinnati is trying to figure out which neighborhood it will best fit in. The connection between a soccer team and its community is something that a lot of people don’t understand, but it is key to understanding the sport.  Soccer teams are extensions of their communities, they are defined by their fans.  All over the globe clubs have reputations, good or bad, earned or unearned, based on their fans, the community, and what the club claims to represent.  As our own club is in the midst of figuring out exactly how it will represent Cincinnati, and where it will represent Cincinnati from, I thought it would be a great time to look at how powerful a soccer team can be for its community.

Soccer allows for interesting, compelling, and long storylines to playout on regional, national, and international stages.  And as you might imagine, this comes with stories of social and societal uplift.  When talking about the good that soccer can do in a community, it is difficult to think of a better story to lead off with than the Ivory Coast national soccer team helping end a civil war.  Led by the indomitable, and current part owner of USL’s Phoenix Rising, Didier Drogba the Ivorian national team helped bridge the gap between the Christian and Muslim factions on each side of the country’s brutal five year long conflict.  Following their qualification for the 2006 World Cup, Drogba took the microphone from a journalist in the locker room after the match and addressed his nation:

The elections he mentions in that video did take place, no violence accompanied them, and by the time the team kicked off in the 2006 World Cup, the civil war had ended.  An international soccer tournament was able to capture the attention, and the hearts, of an entire country and bring about an end to a bloody conflict.  Even if you hate soccer, you have to recognize the power soccer can carry in a community.

But sometimes the good soccer does in a community is not as obvious as ending a civil war.  Sometimes something as small as a nickname can tell you a lot about a club and its community.  Just about everyone on earth has heard of Lionel Messi, the undisputed best player in the world (Ahh, sorry, I don’t know the name of any wingers at Real Madrid).  Messi’s career began in his home country, Argentina, with a club called Newell's Old Boys.  While an odd name for a club, named after the fact that its first players were the graduates of Newell’s school, it’s their nickname that is particularly strange: The Lepers. While not the most inspiring name, it comes from the fact that in the 1920’s the club agreed to play a charity match to raise money for lepers.  Their cross town rivals, Rosario Central, turned down the invitation.  Newell’s Old Boys took up their nickname as a source of pride, what they did to help their community reflected, and continues to reflect, in the team’s identity.  As for Rosario Central?  Their nickname comes from the same incident, fittingly, The Scoundrels.

Other nicknames found in the world of soccer includes the club I follow in Europe, Everton.  They have a few nicknames: The Toffees, The School of Science, but my favorite is The People’s Club.  Born out of the fact that Everton does so much in the community, donates a tremendous amount of money, time, and access to the community.  When looking at a list of teams who pay a living wage, it’s unsurprising to find Everton there with only two or three other Premier League teams. Their charitable work has them supporting over 2000 charities, working with the local businesses to ensure responsible development, and always finding new ways to give back to the community. This is an example that I would love to see FC Cincinnati follow.  There is at least one connection between Everton and FC Cincinnati, both have hired the same architecture firm to work on their respective stadiums.  Not that FC Cincinnati does not give back to the community already, but Everton provides a fantastic road-map that I would love to see FC Cincinnati emulate.

 Futsal courts like these are important in bringing the world's game to every neighborhood in Cincinnati

Futsal courts like these are important in bringing the world's game to every neighborhood in Cincinnati

The beautiful thing about soccer is that it is a simple game.  It requires the least amount of equipment of any sport that might require any, can be played in any climate, any surface, and with a variety of team sizes. With very minimal modifications it can be open to people with all ranges of disabilities. Countries like Iceland, Costa Rica, Gabon, Syria, Mexico, and Algeria are as relevant on the world stage as traditionally powerful countries like Germany, England, and The United States.  It is the great equalizer in the world. And unlike the Olympics where that happen every four years in sports you only care about every four years, soccer is ongoing.  International tournaments happen every year.  There is no off-season in soccer. As far as accessibility goes, it is as accessible as it can be.  And should be.  Something that the new USSF president, Carlos Cordeiro, will have to contend with is the diversification of the soccer in the United State and making sure every community has access to the highest levels of the sport, structurally. Something that gets a lot easier if a community has a top division (read: MLS) team.  FC Cincinnati can be a focal point of outreach and engagement that connects different communities, a positive step in the right direction in any context.

Perhaps there is no better story of community and making the game open to everyone in the United States quite like the story of Junior Lone Star.  Junior Lone Star is a team that was in the US Open Cup last year.  Yes, that tournament that FC Cincinnati made it to the final four of.  Junior Lone Star, based in Philadelphia, is a team mostly made up of African refugees and other people found in the south western parts of Philadelphia.  This is a team that brings together people from all different countries, all different backgrounds, and puts them on a team competing in a national tournament that includes USL, NASL, and MLS teams. Something like this is not possible in other sports here in the US.  We do not get these stories anywhere else.  The connection soccer has to the world is simply not found anywhere else in sports. 

So as FC Cincinnati continues its search for its physical home in our city, I hope people realize what role it can, and has, played in our community.  FC Cincinnati has taken to building futsal courts in collaboration with Cincinnati Public SchoolsThey offer money to youth programs looking to fund-raise They are generous with organizations looking to partner with ticket sales.  And these are fantastic first steps for the club.  A club that I think we often forget is a minor league soccer club.  And they already have made a positive mark in the community. But it cannot stop here.  And it will not stop here. 

I should probably just write a book about some of the other fantastic stories found in soccer, but I cannot get to all of them in this blog.  Maradona’s single handed (ha!) dispatching of England in the 1986 World Cup, uplifting his home country after having just suffered a military defeat to England in the Falklands War.  Or the German side St. Pauli and their role as a fiercely anti-fascist club known for their political moves against neo-Nazi groups in Germany as well as their hospitality for refugees in their home town of Hamburg which spread to a small town in England. Or the story of how a small child, Bradley Lowery, warmed hearts and brought all of England together to fight a rare cancer that eventually took Bradley’s life. Or the role of Egyptian supporter groups played in the country’s ouster of dictator Hosni MubarakOr even in that realm, the role Syrian supporters have played in rebuilding Syrian society in the midst of their civil war. There are simply too many stories to tell.

This is the tradition that soccer has with its community.  It is a bulwark of the community.  It is the representative.  This is why I am proud to be a soccer fan and why I support FC Cincinnati.  Soccer as a force for good is in the DNA of the sport.  And I want that to thrive here in Cincinnati, as I know it can.  So if the team ends up in Newport, Oakley, or the West End, I look forward to soccer bringing the city, the region, and our community together. 

 

Why the Pride: Pete Wietmarschen


"Pete was the first person to reach out to me about wanting to write for the blog.  Pete is a new board member of the Pride along with myself, and has been a great addition to the team. This introduction will let you get to know Pete, continue our series on supporter stories, and get you excited about new content coming to the blog.  And not to steal Pete's thunder, rumors are he's working on an audio project for The Pride that should be pretty awesome when complete. Enjoy" - Kevin Wallace


Over 20 years ago I began my journey of soccer which has led me to being the FC Cincinnati fan I am today. What seems both like yesterday and forever ago I began playing soccer in my local rec league in Wyoming, OH, and yes, I was coached by my mom. Looking back on it I was nothing special, I did what ever other 4 year old did, I ran around the small field, chasing the ball. But soccer wasn’t my favorite, it was something I did to run around and I was competitive so I wanted to play any sport I could. I played for the rec teams for most of my childhood, up until I started playing for my grade school teams. When I first started playing sports in grade school I focused on my two favorite sports, basketball and baseball, I can remember playing for both St. Bart’s and Wyomings baseball teams one year.

But in fourth grade I choose to play the other futbal, that of the American variety. This was the early 2000’s and soccer wasn’t really nearly as big as it is now. We didn’t have a soccer team at school and if I wanted to play with my friends I had to either play select soccer or play football. I wanted to play with my friends and football was the way to go.  I mean I think the biggest soccer story I can remember growing up was when the US Women beat China in the World Cup and Brandi Chastain took off her shirt to celebrate. Maybe that’s just me having a bad memory but soccer wasn’t my sport. I grew up watch Xavier basketball and going to Cincinnati Reds games and tuning in each Sunday to watch the Bengals.

 Remember kids, don't mix Soccer with Baseball

Remember kids, don't mix Soccer with Baseball

It wasn’t until my seventh grade year that I got smart and left my football ways. I mean I weighted 120 pounds, soaking wet. I took a beating out there playing football and so I decided I wanted to give soccer another try. Again this wasn’t anything big, it was just a rec team with some friends of mine, but I remember having a lot of fun. I never scored in a game, though I did get two shots on target once, but it I think I started to realize then how much I enjoyed soccer. In high school some of the band kids (yeah, that’s me) got together for an indoor team. Again that was fun! Well, that first season was rough, we brought in one of our varsity soccer players as a ringer and we got placed in the hardest league but it was always fun.

In college I think I finally began to love soccer. A friend of our was dating one of the womens’ soccer player and the one time they made it to the tournament we hoped on the bus Morehead reserved with some of the squad that wasn’t playing, some cheerleaders, and a few other fan to drive like 6 hours down to Wake Forest to watch the girls play. I think that moment I knew I loved soccer, even as the girls lost, it was a fun and exciting 90 minutes.

When I wasn’t practicing or playing my saxophone (yeah, more music) I started watching soccer more regularly. Thanks to cable I was able to watch some sort of football all day on Sunday, I’d wake up, watch some EPL, turn on CBS, watch the Bengals, and maybe catch the Sunday night MLS game on ESPN. I started chatting with some friends who were Crew fans and Galaxy fans, and so like my playing career I got into in because of my friends.

After college I had my EPL team, Tottenham Hotspur, my MLS team, Portland Timbers, I watched almost all of the US national team games and it was fun to watch, but it was lacking something. It was lacking friends.

FC Cincinnati just came along at the right time for me but I was hooked from the day I heard about the announcement of a team. Having been a relative newbie to the support scene I really had no idea about what game day would be like. After grabbing some season tickets for the Bailey I was looking forward to cheering on the team in a section I hoped would be fun.

After spending probably too much work time staying up to date with the team I stumbled across the supporters group section of the website. I took some time and read up on each group. While they all have their own upside, I kept coming back to The Pride. Sure, I have some German heritage but I haven’t lived in the city for 20 years, I don’t have any kids, and while I went to school on the west side, I definitely was not a west-sider. What stood out to me was this quote, We welcome everyone to join us in spirited support of the team and to create the highest-quality supporters culture.”  So I signed up for The Pride.

I figured at worst I have a bar to go to before the games and at best I have a few friends I sit with at the games. What I got was so much more than that. And that was evident form the first friendly at Nippert stadium. I drag along my dad and we go down to Brass Tap (yeah, remember that place?) and within a few minutes I met Payne. From that moment on I knew I had found the right place. Everyone I met that night was excited, not just for the game, but to meet each other.

 (That's not Pete)

(That's not Pete)

Since that first friendly I have grown to love this group. I brought along my girlfriend, knowing nothing about soccer, and you’d never guess what happens over the next few years. From that small decision to choose The Pride, Abbey and I have had a lot of great things come about in the soccer world. I am now an at-large member of the executive board, Abbey is the membership coordinator, I play the snare down in the Bailey, and we now have great friends, great times, and great soccer.

As someone who loves to do things with friends, FC Cincinnati has become so much better for me because of the relationships I have gained from joining The Pride. I want to spread that openness, that friendliness, I saw from day one. So if you see me at the bar before a game or walking down the street with some gear on, come and say hi! I’ll be sure to do the same.

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Pete Wietmarschen

Why The Pride: Mike Madanat

"I want to introduce everyone to a new voice on the Blog: Mike Madanat!  Mike reached out to me with an interest in writing for the Pride and so we've added him to the team.  This introduction on Mike will kick off a little series of pieces from our new writers and myself on why we support, why we love soccer, and what drew us in to the Pride.  I hope you enjoy Mike's work and join me in looking forward to more of his work!" - Kevin Wallace


Soccer entered my life at a very early age. My parents were born and raised in the Middle East and growing up, my father told me that him and his friends had to be creative with their enjoyment. He talked a lot about how soccer was more than just something to do; it was a part of his life. When my father was growing up, it was a luxury to have a soccer ball, let alone watch a game on tv. These times were far from our current days of watching USL games online for free.

My father mentioned that he never had a real soccer ball as a child. Him and his friends would make soccer balls out of whatever they could. No, their custom made soccer balls probably were not the official size and weight but it was not about that for them. It was about the love of the game.

When I was growing up, I was surrounded by soccer. You can imagine the excitement my father had once soccer became more and more exciting in the United States. My family made sure we had every channel available to watch soccer games. Every Sunday we would move our kitchen table into the living room and have breakfast there while watching whatever soccer game was on at the time; always  Manchester United if they were playing.

 The Tehran Derby is one of the biggest in the world, but being in the Middle East, it does not get headlines 

The Tehran Derby is one of the biggest in the world, but being in the Middle East, it does not get headlines 

I have seen soccer bring people of different religions and cultures together.  I have also seen soccer create long-lasting relationships. For me, it’s done both. The Pride and FC Cincinnati has helped me create the foundation to many friendships that I believe I will have for a very long time. Having moved to Cincinnati in October of 2017, I knew no one. What I did know is that I was super excited to be able to support a soccer team that had so much excitement revolving around it.

As I stated before, I knew no one when I moved here but was excited to find that Cincy was a soccer city. There were bars that favored teams and always aired their games. I could not believe that. Where I lived before, there was no love for soccer at bars. After seeing that Rhinehaus was airing an Arsenal game, I messaged their Facebook account and asked if they knew of a spot I could watch Manchester United games. I was then directed to the one and only Jono Bregger. After watching some games at Molly Malone’s, I was told about The Pride.

What drew me to The Pride was how welcoming Jono was when I was first introduced to him. I was shocked at the hospitality from him, Max, Josh and the others I met over my time watching games at Molly Malone’s. I was then introduced to The Pride and was welcomed with open arms. To me, joining The Pride was a no brainer. I loved watching soccer and I had the opportunity to make new friends with like-minded individuals.

One thing I have noticed in my time in Cincinnati is that people are passionate about soccer and the love for FC Cincinnati is addicting. I never imagined that I would have the opportunity to not only support such an exciting team at a very exciting time but also do so with some of the greatest individuals I have ever had the opportunity to befriend. For me, I joined The Pride to make some friends and watch some soccer but I have a feeling that it will lead to quite a bit more in the future. I look forward to my first FCC season and cheering them on with my brothers and sisters in The Bailey.

 "Our city's limits are carved in hears not stone"

"Our city's limits are carved in hears not stone"

 Juncta Juvant.

=======

Mike Madant

Two of the Best Teams in the USL: FC Cincinnati

There is no faster way to put pressure on a head coach than to hand them an absurdly overpowered squad. That is the exciting, and perhaps terrifying, position coach Alan Koch now find himself in.  Koch, Berding, and FC Cincinnati have put together one of the most impressive squads ever assembled by a lower division American soccer team.  I have to admit my familiarity with Raul-era Cosmos isn’t quite what it should be, but this 2018 team has to stack up with the best squads NASL put together over the decade or so.

And in fact, I would go as far as to suggest FC Cincinnati now has not just the best squad in the USL, but two of the best squads in the USL.

Excitingly, FC Cincinnati finally has a “Number 10”.  And nothing warmed my heart more than seeing the Cincinnati Enquirer discover some soccer terminology with their recent article on the position.  To sum it up quickly, FCC has never had a skillful attacking playmaker playing in the center of the pitch.  Central midfield stalwarts like Kenny Walker and Corbin Bone have attempted to serve that role in the past to an extent, but they are primarily defensive midfielders.  With the addition of Nazmi Albadawi and Emmanuel Ledesma, FCC finally has options in the playmaking role. And this opens up a whole new world of formational opportunities.

 I mean, just look at this team!  Ahhhh!

I mean, just look at this team!  Ahhhh!

 

Above is my idea of what a starting 11 could look like when the season opens.  And you’ll notice there are not a lot of opportunities for the old guard in this team.  The back line is revamped with experienced and skilled players. The loss of Delbridge and Berry won’t be nearly has hard to handle if Lasso and Keinen play like Koch is expecting them to. Laing out on the left would be a lot more defensive than he played at North Carolina FC, but would be a terror bombing down the wing.  And Bahner on the right, where he really grew into the position last year, becoming one of the most reliable players in the 2017 campaign.

 MLS caliber talent signs a multi year team with FCC?  We're going up! 

MLS caliber talent signs a multi year team with FCC?  We're going up! 

In the midfield, things get really exciting.  Gibson joins Walker as the defensive cover for the back four, and Walker’s ability to shut down an attack is going to be crucial to provide support for when the outside backs are pulled further up the field.  And then in the middle of the field we find the most exciting new acquisition, Albadawi.  Directing the attack from the middle of the field, letting play go through him, will rely on his distribution. At the end of the year, ideally, he leads the league in touches, key passes, and assists.  Expect a number of FCC counter attacks to be brought on from Walker poking the ball out from under an attacker, Gibson quickly collecting and getting the ball to Albadawi who then feeds the attackers with the incisive pass that leads to a shot on goal.  And you know I am going to lose my mind in the bailey if this sequence ever happens.  This defensive and midfield shape would be extremely difficult to break down and be an absolute monster to handle when possession switches teams. 

And then finally, the attack. Ledesma on the right and Welshman on the left provide firepower that is unmatched in USL.  Ledesma was a beast for the Cosmos, lighting up the NASL with goals and assists galore.  Welshman joins as one of the lone bright spots for a Puerto Rico side that is in serious limbo right now.  It is very possible that fan favorite McLaughin ends up in this position more often than not, but for now I’ll defer to the new guy.  And then in the middle, Heinemann.  The leading goal scorer for NASL champions, and dearly departed, San Francisco Deltas.  His ability to score long distance shots is something FCC has lacked since day one.  He has a big enough body to play holdup and layoff passes for Albadawi, Ledesma, and Welshman to lash home.

All told, this is a team that can compete not just in USL, but should make a very deep run in the Open Cup. The talent up and down the field is going to be very difficult for most teams to matchup against.  Which means we’ll still probably lose to Charleston, but hey, what can you do.  But the best part of this line up?  It means the “second team” is good enough to make the playoffs on their own. And that might be because a number of USL teams still can’t field 11 players, but you get the idea.

 buildlineup.com is the best website ever, seriously, give it a shot

buildlineup.com is the best website ever, seriously, give it a shot

Just look at that thing.  De Wit, Hoyte, Josu, Bone, McLaughlin, and Konig were the core of the Open Cup run.  Barrett comes in to solidify a back line that Chicago Fire, Columbus Crew, and Miami FC couldn’t break down which is a nice luxury.  Hopefully Halfhill continues to develop as the FC Cincinnati pet project that needs to pay off this year.  Bone marshals the midfield and newcomer Seymore gets to learn from the best.  Haber and McLaughlin run wild on USL defenses while Cicerone feeds the Great Dane Konig up top. 

As for goalkeepers, I would assume it is Richey’s starting job to lose, but Newton is no slouch. If Richey can live up to the promise he showed in Vancouver, he could easily become an MLS caliber keeper, and if not Newton has proven himself in this league.

Now all of this is dependent on what happens in the preseason.  Maybe some of the new guys don’t gel as well, or different formations are tried out.  Thankfully this roster is so deep I think they’re going to strike oil at Nippert. Which means it’s up to Koch to deliver postseason results that this city so craves.  And maybe we take a few more MLS scalps with us.

=========

Kevin Wallace

Football and Futbol

If you ever wanted to see two different Cincinnatis, you need only look at the Bengals and FC Cincinnati.  

The Bengals just completed a very disappointing season with mishap after gaff after screwup.  They missed the playoffs, managed to fail to trade a player, managed to draft a player who may or may not have been hurt and then may or may not have benched for running the wrong route once.  The team’s biggest accomplishment was helping a different team get into the playoffs.  And yet they signed up their long standing mediocre coach for another two years.  You know, in case the last 16 or so left some doubt as to what you get with a Marvin Lewis team. 

 It's been so long he almost looks unrecognizeable

It's been so long he almost looks unrecognizeable

Bengals fans are angry. The team has condemned itself to another few years of mediocrity.  In fact most fans are now just waiting for the owner of the team to pass away before they’re willing to invest in the club again.  Yet those same and have made that same promise a few times over the last 25 years. But it is clear this is a franchise that has decided being “just good enough” is acceptable.

Meanwhile, another futbol team is trying to achieve as much as it can.  FC Cincinnati is a finalist in joining MLS, something most observers now predict will happen. And a team that has lost in the first round in the playoffs has decided to completely retool its entire roster. This is the same team that last year, right before the season, fired its coach for not meeting benchmarks. 

 Twice in the playoffs, quarter finals in the Open Cup, and still not settling

Twice in the playoffs, quarter finals in the Open Cup, and still not settling

And how about that new roster? This is a team now that is extremely deep. To quote a user on Reddit “The NASL isn't dead. It's just going on an all-star tour through USL dressed in orange and blue.” Koch and his staff are putting together an NASL dream-team that should be brutal to defend against. Goals, assist, and chances created leaders from the NASL last year are now calling Cincinnati home.  Keep in mind the NASL had a winning record against USL teams in last year’s Open Cup.

FCC will now find on its roster Lance Laing, Tommy Heinemann, Emmanuel Ledesma, Forest Lasso, and Tyler Gibson. A veritable who’s-who of extremely talented players being courted by MLS teams from the lower divisions. Throw in Paddy Barrett and Dekel Keinan and this is starting to look like a team gunning for the Open Cup trophy and a CONCACAF Champions League berth. 

 Maybe the best player in the NASL last year is now on the roster. That's a reload. 

Maybe the best player in the NASL last year is now on the roster. That's a reload. 

These last two years the question has come up: who on this roster could go to MLS if we moved? The short answer had typically been Delbridge, Walker, maybe Hildebrandt.  Mitch answered that question for us by going to be a backup in MLS behind Brad Guzman in Atlanta. Harrison has left to the Australian A-League which is a comparable level to MLS. And Kenny is still on this roster and most likely the captain of this team going into the preseason. 

But now the answer to the question of who could move to MLS with us? Ledesma, Laing, Gibson, Lasso, Walker, and Richey are all in the conversation. That’s an incredible leap in talent from the last two years. No offense to the guys we’ve had in the past, we’ve had an incredibly successful two years by anyone’s measure, but now we’re looking at a team that should “walk the league” and be an absolute terror to play in the Open Cup. 

And when you look at the Bengals and their complacency, it’s refreshing to see these additions.  It’s refreshing to see a team that represents your hometown wanting to go out and win.  The Reds told us it might be awhile before they’re competitive.  The Bengals have said the same in their actions.  The Cyclones are hopelessly adrift in the minor leagues.  When it comes to professional sports in Cincinnati, there is only one team out there, year in and year out, trying to represent our city in the best way possible.  Even if you’re not a soccer fan, you have to take notice of that fact. 

 FC Cincinnati were even nice enough to not screw over taxpayers unlike a few other teams...

FC Cincinnati were even nice enough to not screw over taxpayers unlike a few other teams...

Silly Season

Here we are folks, just a few days out from the finish line of a race we probably didn’t fully understand two years ago.  Berding, Lindner, and the mayor (!?) wrapped up their final power point presentation to MLS last week capping off the most electric first two years an American soccer team has ever put together. A lot of very hard work from a lot of different people has finally culminated into this two week long waiting period.   I’ve been listening to a lot of my old folk-punk albums recently, and when “Anxious and Worrying” by Defiance Ohio came on in the car, it summed up how I have been feeling about this waiting game we’re all playing right now.   

 It's like a mini bailey, just a hint wealthier and bit more politically connected

It's like a mini bailey, just a hint wealthier and bit more politically connected

If you are like me you are likely the “soccer guy” or “soccer girl” around your office and you probably get the same questions I get: “How’s the bid looking?”, “What are our chances?”, “Can they really take Detroit?”, “I saw on Twitter it’s going to be Nashville and Sacramento”,  yeah, you get the point.  And depending on the time of day, day of the week, and temperature outside, my answer is always different.  So using the song “Anxious and Worrying”, I want to explore where we are and what is about to happen to all of us over the next handful of days. 

“Anxious and worrying,
So you spend your whole life hurrying
for something better
than what you knew before”


Right now all off FC Cincinnati fandom is over-analyzing every shred of information that comes out of MLS head offices right now, looking and searching for that tiny nugget that might show which way the league is leaning.  As of right now we know that Nashville, Sacramento, Detroit, and Cincinnati made presentations to the league in New York on Wednesday.  We know Detroit was grilled on their stadium situation, wanting to use Ford Field (though they have added the Ford Family to their bid).  We know Sacramento seemed amazingly unconfident talking about homework they have yet to do.  And we know next to nothing about Nashville’s response because their officials didn’t talk to national media.

We also know that MLS is openly considering adding a team to the league in 2019 to make up for the lack of a Miami team that was supposed to be there.  We know MLS has approved of Nippert Stadium as a temporary venue, and we have not heard them approve any other expansion city’s current stadiums for MLS use.

So that is where we stand with MLS.  USL on the other hand continues to be the unstable messy home that we have grown to love and resent at the same time.

Harrisburg City Islanders are now Penn FC it turns out.  Rochester is taking a break but we might still be playing regular season games there? Las Vegas, Fresno, and Nashville are joining the fracas. And every single “2” team has been rumored to be closing up shop at one point or another.  Oh and North Carolina FC joined the league from NASL, and don’t expect them to be the last making that sheepish walk of shame back to USL.

 The USL, like our universe, will never ever stop expanding until no light can escape the darkness

The USL, like our universe, will never ever stop expanding until no light can escape the darkness

“'Cause we've all got hearts
And they keep beating
And they keep telling-
telling us what we should say
Its hard to listen anyway”


Since the last time this blog threw out a post a lot of activity has been going on with FC Cincinnati fans in general and Pride members specifically. The group “Build it Here” became very active over the last month and a half making appearances at County and City meetings, popping up on radio shows, and causing a bit of a tweetstorm with elected officials on twitter (where else would a tweetstorm happen?) The push to get a stadium deal locked down in Cincinnati kicked into high gear and we came out the other side with a stadium deal in place.  It was a remarkable experience for a lot of members of the Pride to take part in, getting a real taste of local politics and seeing how our community can come together to build, literally, something we want to see happen.  So a massive thank you to all of the members of the Pride who made their voices heard during this process, know that you made this happen. 

 It's sooooo pretty!! And in Oakley! 

It's sooooo pretty!! And in Oakley! 

We also elected, or I should say reelected, the board for our little organization. President, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer, Creative Director ,and Membership Coordinator all were reelected with Payne Rankin, Chris White, Matt Broo, Mark Szwejkowski, Hannah Motz, and Abbey Witzgall respectively reclaiming those offices.  Radio superstar Max Ellerbe succeeds Zach McClurg as Match Day Coordinator.  And Pete Wietmarschen and yours truly joining the board with at-large seats. A solid leadership to guide this lovable group of supporters into the future, if I do say so myself.

“And I sure hope we aren't just spinning our wheels.
Whatever happens, I think you should know
I'm just glad it feels like anything at all”

These lines exactly sum up how I feel about the expansion process right now. This is how I answer most people who ask “how do our chances look?”: There is nothing else Cincinnati could have done up to this point.  We have built one of the most rabid soccer fan-bases in the country, and frankly put a lot of MLS teams to shame.  We have a stellar ownership group and a stadium deal done in the city of Cincinnati.  We have one of the most lucrative shirt sponsors lined up should we get the nod We have a coaching staff that has proven it can compete with, and beat, MLS teams.  And we have a city that is fully invested in this team, literally and figuratively. If FC Cincinnati is passed over this time around, it means we never had a shot when this team was announced.  Nashville and Detroit don’t even have teams right now and Sacramento is good but we have showed them up over the last year or so.

So if I had to guess now what would happen?  It’s looking more and more like Columbus moving to Austin opens the door for two eastern teams and Nashville and Cincinnati will be selected.  And if you told me any other combination of teams were being taken instead, I wouldn’t be shocked. Detroit is a lot of money to leave on the table and Nashville . . . uhhh . . . is a “cool city”, I guess?  I mean if you’re really into country music fueled bachelorette parties go for it MLS.

 Above: Every single Nashville and Detroit fan that has been to a game

Above: Every single Nashville and Detroit fan that has been to a game

At the end of the day though, these past two years of dragging a historically stubborn and conservative city into the future has been a blast.  Soccer is not only taking root here in Cincinnati, it is taking over.  The friendships we’ve fostered and connections we’ve made around the country in this time has been extraordinary as well. Soccer bring fans together in a way no other sport really does.  Taking this little team playing in a college football stadium into an international phenomenon on the cusp of first division status has been the best roller coaster ride of my life. Regardless of what happens, I know fans will stay with this team.  Our game isn’t over if this invitation doesn’t come.  We can still punish MLS in the Open Cup, set ourselves up for the next round of expansion, and shower louisville with streamers. 

“So don't push me down, I don't go down easy. 
And don't pick me up just to see me be the boy you knew. 
It's just the distance between we and who we wish
that we could be don't seem so far, I guess, as it did so long ago”

So this is it.  We sit and wait for the weirdest thing a professional sports league has ever done.  When other leagues in this country expand, it feels like it comes out of nowhere.  Or more generally an expansion team is awarded to a city that lost a franchise in the not-so-distant-past.  But here, we’re playing “America’s Got Soccer Markets” on a national stage where the contestants break news about kiosks and new billionaire best friends in an attempt to drum up interest.

One thing I am very curious about is how MLS is actually going to announce this thing.  Flying the Don out to the two cities that get selected will be so telegraphed that it will serve as the de-facto announcement.  Or maybe a Facebook live event on the 18th?  Or the most cruel suggestion I have heard is to do a live TV show like the NCAA selection shows do with teams on the bubble.  A live camera in Detroit, Nashville, Sacramento, and Cincinnati show the faces of the billionaire owners and the token fans who took off of work are seen cheering and happy up until they learn, live on air, all of their work was for naught.  It’ll be “The Decision” but more so.  Being an American soccer fan is weird.

So here is to two weeks of stress.  Two weeks of watching who starts following whom on twitter.  Two weeks of leaks, rumors, and parsing phrases.  Two weeks of being peppered with the same few questions over and over again. Good luck everyone.  Stay sane.  And let’s go win that bid.

 You know you can't say no to this Don

You know you can't say no to this Don

Hope the Soccer

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?

 The global community of soccer fans is something no other sport has

The global community of soccer fans is something no other sport has

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.

 Exactly

Exactly

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.

 Yup, soccer will totally be better by ripping these's people's hearts out and stomping on it 

Yup, soccer will totally be better by ripping these's people's hearts out and stomping on it 

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?

 Cannot wait to see what this man can do for Cincinnati in the playoffs

Cannot wait to see what this man can do for Cincinnati in the playoffs

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.

 Here's to you all

Here's to you all

 

--------------

Kevin Wallace

The Finale That Was Not Final

Uhhh, is this thing still on?  Does my password still work?  Whew, good.  Ok, Back to business.

Saturday felt like a finale to a solid second season of your new favorite TV.  Not quite as magical as the first season, but still full of surprises that made you remember why you fell in love with the thing in the first place.  And who could have predicted that Open Cup story arch?  The will-they-won’t-they make the playoffs storyline that dominated the final act got a little tired, but we stuck with it. The emergence of new favorite characters like Djiby and Konig were great additions considering they Game of Thrones-ed their main character Okoli from the first season.

That’s probably enough TV analogies for one blog.

But Saturday really did feel like the end of the season.  Farewells were said, handshakes and high-fives exchanged between strangers who sat or stood next to each other for the summer. It was bitter sweet in a lot of ways.

 The fans did all they could this year, now it is up to these guys to get it done on the road

The fans did all they could this year, now it is up to these guys to get it done on the road

The product on the field during the home finale was fantastic.  Fans were treated to what was probably our best possible lineup, though with the inexplicable reappearance of De Wit. Six goals total with FC Cincinnati vanquishing their Red Bull demons was a sight to beholdThere was something extra special about Kenny Walker scoring an incredible free-kick in front of the Bailey while we were singing “We’re gonna win, we’re gonna win”. Can you believe there are still people who say soccer is boring?  And with that win, the season is set up nicely for the final run of games.

Which is the point of this piece in the first place.  This season is not over.  There are still four, count them, four game left in this season!  That’s twelve and half percent of the season to go! However, all of those games are on the road.  Which is a bummer, because FC Cincinnati absolutely melts when the pressure of 350 people in the stands is on them.  If by some miracle this team manages to win four games on the road, in a row no less, a home playoff game is not out of the question. 

And that is what makes this so exciting.  Our club is still in a dog fight for playoff positioning and we need to support them.  Remember those scenes of people crowding into bars to watch the away game in Miami?  That needs to happen again. This team left everything they had out on the field on Saturday, and we owe it to them to support them on the road.  Those moments of pure ecstasy in the home bar of our supporters groups are amazing.  The scream and yelling and hugging and singing is awesome.  Only USA World Cup matches have equaled the excitement I have felt at some of these away-game watch parties. If you have not yet been to one of this cities soccer bars during an away game, you ought to give it a shot.  And maybe make a new friend or two!

 Despite what MLS fans might think, it's still not fun playing reserve teams in the league

Despite what MLS fans might think, it's still not fun playing reserve teams in the league

And it is not like you are going to be watching the Reds or Bengals makes a mockery of our city in front of the nation anyway.  We need to be supporting this aspirational club in bringing home winning soccer.  Saint Louis, Charlotte, Ottawa, and Tworonto are all winnable games for this team.  And if nobody else in this city will let a sports fan have hope, we might as well pull for this plucky little soccer club that refuses to quit. Come on you FCC.

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Kevin Wallace

The Pride of Cincinnati

In the final season of the amazing TV show The Office, Andy Bernard drops one of the most heartbreaking lines of all time when he says “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good ol’ days before you’ve actually left them”. 

Folks, right now, we are in the good ol’ days of FC Cincinnati. 

This is a sports story that will live on in this city for generations.  In fact, this is a tournament run that will be forever remembered in the history of the U.S. Open Cup around the country.  An upstart team in Cincinnati, in only its second year, went on a run that included defeating two MLS clubs and the best the NASL had to offer to make it to the semi-finals.  What FC Cincinnati just did is what every single lower division club has hoped for since at least 1996.  That is a victory in and of itself.  The world took notice of this team.  MLS Commissioner Don Garber and USSF President Sunil Gulati were in attendance last night.  That is not normal.  Regardless of the score line, this team exceeded even the most optimistic goals.  

 Image shamelessly stole from Reddit user u/graymatter86

Image shamelessly stole from Reddit user u/graymatter86

It is hard to put into words how it feels coming off of the loss last night.  Everyone knew we did not have a shot at this.  Everyone knew we were going to get scored on.  Everyone knew what Bradley Wright-Philips and Sacha Kljestan were capable of.  Our team suffered their worst loss in club history just four days prior.  And yet, this defeat stings.  When you walk into a stadium with absolutely no hope for a victory, I suppose it was only fair that we started dreaming up 2-0 with 15 minutes to play. 

But nobody felt this defeat like Djiby. A man that carried this team, no this city, on his back in this tournament, was only unable to play thanks to an oversight in the rules by USSF.  His emotion on the field was that of a player who put everything out there for his team, our fans, and this city.  There are still, still, people online who claim he is a lazy player or wish they saw more out of him.  I hope they saw last night the tears and pain in his face after that loss.  That is a player any club anywhere in the world would be happy to have.

 This is an open invitation for fistacufs to the next person who calls this man lazy. Photo thanks to Cincinnati Soccer Talk

This is an open invitation for fistacufs to the next person who calls this man lazy. Photo thanks to Cincinnati Soccer Talk

Now some people have tried to connect this defeat with other sour moments of playoff history in Cincinnati, but there is no comparison.  This was a resounding success, and anyone who tells you different is a dirty liar.  If UC basketball lost in the final four last year, would it have been a disappointing tournament?  If the Bengals lost Andy Dalton in the playoffs, only to lose the AFC Championship, would it be a failure?  The fact that a Cincinnati team won five games in a single tournament is something that has not been done since the last time the Reds won the World Series. Regardless of the loss last night, this team won.  Nobody can say anything that will take that away. 

Cincinnati, hold your head up high today.  You did the sport of soccer proud last night.  A sell-out crowd that embarrassed the national cable channels that decided to air documentary re-runs instead of the most compelling story-line in sports.  The tifo was absolutely on-point, and a special thanks to all of you who sacrificed your evenings this past week to pull off that display. And the fans in the main stands were starting powerful, booming chants that are a rarity in MLS stadiums.  Was anyone sitting down after halftime? Hats off to everyone.

 Thank you Cincinnati Soccer Talk for this perfect image of a lot of hard word

Thank you Cincinnati Soccer Talk for this perfect image of a lot of hard word

And not least of which is the team.  This team has so many likeable players that are different fans’ favorite players.  This team put everything out on that field last night.  The fact that FC Cincinnati forced extra time with the New York Red Bulls is a testament to the talent and hard-work these players have shown us over the last two years.  I was critical of coach Koch early in the year, but bravo sir.  Koch went toe-to-toe with one of the best managers in US Soccer and damn near pulled off the impossible. Had his contract had not just been extended; I would say the contract ought to be in front of him this morning.

 Never forget how you felt at this exact moment

Never forget how you felt at this exact moment

So while the loss hurts, FC Cincinnati has set the town on fire.  A remarkable story and tournament that reminded us what it was like to root for a winning team.  To root for a team with lofty aspirations.  To root for a team that wants to do the city proud.  To root for a team that can win tournament games.  To root for team that does not tell fans “we’re not going to compete for a few years”.  To root for a team that shows how far we have come in a short amount of time as a community.  We may have lost the battle last night, but we decidedly won the war.

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Kevin Wallace

The Cincinnati Sports Story We've Been Waiting For

I have to level with you, after the impossible win over Miami FC, it is hard not to sit here and just write "CAN YOU BELIEVE WE WON?" about 239 times and call it a day. Also, it turns out, there are only so many synonyms for "incredible".  But if you were at Ladder 19, or any of the other bars in this city, or maybe in Miami on Wednesday, or wherever you watched the game, you are probably still buzzing too. How great is it to have something fun to root for from this city? How long has it been since something this exciting was happening in our city?

 Just look how happy they are to be playing for a team from Cincinnati!

Just look how happy they are to be playing for a team from Cincinnati!

Looking over the last few blog entries, it is pretty obvious that the U.S. Open Cup run has become the story-line of the season.  Through this run we have seen the team be everything a fan would want to see in their hometown team.  Their inability to quit on a game, or give up a goal, has been, well, incredible. Heroes and legends are being formed.  Cincinnati sports icons are being made before our eyes with this tournament run.

I mean, remember when FC Cincinnati needed extra time to put away AFC Cleveland?  That seems like years ago.  Or the game that someone declared "the most important game in the club's history" against Louisville City FC, a game a mere 6,000 fans showed up for?  In five years, how many people are going to claim they were at that Louisville game, the one where Djiby scored the game winner while in the middle of serving a 6 game league match ban?  Of course there was the epic game against Columbus Crew and the country's new favorite sports rivalryThen Mitch standing on his head against Chicago Fire SC, whew.  The on-again-off-again Miami game that, if we are honest with ourselves, was a blessing to be delayed. In some ways, this all feels like it was from a different season.

And boy has this city's old sports media taken notice of what is happening here.  Bill Cunningham, Lance McAlister, and Mo Egger have dedicated prime sports radio air-time to FC Cincinnati over the last week.  Local news sports reports are leading off with FC Cincinnati coverage for goodness sake. And of course the Enquirer has maintained their beat writer on the team.  Folks that are, for lack of a better term, old school "anti-soccer" sports fans, are starting to get annoyed that our team is getting so much coverage.  And to be honest, it has been a guilty pleasure watching some meltdowns on call-in shows and on social media. 

 Wait, I'm confused, is Soccer communist or not communist?

Wait, I'm confused, is Soccer communist or not communist?

Which brings up a larger point: it should be of absolutely no surprise that our city has rallied behind this team.  This is a city that has not had very much to be excited about in its recent sports history.  Sure, if you go back far enough you will find the Big Red Machine and a couple of Super Bowl appearances, but those were 30-40 years ago!  And as fun as the Cyclones are, they are a minor league team who exist to feed players up; that is not what FC Cincinnati does.

Put another way, this is the most exciting sports story in this city in the last 20 years.  While this has the first impression of the spiciest of takes, can you really name a better story than this U.S. Open Cup run? FC Cincinnati, in its second year, entered a tournament with 99 teams, and is among the last four remaining. This tournament, which has been around for over 100 years, ranks among the oldest soccer tournaments in the world.  And FC Cincinnati has defeated the division 4 champion, their bitter rival, two MLS teams, and the best second division team (at home) to get to this point. You could not have asked for a better run of opponents to get to this stage of the tournament.

 And only four of these teams are still in the "hunt"

And only four of these teams are still in the "hunt"

The only thing that could realistically challenge is the 2009 UC Bearcats football undefeated season.  That season ended with a stab in the back and defection to Notre Dame and a blowout loss in Urban Meyer's final game ever coaching (remember when he missed his family and was on the verge of having a heart attack? Seems to have improved eh?)  Fond memories for those who traveled to Pittsburgh and sat through the snow, but it was not quite the giant-killing, or rather giant-massacre, FC Cincinnati has carried out in front of an international audience this summer.

 The last moment UC Football fans felt happiness 

The last moment UC Football fans felt happiness 

Cincinnati is a city that has a lot going for it right now.  People are proud of their city again.  People are investing in the city.  They are choosing to live in the city and rejecting the suburbs.  Places like Pendleton and Camp Washington that were once avoided are becoming the centers of new growth. Music festivals and foodie celebrations are such a regular occurrence that it is hard to keep up.  And when you wake up in the morning it is a good idea to check and make sure someone didn't start a brewery under your bed. 

Our city has had nearly everything looking more positive these last 10-15 years with the glaring exception of our professional sports.   But that has changed with FC Cincinnati.  We have a team that is dedicated to winning.  They are dedicated to achievingas much as they can.  We have a team that has aspirations that match the city.  The Reds are happy to rebuild their rebuild, and the Bengals are content with their mediocrity. FC Cincinnati fired their beloved head coach and have just not stopped making moves to improve from last year.  As a sports fan in this city, how can you not sit up and take notice of the only team in town dedicated to representing you in the best way possible, by winning?

 Our fans are so disapointed they lack the energy to be creative in their disapointment

Our fans are so disapointed they lack the energy to be creative in their disapointment

So when the New York Redbulls come into town on August 15th, we all know this is going to be a big game.  Not just a big game for soccer in this city, or for this team, no, this is bigger.  FC Cincinnati hosting New York Redbulls in the semi-finals of the US Open Cup is the biggest sporting event in this city has played host to in the last twenty years.  Losing first round playoff games and getting no-hit in the divisional round were not as big as this game will be.  One of the longest running competitions in this county will forever have Cincinnati's name attached to its fascinating tapestry of stories and history.  This would be like the Cyclones beating the Black Hawks and Blue Jackets in order to host the Rangers in a hockey tournament.  The improbability of this run, combined with how good the team has looked doing it, makes this the most exciting sporting event this city has had the opportunity to be a part of in twenty years.

 This image never gets old

This image never gets old

Even if you are not a fan of soccer, it is impossible not to see what is happening in this city right now.  This is a movement.  The groundwork has been laid by the clubs and organizations before FC Cincinnati, and the city has taken to this sport and run with it.  Last Saturday FC Cincinnati was the most attended soccer game in the United States, on fan appreciation night. Soccer in the Queen City has arrived, and she wears orange and blue. 

 

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Kevin Wallace