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?
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 rivalry. Then 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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.