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.

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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.

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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.

--------
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.

======= 

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. 

 

======= 

Kevin Wallace

Wew Boy, Stadiums

If I were a super villain looking to wreak havoc on a major metropolitan area, I would just spread rumors that someone in Cincinnati wanted to build a stadium.  Nothing rallies the irrational, the reactionary, or the passionate like a good ol' Cincinnati stadium squabble. There are very few topics that a sports writer in this city can write about that will guarantee clicks quite like a stadium debate.  Politicians can take bold positions on proposals that have yet to be proposed for solid optics.  And the anti-tax crowd can go off parroting their three talking points before anyone has had a chance to slap together a PowerPoint presentation.  It really is win-win-win for the loudest, most uneducated, voices in sports and politics.  Boom.  Roasted everyone.

It's so Pretty!

It's so Pretty!

A few simple facts before we jump in.  The team probably already has things ready to go in Newport, and we know that because they have told us as much.  The team would also prefer the team to be in Cincinnati, because they have told us that, too.  And they are probably shopping the deal they already have in Newport to Cincinnati and Hamilton County; that is a guess by me.  Which makes me think that if nothing changes between now and November, and MLS asks FC Cincinnati if they can build a stadium if they get invited, the team will say “yup, on the banks of the mighty licking river”.  But that conversation is not nearly as much fun to have, because everything is laid out and there is nothing to get mad about.  So how about we get mad about stadiums eh?

Now, I have to be careful with this post because I am writing this Blog for the Pride, a supporters group for FC Cincinnati, with hundreds of members.  If I take a bold stance on the stadium debate here (Camp Washington or bust!), I risk misrepresenting the organization and its many members who hold many different views. So this blog will not be about Kentucky being the worst state in the union (that would be Idaho; they know what they did), nor is it a treatise on why all public dollars should go to the billionaires with the coolest new toys (it should go to the millionaires, obviously). This is about calling about bad arguments surrounding what should be a healthy and rational civic debate.

In the immortal words of Daenerys Targaryen, “Shall we begin?”

Bad Argument #1: FC Cincinnati should stay in Nippert
Argued by: Hamilton County Commissioner and first result back when searching “what does the treasurer of a small baptist church in Clarksville, OH in 1987’s face look like?” Todd Portune
Short Answer: FC Cincinnati does not own Nippert Stadium
Longer Answer: MLS does not want a team to be renting their stadium, they need to own a stadium. For some teams like Seattle, Atlanta, or NYCFC, their ownership groups also own the non-soccer stadiums those teams play in.  But in most cases, this means the ownership group will be building a new stadium, a “soccer-specific-stadium”.  Building a soccer stadium allows the team to have a proper home, control their scheduling, allow for the best sight-lines, provide soccer amenities, and support the club’s offices. But most importantly, owning your own stadium maximizes the profitability of the stadium for the soccer team.  And this is where Nippert fails for FC Cincinnati's purposes.  FC Cincinnati cannot do the following at Nippert, and could do at their own stadium: sell the naming rights to the stadium. Collect full parking fees.  Receive full revenue from concessions, tickets, boxes, club seats.  Sell advertising signage around the stadium. Have their own presenting partners.  Sell permanent “on-field” signage. Sign concession sponsorship and partnerships with long-term contracts.  Raise additional revenue during the off-season by hold concerts, hosting friendlies, and host high school and college sports that would pay a fee to use the facility. That is a lot of money left on the table for the team.  And while FCC might have an agreeable deal with UC in place now, that is not guaranteed to be the case forever. 

And that does not take into account a few more things like UC signage, UC getting priority scheduling, having to move the coach’s office when UC football starts up, having to move practices when UC football wants to practice, not having enough toilets during games, not have great sight-lines in the supporters section, and having to pay rent.  All of this points to the main problem for MLS: the teams need to control their stadiums completely.  What happens when UC ends up in the Big 12 or ACC?  You think a big time college program is going to like having their stadium completely stripped of all mention of the school when recruits are walking around campus?  There is a reason why FC Cincinnati is on the road for most of the end of the year, UC football.  What happens when we join MLS and our playoff run goes through November and into mid December?  You think MLS wants their teams playing on football lines or dates being moved at the last second because ESPN flexed a UC football game? It will not work, it is not worth the risk for MLS.  Especially when eleven other cities are offering up their own stadium solutions to join MLS.  MLS has lost three teams in its history, all three did not own their stadiums.  They will not make the same mistake again. Nor should they.

Remember when Portune wanted to keep the Reds in a half-demolished stadium? 

Remember when Portune wanted to keep the Reds in a half-demolished stadium? 

Bad Argument #2: FC Cincinnati should play in Paul Brown Stadium
Argued by: A Cincinnati Enquirer Editorial Board too cowardly to put a name on this proposal.
Short Answer: FC Cincinnati does not own Paul Brown Stadium.
Longer Answer: See what I wrote above replacing “UC” with “the Bengals” and it is like, 90% there.

Bad Argument #3: I cannot believe FC Cincinnati wants a new tax for their stadium
Argued by: Resident out-of-touch sports columnist who refuses to learn about soccer
Short Answer: They do not want a new tax
Longer Answer:  Jeff Berding has said the team is not looking for a new tax to fund the $100 million dollars the team is looking for to fund the stadium.  So he is either telling us the truth, or he is lying.  If Jeff is lying, then FC Cincinnati has already missed the boat to put a tax levy on the ballot for this year to get a new tax for the stadium, which would need to be in place by November, because MLS is expanding in November.  So either this whole thing is dead, or Berding is not lying.  If he is not lying, then that must mean . .  wait for it . . . they are not looking for a new tax.  So then what are they looking for?

There are a few things the team could be looking for:

  1. A TIF.  TIF is an interesting development tool, and something Berding has mentioned before as a tool for financing the stadium.  You take a loan out from the government, and repay that loan by improving land and increasing the tax revenue from that land.  This is how the majority of the Newport site will get its funding.  

  2. Hotel Tax.  This is a trendy way to build a stadium these days, by taxing outside visitors.  Do not be surprised when you start to hear more and more people speculate about a hotel tax.

  3. The existing 1996 stadium tax. This tax is on the books, is used for both the Reds and the Bengals, and will not end anytime soon.  That tax needs to stay in place to continue to improve Great American Ballpark and Paul Brown Stadium.  But just paying for upkeep and improvements is going to leave a lot left over, especially when those stadiums are paid off.  So why not cut out a little bit for FC Cincinnati? It is money that cannot be spent on schools or hospitals, it has to be spent on large capital improvements. Or we could always use that money to renovate US Bank Arena and all pretend like we want an NHL or NBA team.  Because that is almost the only other legal use for this tax money.

Oh look what scarf made the renderings! 

Oh look what scarf made the renderings! 

Bad Argument #4: We should just stay in USL
Argued by: The internet
Short Answer: Rochester
Longer Answer:  “Following an amazing run in the Open Cup, this upstart team from a has-been industrial city was setting attendance records and making the soccer world take notice.  The phrase ‘when, not if’ was used around the front office when talking about their invitation to MLS, which was just around the corner, and the ownership group was just beaming about their smart investment in a reviving city was about to pay off”.  This is a pretty good start to an article you probably would have found in a Rochester newspaper in the early 2000’s, feel familiar?  That MLS invitation never came, the league decided to go with the wealthier Chivas USA in a larger city, Los Angeles.  If you are new to the sport, you have never heard of this team, because they folded in 2014.  And for Rochester?  Well they are a shell of their former selves.  Squeaking by in a soccer specific stadium they built in the city, they now draw less than 3000 people a game.  They were a team on the rise, in a city on the rise, and destined for great things in MLS.  And then they were left in USL.  And now they struggle to stay afloat.  As much as I would hate to see this, this is a pretty good blueprint for an FCC that is still in USL in 2020.  And as a fan of this club, I do not want to see that happen.  Which is why staying in USL should be avoided at all costs.

Cincinnati used to think it could host the Olympics, now we want to stay in the lower divisions?

Cincinnati used to think it could host the Olympics, now we want to stay in the lower divisions?

Bad Argument #5: Taxes should not be used for the stadium, unless it is in Kentucky
Argued by: Jeff Capell’s twitter timeline
Short Answer: Ideology stops at the river, apparently
Longer Answer:  I am on board with the argument that government money should not be handed over to billionaires.  That makes sense.  It makes sense if you believe that the city, county, state, federal government, should not be investing in businesses to improve communities, to promote civic pride, or to build things that could not be built with solely public or solely private dollars.  That is an ideology that makes perfect sense.

It is a perfect ideology of course, until you start turning it off and on again on a whim.  

There is a very large portion of people out there who are absolutely mortified of the idea of Hamilton County of the City of Cincinnati using a penny of public funds towards an FC Cincinnati stadium who just do not care if public money is used in Newport or Kentucky.  They will not come out and say that, that would be too hypocritical, but you can see it in where they spend their energy.  Have you seen COAST request public documents from Kentucky officials about public money being used for the FC Cincinnati stadium?  Me either.  Have you heard Paul Daugherty complain about public funds in Newport?  Nope.  These great ideologues would be more than happy to attend games in publicly financed stadiums, in Kentucky.  Because why let your ideas get in the way of something really cool that you do not have to pay for right?  Also, how much do you hate Kentucky if this is something you are willing to fight tooth and nail against in Ohio, but just let it jump over the river without a peep?  It makes me think those on this side of the argument do not really believe in their argument, they just want to win some political points.  Basically, good arguments applied haphazardly become bad arguments.  

* But only in Ohio, specifically Hamilton County. And not when you get tax incentives to move your law offices. 

* But only in Ohio, specifically Hamilton County. And not when you get tax incentives to move your law offices. 

Bad Argument #6: Just build the stadium out in the Suburbs
Argued by: The worst
Short Answer: This is how you become Chicago Fire and FC Dallas
Longer Answer: A move to the suburbs has the benefit of being a little easier, the land is cheaper and there is more space to put a stadium.  The problem is, it is usually accompanied by a lack of fan and city interest in the team.  Chicago Fire famously moved out to Bridgeview, and their attendance has been awful.  It has been so poorly received that the team's former president, Peter Wilt, is now trying to bring a new professional team to the inner city of Chicago! FC Dallas moved to Frisco too, and now FC Cincinnati averages 5,000 more people a game then they do, and they're building the US Soccer Hall of Fame there! Sure there are fans out there in the suburbs, but it really kills the momentum of a team to move there.  And MLS wants teams in the downtown because of this. 

Where culture goes to die

Where culture goes to die

Too Long ; Didn’t Read:  
MLS requires a team to own a stadium, we do not own Nippert or Paul Brown, so we need to build one to get into MLS.  There are a number of ways we can pay for it, none of which include a new tax, on both sides of the river, but not the suburbs.  I do understand that the team is looking to get the best deal it can, and that is going to require a certain amount of secrecy.  But it would be fantastic if they would open up a little bit and state what they are actually looking for from our local governments. 

Second Divisions

Tonight we get to witness to the next chapter in a thrilling story we never thought would be written. FC Cincinnati’s incredible run in the U.S. Open Cup that has seen them rise above their station and defeat in-state teams, rivals, in-state rivals, and even the best American soccer team right now.  This competition, which I guarantee “old-school” local sports pundits didn’t know about two years ago, is suddenly the best sports story this city has had in quite some time.  We have even seen Cincinnati sports legends crafted before our eyes with Djiby and Mitch Hildebrandt putting in internationally recognized effort on the field. Soak it in; this is what it is like to root for a team that is successful.  This is what it is like to support a team that feels good to support.  Enjoy this moment; it might be awhile before our city’s other teams can deliver these moments.

Yeah, I'm still watching replays of the game

Yeah, I'm still watching replays of the game

So what are the stakes tonight? Yes, a place in the semi-finals against yet another MLS team.  And yes, another opportunity to make the world take notice of this club we have built.  But for a lot of people, the biggest prize will be U.S. Soccer Division Two bragging rights

The team we face is Miami FC, from the NASL (North American Soccer League). How about we get this out of the way: they are a better team than us.  Neat, we have already beaten three teams in this tournament that are better than us on paper (enjoy the compliment louisville, your league standing is literally the only thing you can hold over us, for now).  Miami FC has talent they have managed to pluck away from MLS, which is rare, and have manhandled their league with it.  Speaking of their league . . .

The NASL is not the USL, but they co-own the USSF Division 2 with FCC’s own USL. This, you should understand, is weird. In years past, NASL was the division two league, and USL was the division three league.  That changed this past off-season when USSF decided to award both leagues, on a provisional basis, second division status.  This did not seem very likely for the NASL a few months ago, and is something of a miracle.

It is a miracle because the NASL nearly died last year. In fact, it is possible that it Jon Snow-ed itself and came back after getting rid of some long-standing demons. In this past off season, two teams defected to the USL, Tampa and Ottawa while Indianapolis and North Carolina FC looked to be on the verge of joining them. Two teams died off, Ft. Lauderdale and Rayo OKC. One team, Minnesota United, completed their planned move to MLS. And the storied club New York Cosmos nearly folded.  And yet, here we are, with an NASL intact.  In fact they added a team in that same offseason, the San Francisco Deltas.  Believe it or not, with all of those changes, they are adding two more teams in the next year or so with San Diego and Orange County joining the party

Pictured above: not stability

Pictured above: not stability

During all of this chaos, Miami FC has been the great hope of the NASL. Traditionally, that role belonged to the New York Cosmos, but with their, let’s call it a coma, Miami FC has looked the stable, successful, and rich club to guide the league. Let me know if this sounds familiar: It is a club that plays in a college football stadium, owned by a billionaire and supporter of the same university, who against the odds has found an audience as a lower division soccer team in pro-sports market.  Ringing any bells here? 

Shades of Nippert, no? 

Shades of Nippert, no? 

Miami FC represents the hopes and dreams of not just Miami FC fans, but all of the NASL right now. A league that was just recently left for dead is now on the verge of winning the U.S. Open Cup. Their cup run has ramifications outside of the tournament itself, too.  If you know your soccer history, you know that the NASL formed as a splinter group from what is now the USL.  They wanted the teams to have more control of their operations, run things as they see fit.  A model you will not find in the USL or MLS. This has created a number of professional teams that have academies training young American talent that we can all hope one day fills the ranks of the U.S. national team.  It has also created an environment that has been unforgiving to faltering clubs. Mismanagement, and I will let others dive into what exactly that means, has prevented the NASL from thriving.  But despite all of those problems, the embattled league is ready to make their mark in American soccer history. And this should be celebrated by American soccer fans, but often is not.  These teams were able to survive and continue to serve their communities. 

Which is what makes a part of the story so frustrating. Miami FC just so happens to be located in a city that is due to receive a brand-new MLS team owned by David Beckham. Yes, that Miami MLS team you have heard about is not a part of these current expansion plans, nor is it the Miami FC that is hosting FCC tonight.  Beckham’s Miami has already been awarded and was planned to join MLS alongside LAFC.  But Beckham’s lack of motivation and Miami’s politics prevented that from happening.  So now that a successful NASL club, which draws thousands of people a game, is up and running, MLS looks ready to drop the inevitable guillotine on them in the form of a new MLS franchise.  Rather than working with a team that already exists, MLS is going to create something from nothing.  Make no mistake, Miami is a historically fickle sports market and Miami FC fans can tell you that it was rough for the club to start.  But now they are a lower division success story, something that should be celebrated by American soccer fans, and their future looks uncertain. Miami FC could be in trouble, not because of anything on the field, but because of soccer politics off of it.

I often forget this is a lower division team per way through their second year.  

I often forget this is a lower division team per way through their second year.  

Miami FC and FC Cincinnati meeting in this cub matchup is everything that is right and everything that is wrong with American Soccer right now. Both are clubs that built themselves from the ground up to be ambitious; they are teams that want to accomplish everything that they can accomplish, clubs that have succeeded in cities nobody thought they could, teams playing better than experts thought they could, and yet in both cases, their future is in the hands of a few executives in a league in which they do not participate. MLS can easily take Phoenix and Raleigh in this next round of expansion, add Beckham’s Miami team, and MLS fans could celebrate it. With that same announcement, MLS would extinguish fan enthusiasm in Cincinnati and likely extinguish Miami FC altogether.  Both of these teams have proven capable of winning the U.S. Open Cup this year, but both cannot confidently state where they will be in five years.  That fact is everything that is wrong with American soccer.  One step further, it is everything wrong with American sports in general.

Eyes on the prize

Eyes on the prize

Both of these clubs represent the best of American soccer right now. Regardless of the winner tonight, each team’s fan base needs to be pulling for the other one to succeed going forward in this tournament. Hell, everyone who is a fan of a team outside of the MLS bubble ought to be rooting for these teams.  They are proof that soccer can take root in the culture of a historically conservative city.  They are proof that second division teams and leagues that want to be more than minor league baseball farms can achieve great things. They are proof that fan support and passion can propel a team to an unlikely victory.  It is not often you find two Cinderellas at the same ball, but when you do, you have to assume there is some magic afoot. That is what makes the U.S. Open Cup so much fun. That is what makes sports so much fun.  These teams, these cities, these fan bases, deserve all of the praises they are getting going into this match.  They have earned it.  Earned it.  Something you do not often get to say when writing about American soccer clubs.

So what do you say Miami, shall we dance?

Fire is going to be Fire

A while back I wrote a blog post about the U.S. Open Cup and how great of a tournament it was.  And these days I think many more FC Cincinnati fans agree with me and are loving this tournament, a tournament they probably didn’t know existed until this year. In our cup run this year FCC has defeated AFC Cleveland, the NPSL champions last year and in-state team, louisville city, a team that feels just great beating, and now Columbus Crew, the in-state MLS club whose fans have looked down on our success since day one. What a ride huh?  If you had to lay out the three teams we would have most wanted to beat to get to this point, I think you’d have a difficult time coming up with a better run of opponents.  

And now we are about to square off against Chicago Fire.  This is a team who is either top or second top of the table in MLS, depending on when Toronto have last played.  A team that brought in German legend Bastian Schweinsteiger this year.  A team that scooped up New York Red Bull’s captain Dax McCarty in the off-season.  A team we lost to by one goal in preseason. A bona fide top tier team in North America right now.  Get Hyped.

You who else is hyped? Surprisingly ESPN.  ESPN has decided to bump their regularly scheduled programming to put FC Cincinnati against Chicago Fire on ESPN2. Err, make that ESPN proper thanks to the Florida Gators wrapping things up early in the College World Series. This is insane.  I’m not sure how else to explain this but ESPN doesn’t like soccer all that much.  Just watch Sports Center to see some rando in a suit mispronounce Messi’s name and belittle a herculean goal, right before they cut to run-of-the-mill double play. ESPN doesn’t currently carry any soccer league, they lost the World Cup rights to Fox this past cycle, and just get one, albeit big, MLS game a week.  And rather than just pick up the feed that FC Cincinnati puts out there online and on TV, they’re sending their own production crew to Cincinnati for this game, including their lead soccer commentating team.  Yes, Taylor Twellman and Adrian Healey are going to be calling the game with Julie Stewart-Binks on the sidelines.  Oh, I should also mention Twellman is going to be hanging out with us after the game at Ladder 19 as well.  This commentating team just did the Portland-Seattle game on Sunday night, and now they’re being called into action here in Cincinnati. Boom.

This goofy guy is coming back into town

This goofy guy is coming back into town

ESPN deciding to pick up this game is massive.  I don’t think I can emphasize this enough.  The U.S. Open Cup has long be the forgotten child of sports in this country, despite being one of its oldest. At best the semi-finals end up on ESPN U and the final ends up on ESPN2 or, if we’re lucky, on ESPN.  But now we’re going to have a round of 16 game on ESPN! What?! The USSF could not have asked for a better promotion of their sport than this.  And MLS could not imagine getting a game picked up by ESPN on a random Wednesday night. In fact MLS has struggled for years to gain any traction on TV, even negotiating into their last TV contract for more regular air-time for their games.  And that fact that a second year club in the USL has grabbed the attention of ESPN and forced a programming change is insane.

Can you hear us now Don?

Can you hear us now Don?

In fact, it is so insane to me that this is happening that I am starting to develop some conspiracy theories around it. I’m not sure if any of these are likely, but they make sense to me, because the pure hype around this team doesn’t seem real yet.

1) MLS pulled some strings and asked ESPN to broadcast the game in order to test the TV markets for FC Cincinnati.  How much does Dayton tune in to an FC Cincinnati game?  Lexington? Louisville? Indianapolis?  WIll these cities watch a Cincinnati professional team?  How about Columbus?  Will their fans hate-watch this game?  It’s undeniable that Cincinnati is the smallest TV market in the running for expansion right now, but if other markets tune into their games, that becomes a moot point.

2) MLS pulled the strings here in order to get ESPN ready for the next MLS club.  Yup, pie-in-the-sky as it is, this may be a trial run for our inevitable MLS bid. And if Miami won’t be ready (it won’t be) maybe MLS needs a club to join for next year to balance out the schedule.  Gotta make sure you know where to put the mics and cameras to make Nippert look like an MLS venue, because we just might need them to look like one until that stadium is built in the West End.

3) ESPN might actually start caring about the U.S. Open Cup and soccer again.  Now I know, this is the most far-fetched theory on here, but maybe, just maybe, ESPN might be realizing there is a hidden gem here in the Open Cup and they could be the champions of it.  Just like ESPN built the ACC into a football conference people care about (RIP Big East) they could build and hype the Open Cup into the next big American tournament.  Storylines like Christos FC and FC Cincinnati make this tournament so interesting, stories that they can hype for weeks.  They’d only need to carry the biggest few games later in the tournament, just like they’re doing now.  And in those first two rounds they could do a NFL Red-Zone impression that would whip you around to the most interesting games and story lines at that moment.  They put drone racing and competitive video games on ESPN, why not the biggest, oldest, and best soccer tournament in the country? You know you want to ESPN, give in to the dark side, do it, care a bit more about soccer.

Remember when this was going to be a thing? Oh wait it's still on the air?

Remember when this was going to be a thing? Oh wait it's still on the air?

Regardless of what happens tonight, this has been nothing short of magical.  Tens of thousands of fans coming to a Wednesday night match in Cincinnati was inconceivable just a few years ago. A talent the likes of Bastian Schweinsteiger playing against a Cincinnati side still seems impossible.  This game is a celebration of what we have built as a community.  From the front office to the supporters to the players, to the media, and everyone else, we built this. We turned the march to the stadium into a can’t miss event. We made the world pay attention to us.  We forced our way into the MLS discussion by pure force of will.  Our city, our club.  

His knees are going to hurt thiiiiiiiis much after playing on turf

His knees are going to hurt thiiiiiiiis much after playing on turf

See you at Nippert tonight.

Three at the Back

Against Columbus Crew two weeks ago, FC Cincinnati put together their best all-around performance in club history and embarrassed the oldest MLS team in the process. I could not sum up the emotions surrounding that game better than Bob Brumberg did on Die Innenstadt’s blog, so check that out here.  But up until this point in the season, FC Cincinnati didn’t appear to have a coherent plan from week to week. Lineups were nearly impossible to predict outside of goalkeeper, the formations that had been used up to this point were unpredictable, they were unable to put the best players on the field at the same time, and suspensions on top of injuries did Alan Koch no favors when picking a starting eleven.  So when the team rolled out yet another formation, with yet another new-look formation, you would have expected people to roll their eyes.  But this was different, this line-up just felt right.  Koch went with a trendy throwback these days, the 1986 vintage 3-5-2.

I still can't believe we pulled this off

I still can't believe we pulled this off

The 3-5-2 sees three centre backs holding down the defense, two wingbacks on the outside of the mid-field who are bombing up and down the sidelines all game, three midfielders to control or clog the middle of the field, and two attackers up top. And three at the back has really become the next big thing in global soccer. This is more or less the formation USA recently rolled out in World Cup Qualifying against Mexico at the Azteca, matching their best performance at the Mexican fortress in the process. The beauty of this formation is that it allows for a team to use the lineup both defensively and offensively.

Other variations on three at the back have been used to great success this past year.  Arsenal, in the English Premier League, managed to save their season, and very likely Arsene Wenger’s job, by implementing a three at the back system.  Wenger’s new system was more of a 3-4-2-1, something Wenger had never attempted in his  previous twenty one years of managing Arsenal.  This is the same formation that they rolled out against Chelsea in the FA Cup this year, pulling the shocking upset and leaving a forgettable season with a trophy.

 

The shock victory over Chelsea because Chelsea had just won the English Premier League a few weeks earlier.  Chelsea too had implemented a three at the back system that ran wild on the rest of the league this year.  Chelsea's first year manager, Antonio Conte, had run this system before at the Italian giants Juventus and as the Italian national team manager. Conte put this plan into practice after a, get this, shock defeat to Arsenal about a fourth of the way through the season. Now with Juventus and Italy, Conte had the advantage of using arguably the three best defenders in the world, but at Chelsea he proved the system could work if it was drilled properly.

this image proves I'm not a liar

this image proves I'm not a liar

Which brings us back to FC Cincinnati.  With a new formation and system in place, FC Cincinnati took the field against Columbus Crew and proved we could play with the top division. Now the advantage of a 3-5-2 like what Cincinnati ran out against Columbus, is that it allows the wide midfielders to drop back into defense, essentially creating a back line of 5 defenders. The midfielders, and particularly Kenny Walker, harassed the attack and allowed the defense to clear forced passes.  And up top the fans got exactly what they wanted, Djiby and Konig starting together.  These are two of the most experienced players in USL not just here in Cincinnati, and they began to click.  Djiby as the target-man and Konig as the deep-lying-attacker, they paired well to produce more chances than Columbus had business giving up. And true to the 3-5-2’s promise, the goal comes from Konig salvaging a broken-down play, passing back to an onrushing wingback, who crosses the ball to the big target-man in the middle of the box.  A little Djiby magic and Columbus fans are taking swings at their coach after the game.  Perfect.

 

It was just a few days later and FC Cincinnati was squaring off against the Eastern Conference leaders, Charleston Battery.  But now, Koch and his team have a plan, a formation, a system.  And sure enough the team rolled out a three at the back system.  However, this time the formation was much more along the lines of a 3-4-3 ala Chelsea.  Yes, there were two attackers up top in Djiby and Konig, but they played with Mclaughlin up top as well to serve as the playmaker between them.  Despite needing a very late equalizer from Weideman, FC Cincinnati walked away from that game with a tie that, really, felt like a win against a team we’ve never managed to beat. 

Austin Berry has been clutch in a back three

Austin Berry has been clutch in a back three

 And this past weekend we saw the 3-4-3 again, but with an incredibly in-form Weideman on one side of Djiby and Mclaughlin on the other.  The resulting effort had Saint Louis only getting three shots on target and five chances created according to Opta. The attack was in full force with seven shots on target and eleven chances created. Allowing the wide midfielders to get back and defend has really locked down a once shaky defense. Now sure, we’ve never lost to Saint Louis, but this was a comprehensive victory from a team that now has a system to work within.  There is now a plan, a formation, and a system that allows for slight tweaking and just plugging player in and watching them go.

 And now we’ll get to try our formation out against the Chicago Fire. 

IMG_2007.JPG

Crew Fans in Cincinnati

For Columbus Crew fans in Cincinnati, June 14 is the dilemma you never thought you’d have to deal with.  If you have been a fan of the Crew from day one, you’ve seen MLS lose teams, you’ve seen Crew win it all and seen them at their worst.  You remember games in Ohio Stadium on OSU’s campus, Brian McBride, and those stupid hard hats.  But you also remember begrudgingly supporting a team not from your hometown.  You remember having to learn to like the black and yellow colors that you were raised to hate.  You remember The Crew refusing to play friendlies in Cincinnati while playing games in Akron instead.  You grumbled through “Glory to Columbus” and told yourself that Crew was “Ohio’s MLS team”.  

And then FC Cincinnati showed up.

And boy did we show up

And boy did we show up

The latest in a line of failed professional teams trying to represent your city. But this one felt different.  A team that proudly claims Cincinnati as its home and continues to partner with local soccer academies, building fustal infrastructure in the inner city, and provides an amazing on field product that makes you proud to be a fan. The signing of local product Austin Berry showed you this was a team that wanted to win, and to represent the Queen City.  

Finally, a professional club for the Queen City.

And now they play each other. Wednesday June 14th is a game between two soccer teams, but it is also a clash of fandom for a soccer loving portion of the city. There are plenty of Crew SC fans here in Cincinnati.  So what to do? Do you stick with the team you rooted for as kid, albeit by default? Or do you pull for the team that represents your city? This is not very common. Columbus and Cincinnati are cities that do not clash all of that often, in fact I don’t believe they have ever had professional teams in the same competition ever in their history.  This is especially rare for sports fans in Cincinnati.

But it’s not like it has never happened.

The Bengals have only been around since 1967, new kids on the block in the AFL. For NFL fans here in Cincinnati, this presented a crisis.  Many of them were already fans of a team dressed in black and yellow, the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Having been the closest team for years, and not wanting to cheer for a team from Cleveland, they found themselves Steelers fans.  And then some upstart team in orange showed up in their city, playing in Nippert stadium.  This marked the end of their Steelers fandom.  When you have a chance to cheer on your hometown team, you take it.  Sure, you may have fond memories of the road trip to another city while dressed in black and yellow, but now you have a team all your own.  A team that represents you and your community, up against other cities, trying to win championships and defend their home in front of a roaring crowd of support.  You can’t blame people for abandoning their adopted teams in favor of that hometown pride.

So whose song will you sing?

That's right, the Bengals got their professional start in Nippert as well

That's right, the Bengals got their professional start in Nippert as well

At Nippert Stadium on June 14th there are going to be two types of fans.  There will be fans nordecke-ed out in their yellow and black, singing “Glory to Columbus”, and wanting to see a team from Cincinnati fail.  And there are going to be those carrying Cincinnati flags, singing “Cincinnati Here We Go”, and wanting their local team pull an upset that will send a message to the soccer world. There will be two teams on the field, one with Cincinnati on their chest, the other with Columbus over their heart.  I know which fans I want to be a part of.  I know which team I want to win.  I know which city is my home.  

Do you?

Think about what we've built in less than two years

Think about what we've built in less than two years

I won’t begrudge a person for keeping their loyalty to a team they have supported in the past, but it comes with a price. How much pride in their city can one person have if they won’t support their local soccer team?  Worse, they’d rather support another city’s team.  And we have tons of pride in our city, hell it’s the name of our supporters group! Cincinnati is our home, adopted or otherwise.  And Cincinnati has always seen itself as more of a city state than a part of a larger region. We are unique. We don’t fit neatly into a box. Are we Appalachian? Southern? Northern? Midwestern? Great Lakes? Eastern? Western? No, we’re Cincinnati. We eat weird chili and are home to four Presidents. A city Winston Churchill called “the most beautiful inland city in America”. The Queen City.  The first American city.  Our city.  From the good times to the bad, this is where we call home.  And we support those that represent us.  I pity the folks who decide to support a team whose fans don’t respect our city and claim we are beneath them.  I wouldn’t want to find myself on the side hoping to see Cincinnati fail.  I don’t want to see a team from Columbus do well at Nippert period.  I want what’s best for my city and my team.  

You only get one hometown.

Columbus is about to learn what a crowd looks like

Columbus is about to learn what a crowd looks like

The Most Important Match Yet

Folks, we are less than 48 hours from the most important soccer game in Cincinnati history kicking off. Now, sure that is a bold claim, so allow me to explain to you why this U.S. Open Cup game against louisville on this Wednesday is the most important game we will have seen so far:


1)    The game is against louisville city.  louisville is our absolute rival, and not just because they’re nearby.  Since our club’s inception they have pelted us with accusations of being a fake club, with fake fans, and faking our attendance numbers. Their coach accused our team of playing on the field when it was too hot and that it burned their players’ feet.  Their coach also accused our top goal scorer this year, Djiby, of biting one of their players (with no evidence mind you) getting him suspended for 6 games.  This is a team that needs to be beat down.  And this is our last home game against them until 2018. 

2)    But Djiby is back! For now at least. Slapping Djiby with that 6 game suspension hurt the team, keeping out top goalscorer out of action for a long time now.  However, that suspension only applies to league games, which means he is available to play on Wednesday! Last Open Cup game against Cleveland Djiby scored the only goal to send us through to louisville.  Expect Djiby to be playing with a chip on his shoulder on this one and wanting his own revenge.

He's baaaaaaaaaaaaaack

He's baaaaaaaaaaaaaack

3)    The U.S. Open Cup is worth winning.  You can check out the previous post on the Open Cup, but this is an awesome tournament.  99 teams are in it this year, and includes amateur and professional clubs from across the country. This is a tournament that allows lower division clubs like FCC to build prestige with deep runs. We’ve already seen one amateur club take down a professional club this year when Richmond Kickers lost to Christos FC, so upsets do happen. Advancing in this tournament lets lower division teams face more difficult teams like . . .  

4)    If FCC wins, we get to play Columbus Crew.  Yes, that Columbus Crew. That alone is enough to make most people think this is the most important game yet.  Cincinnati was able to get Columbus in the regional draw, and then won to coin-flip for hosting duties.  So that means if the team can get past Louisville on Wednesday, FC Cincinnati will host MLS side Columbus Crew here at Nippert Stadium.  You might remember this is the same situation FCC was in last year, except instead of getting louisville at home it was against Tampa Bay away, and Crew would have hosted FCC.  If we want FC Cincinnati to be an MLS team, nothing would look better than a dry run of a league game.  Oh and the fans of both teams already have a fantastic name for the Cincinnati-Columbus game: “Hell is Real”.  So if you want to see the Hell is Real derby play, Wednesday is the first step. 

The delightful namesake, found right in the middle of Columbus and Cincinnati

The delightful namesake, found right in the middle of Columbus and Cincinnati

5)    We may get to see Konig and Djiby up top at the same time.  Now this is actually a little unlikely given the formations we have been running so far this year, but think about this.  Our top two goal scorers on the field at the same time, two men with years of European experience, running at the Louisville defense all night.  Konig has essentially saved the season himself with Djiby being out, heading in goals and keeping this team going. But now we might get to see the two of them working together, terrorizing a defense.  That’s worth the price of admission right there. 

The least hospitable crowd you'll find in the second division.

The least hospitable crowd you'll find in the second division.

Cincinnati, get hyped.  I would understand if you think the playoff game was the most important game for FCC, but really, just getting to the playoffs in the first year was already the win.  For this game, a win here puts our intentions on the map. It shows we’re better than our USL rivals, we’ll get to throw down against our MLS rivals, and prove to the world that we are a club with massive aspirations.

This is going to be an aggressive game between two rivals that legitimately don’t like each other.  With FCC on a three game win streak, they’ll be taking some form into this game.  And louisville has been incredibly difficult to beat this year, having only lost once.  This is the soccer game with all the hate and stakes you could want.  It's games like this that makes us fans of the beautiful game.  


See you at Nippert tomorrow. 

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Kevin Wallace

Let’s Talk About Refs Baby

You have to wonder, what drives people to become referees?  The second you step out onto the field, you instantly jump to the top of everyone’s “Least Favorite Person” list.  On the best days, the referee will go completely unnoticed, nobody bothering to look up their name or tweet congratulations for a well called game.  But at its worst, referees become the main talking point of the game, how they influenced the game or had it out for a particular player or team.  This documentary from fox sports does a good job of showing what goes into being a referee in the United States.  And let’s be honest, it is a shit job. And FC Cincinnati fans this season seem to be more vocal than ever about the referees and their calls.

One of the main complaints that you will hear from FCC fans is “the league has terrible referees” or “the league needs to train their refs better”.  Maybe you can get behind the sentiment, but you should know that the premise of the complaint is actually flat wrong.  The USL does not employ a single referee.  No, that’s not a joke about how they’re so bad they shouldn’t be considers referees.  But USL does not hire referees.  Neither does MLS either by the way. Or even “we’ll do everything our own way” NASL.

Deep breaths everyone, it's just a referee, you can remain calm, I believe in you!

Deep breaths everyone, it's just a referee, you can remain calm, I believe in you!

Referees are provided to the professional leagues of the United States by the Professional Referee Organization or PRO.  PRO is a large organization that develops, trains, and assigns referees to our professional leagues as well as the Open Cup, CONCACAF tournaments, and FIFA tournaments in the region.  They keep statistics on the referees and a log of the games they officiated in the past.  This incredible resource allows the leagues to remain separate from their referees and keep them neutral in their calling of a game.  One amusing conspiracy theory out there is that the USL gives the worst referees to FC Cincinnati games in order to punish Cincinnati for trying to go to MLS.  Not only is that completely off base with how USL view’s FCC, but functionally the league cannot influence which refs are assigned to USL games, much less which refs will get a particular game.  Oh, and if FC Cincinnati moves up to MLS?  We'll have the exact same referees. 

Now, that being said, it is worth taking a look at who has refereed FC Cincinnati’s games so far this year, and see if we can find where some of the major complaints are coming from.  In some cases, like the season opener against Charleston Battery, the referee was Geoff Gamble. Gamble has had the honors of being the referee for an MLS Cup Playoff game, absolutely the calibre you would want to be the referee of a game involving your team.  But on the flipside, we have had referees like Calin Radosav, who was the poor soul at the center of the card fest that was the last game against Orlando B.  Now, I don’t know much about Radosav because his name is nowhere on PRO’s statistics page or really anywhere on the website outside of the assignments lists.  However on a third party site, we have this:

That is a referee in their first year as a professional ref who is extremely card happy.  And given how FCC’s fortunes have gone this season, it is impressive that we escaped without a red card. This is a situation where complaints about a referee are warranted, something like this needs to be addressed by PRO, and maybe more training is needed.

This is something that should be stressed: being a ref is hard, it is not exactly fun, and is a necessary aspect of the game.  There is no need for a witch-hunt or campaign against the referees if the calls don’t go your way.  In a lot of ways, complaining about the referee is like complaining about the corner flag or the goal posts, there are very few times where outrage is deserved.  

It is also worth mentioning that PRO has done a very poor job maintaining their website this year.  Very few of the referees that FC Cincinnati has had this year are even found on their website.  They have not updated the stats page in a year, and seem to only concern themselves with MLS and that league's news involving referees.  USL was among the first leagues in the world to experiment with video assisted refereeing, and it would be nice if PRO would treat USL like a partner rather than an obligation. 

This is a yellow card for PRO, get your website together

This is a yellow card for PRO, get your website together

To see how the referees have treated FC Cincinnati, let’s take a look at the red cards FCC has received this year and see if we can find somewhere to be outraged.

Red Card 1: Paul Nicholson drags down a Philadelphia Union 2 attacker in the box when he’s the last man back, denying a clear goal scoring opportunity.  Now FIFA did change their rule about red cards in the box recently, however it does not apply here since Nicholson deliberately fouled the player in order to prevent a goal.  Play is here

Red Card 2: Kadeem Dacres attempts to play a bouncing ball in midfield, raises his foot out in front of him, and catches a racing Tampa Bay Rowdy attacker in the crotch.  This is an iffy one, since Dacres is playing the ball and has a right to that ball.  Though at the same time, his studs end up right in the groin of another player which could be considered reckless and dangerous.  To be a straight red is harsh, a yellow for sure and if it was Dacres second yellow it would have been more than justified.  This is one where there is an argument, but at the end of the day his studs ended up in the rowdiest part of a rowdy player. Play is here

Red Card 3: Djiby’s horrific tackle on some louisville player is amongst the most obvious red cards you’ll find.  Studs up playing tackle straight at the other players standing leg is a straight red no matter which league.  Now this one has the distinction of also being when the alleged bite happens, so take a look at how after the red: 1) nobody acts like anyone has been bit 2) the ref doesn’t see a bite 3) Djiby doesn’t bite anyone and 4) how none of the louisville players act like anyone has been bitten.  I hope Djiby has been practicing his tackling form during his time off! Play is here.

Everything about this picture just screams "ugh"

Everything about this picture just screams "ugh"

Red Card 4: Andy Craven gets really mad at a Philadelphia Union 2 player and belligerently attacks them with his elbow.  Fighting, it turns out, is a good way to get a red card.  It will also get you cut from this team,  errr, I mean traded. The play starts a little after Craven gets in a shoving match while the commentators talk about how experienced and mature of a player he is.

So looking back over the red cards from this year, there is one questionable one and the rest are frankly obvious.  Hopefully we’ve seen the end of the plague of red cards, and once this team is finishing their games with 11 men on the field, the points are going to start rolling in.

On a slightly more personal note here, can we stop with “The Referee's a Wanker” chant?  Unless you’re English, and be honest, you’re probably not, you don’t call people wankers in other parts of your life.  Also, FCC is not an English team, we’re American.  Can we not come up with some other way to berate the people who work hard for a few hundred dollars a game to allow us to watch the sport we love without having to completely and shamelessly co-op language we would never use from a culture we like to watch on tv?  Just a thought.

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Kevin Wallace

The U.S. Open Cup and Why You Should Care

The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, which kicks off today, is the best parts of American sports all in one tournament but sadly, nobody seems to know about it.  The tournament runs throughout the summer and is open to every organized adult team in the United States.  Each round is a single elimination knockout, and in the subsequent round, teams from the next level up in the U.S. Soccer Pyramid are added to the mix. In 2017, 99 teams from across the country will be vying for the cup. But again, hardly anyone knows anything about this big beautiful tournament. You would never know that the Open Cup is the third longest running open soccer tournament in the world.  Or that the Open Cup predates the NHL’s creation by 3 years, the NFL’s creation by 6 years, or the NBA’s creation by 32 years!  It is so old in fact that the two teams that have won the most number of cups don’t even exist anymore, with Bethlehem Steel (not that one) and Maccabi Los Angeles (a now defunct Israeli ex-pat team) each with five.  Only Chicago Fire and Seattle Sounders with 4 each are close from MLS.

Just look at this glorious logo from the folks at thecup.us

Just look at this glorious logo from the folks at thecup.us

The U.S. Open Cup was started in 1914 and the tournament itself tells the often confusing and terribly complicated history of American soccer.  The early superstar of the competition was Bethlehem Steel, again not the one currently in USL.  Bethlehem Steel was a team started by, unsurprisingly, employees of the Bethlehem Steel Company just outside of Philadelphia.  The company eventually gave them funding and even built them a stadium, the first soccer specific stadium in the United States! That's right, Columbus was not the first with a soccer specific stadium.  It was very common to have company teams in the 1920’s and 30’s, and is a tradition that can be found in other parts of the world as well.  Ever wonder why the German team is called Bayer Leverkusen? No, it isn’t a branding deal like New York Red Bulls have; Bayer Leverkusen were actually formed as a company team for the pharmaceutical giant Bayer.  Early American soccer was dominated by company teams that often played in company leagues.  That was until, the Great Depression. Sadly, many companies cut their athletic ventures in an aim to save money.

The 1938 U.S. Open Cup Champions Chicago Sparta 

The 1938 U.S. Open Cup Champions Chicago Sparta 

The Great Depression gave way to World War II, where sports in this country were hit hard by the draft.  High profile athletes like baseball’s Ted Williams would be taken away from the sporting world and off to fight a war. And yet, through World War II, the Open Cup did not fail to hold a tournament. Following World War II, the next era of U.S. soccer took shape: immigrant ball. Some of the oldest soccer teams in the United States have their founding club’s ethnicity proudly in their name. Teams like Greek American Atlas Astoria, an early powerhouse of ethnic soccer, were founded in 1941. They are still around today, going by the name New York Greek Americans and play in the Cosmopolitan Soccer League; they also have 4 Open Cups to their name.  Other ethnic teams founded around this time that still around today include the Brooklyn Italians (1949), Milwaukee Bavarian SC (1929), New York Ukrainians (1947), and the Croatian Eagles (1922). These ethnic teams dominated the post-war soccer landscape. 

But once MLS was created in 1996, The Open Cup has been MLS’s to lose. Since the league was created, MLS has had two teams in every final except two, 1999 and 2008.  In 1999 the Rochester Rhinos beat the Colorado Rapids 2-0, marking the last time a non-MLS team won the tournament.  In 2008, Charleston Battery made the final, but lost 2-1 to D.C. United. Also worth mentioning is USL’s own Richmond Kickers winning the open cup in 1995, a year before MLS took the field. 

This Rochester team was very, very close to being in MLS instead of the failed Chivas U.S.A.

This Rochester team was very, very close to being in MLS instead of the failed Chivas U.S.A.

I cannot emphasize enough that the Open Cup tournament is basically the best parts of the NCAA Men’s basketball tournament, but more-so.  Last year there were two amateur pub teams, Harpo’s F.C. and Aromas Café FC, that made their way to face fully professional outfits in Colorado Switchbacks and Richmond Kickers respectively.  This is the kind of David-vs-Goliath story that the English FA Cup only wishes it could have.  There is also the great story of Cal FC, an amateur team coached by USMNT Great Eric Wynalda, beating MLS’s Portland Timbers in 2012.  This is a story-line to watch as Wynalda is once again in the tournament as the coach of the LA Wolves, another amateur side that could easily be drawn against the Timbers.

Last year though, nothing was more controversial than LA Galaxy vs La Máquina FC.  LA was held to a 1-1 score-line by the amateur side until the 90th minute of regulation.  Then, with a Galaxy player injured in the box and being tended to, the other Galaxy players decided to quickly take the free kick and tapped in a goal.  With their own man down in the box!  Galaxy needed cheap, unsportsmanlike play in order to beat an amateur side that had pushed them to their limits.  That’s the kind of drama that will captivate every sports fan.

LA Galaxy's bench is probably worth more than La Máquina FC

LA Galaxy's bench is probably worth more than La Máquina FC

So this year, the U.S. Open Cup starts today 5/9/17!  Amateur teams from across the country will all play, with some of those games being available on YouTube while others only available if someone decides to throw it up on Periscope. The low-budget-ness of the first rounds is really endearing, as soccer spreads out across the country in a variety of forms, and we should celebrate it wherever we can. 

Of note to FC Cincinnati fans will be the AFC Cleveland – Des Moines Menace game this Wednesday.  FCC will play the winner of that matchup, and will play either Cleveland here in Cincinnati, or will head to Iowa to face Des Moines (the home teams for each round are determined by coin flip, assuming both teams have offered to host). The winner of the tournament in 2017 gets a spot in the CONCACAF Champions League, something that is normally only open to MLS teams thanks to MLS’s closed nature.

The 99 teams in the hunt for the cup

The 99 teams in the hunt for the cup

To follow the Open Cup and all of its glory, I highly recommend the website TheCup.US  They present the tournament, the stories, and access to the games better than even the tournament organizers.  The sub-reddits r/MLS and r/USOpenCup are good online resources as well.

So bring on the pub teams, bring on the upsets, and bring on the drama.  Is NASL better than USL?  Can FC Cincinnati hang with an MLS team?  Can a pub team take a globally recognized team to their breaking point?  Can FC Cincinnati get into the CONCACAF Champions League? The Open Cup is where all of those questions get answered. 

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Kevin Wallace

Okay Now Lads Let’s Get in Formation

If you want to be a true soccer snob, one of the first things you need to do is read Jonathan Wilson’s excellent book “Inverting the Pyramid”. From there, you can lecture your friends about trequartistas and double pivots, but more importantly it allows you to act like you know what you are talking about when you bring up formations.  4-4-2?  “That’s so blasé.”  4-3-3?  “What are we, Barcelona?” 3-5-2? “Not with our wing-backs.”  You never knew numbers could be so pretentious.

Fig. 1 Soccer Hipsters acting like they're having fun.

Fig. 1 Soccer Hipsters acting like they're having fun.

So let’s talk about FC Cincinnati’s last game against Bethlehem Steel. Alan Koch’s men set out in a 4-3-3.   In fact the formation was even announced from the team’s Twitter account.  When I first saw this, I was convinced it was someone taking a guess based on the lineup that was announced, no way would we try a 4-3-3 without a proper striker.  But sure enough we saw a formation where Daryl Fordyce was sent to the right of the midfield with Corbin Bone on the left and Kenney Walker holding down the middle.  And in front of the midfield, a front three consisting of Dacres on the left, McLaughlin on the right, and Wiedeman up top.  We’ve talked about consistency before on this blog, and changing formations and tactics, along with personnel, is going to catch up with a team eventually.  On Saturday, it did.

So we have Walker, who has been FCC's defensive midfielder for two years, being asked to play the role of a box-to-box mid-fielder. Fordyce, who is a striker, being asked to play out wide in the mid-field.  And Bone who is a central mid-fielder, out wide.  Then there is our winger, Wiedeman, who was asked to play striker.  That’s four of your attacking players out of position, in the first game without your leading goal scorer.

I do not want to be too critical of Coach Koch here, he has infinitely more coaching experience that I do and sees these players every day in training. But for the life of me, I cannot understand how this lineup made sense.  The right midfielder being a striker is just asking for disaster. 

FCC's Number 16 (Fordyce), 7 (Dacres), and 2 (Bahner) on top of each other. 

FCC's Number 16 (Fordyce), 7 (Dacres), and 2 (Bahner) on top of each other. 

And the stats point to it being a disaster. In the full 90 minutes, Opta’s data shows that not a single chance was created from the right side of the field by any midfielder or attacker.  Not a single cross or pass making its way from the right side of the field into a shooting opportunity.  Ouch.  Then when you look at the average position of the players, you can see where the breakdown happened.  Fordyce’s average position ended up being a bit ahead of Dacres, the attacking midfielder. And Bahner, the right full-back, actually ended up right next to Dacres too.  So the right back is up with the attacker, and the mid-fielder is ahead of both of them.  Is it any wonder that Bethlehem’s goal came off a corner created by a breakdown of defensive shape on the right side? This is, hopefully, what the team is being drilled on this week. 

A whole lot of nothing from the right side of the attack.

A whole lot of nothing from the right side of the attack.

As for the goal in this game, it was a complete mental collapse by the defense, a unit that played so well all game up to that moment in the 85th minute.

The goal starts with a bad Delbridge clearance that sends the ball 20 yards down the field in the wrong direction, going out for a corner. It would have been just as easy to send the ball out on the touchline, but instead the ball, lazily, scoots down to go out for a Bethlehem corner.

Bethlehem takes the corner short, passing it up the field where it is then crossed into the box. The FCC defender on the ball doesn’t close down in time to prevent the cross, or even contest it. When the cross comes in there is one player in front of the back post completely unmarked.  Amazingly however, this is not the player that ends up scoring.  The cross comes in shorter, but had it gone long it would have been an extremely easy goal for Bethlehem.  

Unfortunately due to the quality of the Stream on YouTube, I cannot make out the numbers, but two FCC defenders are tussling with Bethlehem players in front of goal, only to have them both beat the defender to the ball. For all that tussling, neither defender is able to get in front of their man.  There are also two additional FCC defenders who stuck in no-man’s land, just in front of the tussling Bethlehem players in the box.  One defender makes a half-hearted attempt to jump to the ball, realizing they are way out of position, and it goes about two feet over their head.

Mitch does himself no favors by not making a decision. He is caught off his line, but doesn’t challenge for the ball.  In the end, he is out of position and the ball goes right past him. This is not to put all the blame on Mitch, I think this ball is going in if he stays on his line and I don’t think he would have gotten to the ball if he committed to the challenge.  But I trust Mitch’s ability enough to have risked him staying on the line and having a chance at stopping the ball.

Americans using stats to talk about soccer.  Ugh. 

Americans using stats to talk about soccer.  Ugh. 

Now, as the meme went around the internet, Bethlehem’s best player on Saturday was probably the goal posts. If a few shots were a few inches higher or lower, left or right, FCC wins this game 3-1 and nobody bats an eye. That’s the beautiful game, the best team doesn’t always win.  And sure, there was another red card in this game that brings the season total to a total that’s best not to think about. But the good news is FC Cincinnati has the players to make this work.  So long as they finish their chances, stay resolute on defense, and are given a system and lineup that stays as consistent as possible.

On to Richmond.

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Kevin Wallace