The Finale That Was Not Final

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

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

That’s probably enough TV analogies for one blog.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Kevin Wallace

The Pride of Cincinnati

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

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

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

Image shamelessly stole from Reddit user u/graymatter86

Image shamelessly stole from Reddit user u/graymatter86

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Never forget how you felt at this exact moment

Never forget how you felt at this exact moment

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

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Kevin Wallace

The Cincinnati Sports Story We've Been Waiting For

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The last moment UC Football fans felt happiness 

The last moment UC Football fans felt happiness 

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

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

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

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

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

This image never gets old

This image never gets old

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

 

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Kevin Wallace

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. 

-------
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

Stand By Your Man

What an exciting Dirty River Derby eh?  I still maintain that Kenney Walker is the best player on this team.  His dynamism in the midfield is really what makes this team work.  He is one of the few guys with the confidence to play the ball through the midfield under pressure, and maybe the only guy on defense that does not just boot the ball forward at the first sign of an opponent's shirt.

Kenney Walker breaking up yet another attack

Kenney Walker breaking up yet another attack

Oh what’s that?  Djiby was suspended for biting a player? No, please no.  I want to talk about soccer.  

Kenney Walker’s free kick ability is going to make a Sports Center Top 10 list this year. He was just inches high on Saturday and he . . .

The teams aren’t allowed to comment on the incident?  Louisville’s coach called out one of our own? And he still blames our front office for summer being a thing?

James O’Connor, a man not familiar with season "summer"

James O’Connor, a man not familiar with season "summer"

And we were so close to getting to talk about soccer. . .

First off, can a league handle this any worse than the USL has?  The league originally did not comment on the allegations coming from Louisville’s coach, just letting the clubs trade official statements.  Then we finally get the discipline report on Wednesday and we learn the league has banned Djiby for 6 games, including one non-league game in the Open Cup (which I would love to hear how that works).  But that incident report failed to mention why Djiby was being disciplined. Until it did, a few hours later, when it was quietly revised to say the suspension was due to the alleged bite. But now the teams are not allowed to discuss the issue. Whew. On the bright side, USL must be officially D2 now, since they have proven they can be just as dysfunctional as the NASL.

Now about that bite.  Consider Djiby, a 15 year veteran who has played all over the world in front of hostile crowds, Europa League fixtures to places nobody goes to on purpose, and has played against some of the meanest defenders the planet has to offer. He has represented his home country of Senegal in two friendlies against Oman and Iran.  That’s 230-ish games, and Djiby has managed to get two red cards. Two. One of them being on Saturday against Louisville. If Djiby is a dirty player, he is either the single sneakiest dirty player to ever play this sport, or he is really bad at being a dirty player. On the other hand he might also just be not a dirty player, if you will allow yourself to entertain that idea.

And Djiby has, apparently, bit the face of a Louisville City player.  The face.  That’s a intense place to be biting someone.  Luis Suarez, world famous soccer biter, has bit two guys on the arm and one guy on the collar bone.  Never in the face.  And Djiby managed to bite another player in the sneakiest way possible, since there still is no clear video of photo evidence of this happening. Despite TV cameras, official team photographers, local press photographers, and members of the crowd with cameras, nobody has any concrete proof that anyone was bitten. Which has been exciting for the internet, letting Twitter play Zapruder-Film-Cinematographer and allowing Reddit to analyze pixels for signs of photoshopping.  But in America, you are innocent until proven guilty. No proof, not guilty.  

Pictured Above: Nothing conclusive

Pictured Above: Nothing conclusive

While piling on referees that make just a few hundred dollars a game is not a good look, more could have been done here.  The match was already testy with hard challenges and players getting in each other’s faces.  More yellow cards earlier on could have cooled the tension for what happened later in the game.  Also the fact that Djiby was issued a straight red card, and then left alone by the referee was a bizarre choice.  Djiby was then allowed to be surrounded by Louisville City players and the alleged incident occurred.  This is not to blame the referee for anything that may or may not have happened, but more could have been done.  And when it is your job is to officiate and facilitate a match, these kinds of mistakes cannot happen.  

"Now that I made everyone mad, I'm going to walk away now"

"Now that I made everyone mad, I'm going to walk away now"

Put all of that aside for a moment.  Djiby is our guy.  He is a part of our club and its short history.  Djiby is the league’s leading goal scorer.  His experience and expertise has been tremendous.  Just look at how he assumed the role of air traffic controller on his third goal against St. Louis, moving Mansaray to the back post to open up enough space that he could get his head to Kenney Walker’s (swoon) cross.  That is exactly why Seattle has Victor on loan here, to teach their promising young player how to be an effective forward.  That’s Djiby.  He is our man.  And in the face of a bullshit allegation from our rival, it is disappointing to see so many fans ready to toss him aside.  Nothing Djiby is accused of is enough to call for his head.  And considering the validity of the claims there is absolutely no reason to be throwing our guy under the bus.  Even our front office stands behind him.  And if that makes Louisville fans mad, then that is just the cherry on top. Villains pop up in sports, and the consensus is, if they are on your team, you love them.  That is not to say Djiby is a villain, he is not, he has not done enough to earn the title of villain.  But if the rest of the league is going to paint him with that brush, then he is our villain.  He is FC Cincinnati's Chad Johnson or Brandon Phillips; hate them all you want, we know you wish they were on your team.

Club legend.  Said it. 

Club legend.  Said it. 

FC Cincinnati is our club and we support our own.  We will move past this, Djiby will too, and we will continue to dominate our friends in the East. And one day, maybe, just maybe, we will get to talk about soccer on this blog.

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Kevin Wallace

The Case for Consistency

While there are statistics and numbers to breakdown just about everything in modern sports, one area has remained unmeasurable: team chemistry.  It is a tricky thing to nail down, but modern soccer has shown how it can one of the most important aspects of a team and their performance.   And many of the issues with FC Cincinnati this season can, probably, be pinned on a lack of chemistry.

Team chemistry: 10 percent luck, 20 percent skill, 15 percent not participating the wave

Team chemistry: 10 percent luck, 20 percent skill, 15 percent not participating the wave

The easiest place to see where chemistry has made an impact this year is in the English Premier League.  Right now the league leaders, Chelsea, have put forward the most consistent starting lineup compared to their competition. By February,  Chelsea had only used 11 different starting lineups in the league, the fewest by far.   In fact their lack of squad rotation has confused pundits this year. The team with the second fewest combinations was West Brom, who had used 16.  The team that had used the most number of combinations turns out to be the league’s cellar-dwellers this year: Sunderland.   Now in fairness to the Black Cats, many of their issues have been injury related, but the fact remains they are at the bottom of the table.

Now this is not to say that a consistent starting eleven is always a winning combination.  But it might be why a team like Leicester was able to win the league last year.  In fact their title-winning manager Claudio Ranieri’s nickname in Europe was “Tinkerman”, since we was infamous for not letting a team gel and always adjusting his lineup.  And that’s what made Leicester’s run that much more improbable, they ended up as one of the most consistent teams in England.

The Tinkerman, modern football's most recent victim of coaching hot-seats

The Tinkerman, modern football's most recent victim of coaching hot-seats

And now we come to FC Cincinnati.  While they are probably not going to be challenging for a premier league title anytime soon, we can still look at the lessons learned there to make some notes on our own team.  Many people have not been happy with the sluggish start to the season, including some of the players.  While the three game home-stand is off a great start with a decisive win over St. Louis and a chippy draw against Tampa, I have my concerns.  This is a team that has not had an opportunity to gel or develop a cohesive identity yet, and a lack of constancy is our likely culprit.

It is no great secret that FC Cincinnati has not used the same lineup twice so far this year.  This is a bit of a change from a team who’s starting eleven was pretty well nailed-on last year.  But the lack of consistency from substitutions, and costly red cards, are causing problems.  In fact between all five games so far this year, FCC has only played 23 minutes with a combination of players that they had in a previous game.  That was 9 minutes in the game against Bethlehem Steel, and 14 minutes against the Rowdies.

Allegedly, Jamaican International and MLS Cup winner Omar Cummings plays for FCC

Allegedly, Jamaican International and MLS Cup winner Omar Cummings plays for FCC

It is important to note that both times the team had played with a combination that they had before, it was interrupted by a red card.  A lack of discipline, and playing a man down, are bound to catch up with a team.  And with a team as deep as FCC, squad rotation will be key in keeping guys fresh during times of the year when matches get congested (like three home games in eight days against the three best teams in the conference on the heels of starting the season on the road for three games. . . )

So let’s hope the team stays healthy, stays on the field, and can continue to grow into USL champions.

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Kevin Wallace

No Wave in the Bailey

How much fun was Saturday night? A 4-0 demolition of Saint Louis that saw FC Cincinnati's very first hat trick thanks to Djiby Fall's magnificent prowess in the box.  And I have not seen many people make a big deal about that; despite being the team that had a golden boot winner last year, we had never seen a hat trick from any player!  And from the man that has been anointed the successor to Okoli's role as top goal-scorer, it was that much sweeter to see this team's plan come to fruition. 

Following the game, and the inevitable hangover that comes with a season opener like a side of fries, some took time away from their families on Easter Sunday to talk about what had happened.  Not what happened on the field mind you, but what happened off the field and in the stands.  Of course I am talking about "the wave".  What else would there be to talk about after FCC's most complete performance to date? Yes, folks on Reddit and Twitter took to their keyboards to decry or defend the wave happening at a sporting event. I can already hear the groans. But this does give us an opportunity to talk about why the Bailey doesn't do the wave and maybe, if I may be so bold, to provide a suggestion for a wave replacement.

Photo of pretentious fans, shamelessly stolen from Reddit user /u/eh_Debatable

Photo of pretentious fans, shamelessly stolen from Reddit user /u/eh_Debatable

See, the wave is generally hated by "sport purists," and feel free to roll your eyes at that title, I did.  The history of the wave begins in the 1980's with a cheesy ice hockey promoter.  He called himself "Krazy" with a K, so you exactly how fun he was. The wave eventually made its way around the American northwest in college football and baseball, before it came to Mexico in time for the 1986 World Cup. And it was there that the world was introduced to this crowd display.  In fact, most of the rest of the world will call the wave "the Mexican wave" because of this World Cup connection.

But here's the thing about the wave: it has nothing to do with the teams and players in front of you and has everything to do with not paying attention.  When you see a crowd doing the wave, what is everyone doing?  They're watching the wave and waiting for their turn stand up.  They're cheering for it to make it all the way around the stadium. They might even boo sections that haven't caught on yet.  And then people start counting the number of times the wave makes it around the stadium. But guess what happens when you're watching the wave, cheering the wave, or booing other parts of the stadium; guess what you're not doing? You're not watching the game.  You're not paying attention to  what is happening on the field.  And, worst yet, you're making the experience worse for everyone else. 

And I do mean everyone.  

Players in all different sports have complained about the wave, saying it is distractingnot helpingor even offensive.  Teams have even put out official statements to get rid of the wave or even ban it from their crowds.  A very high profile example of this was the Texas Rangers, going so far as to put up a message on their scoreboard before games.  Or the Arizona Coyotes took a more hands on approach, calling out fans directly on twitter.  And, of course, you're being annoying to those fans that don't want to participate and want to sit and watch the game they paid to see.  I'll defend a fan in displaying their fandom, but not at the expense of another fan getting to watch the actual game. 

Believe it or not, our very own FCC has a position on the wave.  The club signed off on, and put their logo on, an anti-wave shirt from Cincy Shirts.  Keep in mind, in order to use the name and logo like that, someone at the front office needs to give them the OK.  So in their own small way, our club and their front office has made up their minds about the wave: knock it off. 

The terror of casual fans everywhere, for only $25!

The terror of casual fans everywhere, for only $25!

And, in the bailey, we agree: please stop the wave.  Yes we in the bailey are standing, singing songs, banging drums, and setting off smoke bombs, but everything that happens in the bailey is in reaction to the action of the field.  You'll hear "We don't, we don't, we don't mess around, HEY!" after every goal or the hilarious Reading Rainbow song after the other team gets a yellow card. Everything is done to support the team on the field, and they appreciate it, a lot. 

Now, it's at this point where I can hear the moaning "wow the bailey thinks they're better than other fans." That's completely false. Nobody is saying they are better than anyone else.  Everyone that buys a ticket is more than happy to enjoy themselves as they see fit, until it starts to ruin the experience for others.  And frankly, as much fun as the wave may be, it is time to acknowledge it's not the best use of your time or energy. 

So here's my suggestion: sing with us!  There is only 1,700 people in the bailey, that's not enough to be making noise for all 20,000 of us! So when we start singing, you should too! And how do you learn the words to the songs?  I'm so glad you asked, because there's actually an entire YouTube page for you!  And lyrics! How convenient is that!?  I think I need one more sentence that ends with an exclamation mark!

Just imagine all of these people singing together

Just imagine all of these people singing together

In conclusion, do what you want; you're the boss of your own hands.  But if you want my advice, sing along with the bailey and let’s make Nippert the soccer fortress we know it to be.

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Kevin Wallace

Opening Day in Cincinnati

Is there a tradition better than opening day in Cincinnati? The beauty of the long march to the stadium, family and friends getting back together, the beer, the team that we love despite playoff failure.  And today, none of this has anything to do with baseball.

Today we are about to start the second season in FC Cincinnati’s existence.  For long time fans of the sport here in the Queen City, this whole thing still feels like a fairytale.  We have seen team after team pop-up, only to disappear as quickly as they arrived.  But this time, this time it feels different.  Let me take that back, this time it is different.  It is hard to walk around the city without running into an FCC shirt, hat, jersey, stickers, whatever.  Maybe it is all down to a fantastic color combination.  But what I think happed in 2016 is that our city has fallen in love with our team.

Last season was all about attendance records and tickets sold.  And boy, how much fun was that?  Stories from around the world were written about our fans, our passion, and our success as a well-run lower division club.  And in a city that has loads of pride in itself, we sure did eat it up.  And for good reason; in Cincinnati, we haven’t had much to root for on the sports front in quite a long time.  The Reds are starting to look like the perpetual rebuilding team I grew up with, again. And the Bengals are, well, the Bengals, and everything that comes along with that baggage.  So please excuse a city for patting itself on the back when it comes to a feel-good story surrounding our newest team.

Award Winning Casuals in Action 

Award Winning Casuals in Action 

And what a crazy offseason for the first year club, right?  We saw the near collapse of the NASL with two refugee clubs joining the USL.  We had the firing of US Soccer Hall of Famer John Harkes and the appointment of new head coach Alan Koch.  Sean Okoli and Luke Spencer departing along with Djiby Fall and Daryl Fordyce arriving.  An MLS expansion bid that included a top-secret plan for a soccer specific stadium somewhere in Cincinnati.  For a city just getting used to being soccer fans, this has been an action packed few months.

But today we move beyond attendance numbers.  Articles about surprising attendance trends and season ticket counts are now a thing of the past.  Articles about mid-game formation shifts, overlapping backs, striker holdup play, and CDM work-rate will become the new normal.  This year we focus on building a championship run.  This year we beat an MLS club in the Open Cup.  I will go ahead and call it here, for FCC it is USL Final or bust in 2017.   

While the start has been less than ideal, the enthusiasm is palpable.  This city is abuzz with the excitement surrounding the home opener.  So forget about the attendance numbers, forget about the league politics, and forget about MLS aspirations.  Today is all about having a blast with thousands of our closest friends, cheering for a team that has let a city have hope in sports once again. 

See you at Nippert.  

 

Kevin Wallace