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.
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.
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.
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.
See you at Nippert tonight.