A Warm Welcome to MLS From Johnny Come Lately


A Warm Welcome to MLS From Johnny Come Lately 
Steve Haldeman

Call me Johnny Come Lately. I am one of the thousands of fresh-faced, new soccer fans riding the clown-car-packed bandwagon straight onto the hallowed grounds of Nippert Stadium in support of Major League Soccer’s latest debutantes, FC Cincinnati.

Noobs. Baby Ultras. Plastic fans in plastic gear. You know what, though? We don’t care what you think.

We don’t care that you don’t like our logo, or that we call our lion, Gary. We don’t care that you think we overpaid for our back line, or that we’ve squandered our precious TAM-GAM-SPAM-Garber Bucks. We don’t care that you think we’re a flash-in-the-pan and going away soon. We don’t care that you think we’re kidding ourselves about our prospects, that we’re under some grand, mass delusion of winning MLS Cup in our inaugural season. Honestly, the only people talking about that is everyone else, Podcast Pundits and Twitter Hot-Take Artists. No one in Cincinnati is saying that. We are tempering expectations realistically. We know what kind of year is ahead of us. We probably aren’t going to win a bunch. We know. So what.

You will be forgiven for misunderstanding, because you aren’t from here. You haven’t lived with the perennial disappointment of a Cincinnati sports fan. We have somehow managed to continue to support our “professional” football team through decades of a stubborn commitment to gross mediocrity by an owner who’d rather hold us hostage over his crappy stadium than make any kind of concentrated effort to win a damn thing. We’ve watched the oldest and proudest professional baseball team flounder in the cellar of the NL Central for years, while other “small market” teams make runs deep into the playoffs. Promising players come and go, and inevitably have more success elsewhere. We still go, though. We still love and support these teams.

Then again, FC Cincinnati has a habit of exceeding expectations that has captured this major league city’s full and complete attention. FCC has done something new in this town: under-promise, overachieve, overspend. They’ve convinced us—and we have every reason to believe them—that We Will Win.

You seem to think we’re going to look elsewhere if FC Cincinnati doesn’t win right away. Nah. We’re down for the long haul if that’s what it takes.

This is Hustle City. We aim our adoration at athletes who work for a living, who play whistle-to-whistle, run down every ball, slide headfirst into the fray. The name of our city on the front of the jerseys of all of our heroes is bloody and covered in mud at the end of every game. We like our heroes with a chip on their shoulders and the same burning desire to win that we’ve lived with for 29 years. (29 years, and We. Still. Go.)

We were told second division soccer would never survive in Cincinnati. We averaged 25,000 fans per game last season. Attendance FC? Damn right. Our team went undefeated for four months and won the regular season running away. The front office poured money into the product on the field, and showed us they’re truly committed to winning. We were told MLS in Cincinnati in the next decade was an impossible pipe dream… three years ago, they said that.

This may be our first year in Major League Soccer, but our culture has been Major League since day one. You don’t get to tell us what to do, or how to do it. We’ve got our own way of doing things. The Cincinnati way is tearing down every “You-Can’t-Do-That” you’ve ever put in our way, and every one you’ve got in your pocket. Bring it on.

We’ve managed to build a better roster than anyone gave us credit for when the build began. Our coach knows talent, and knows where to find it anywhere in the world. They better have a solid back line, they said. Garza, Waston, Hagglund, Powell, Deplagne, and Lasso. They better have some elite strikers and speed on the Wings, they said. Adi, Mattocks, Lamah, Manneh (and don’t dare sleep on Ledesma). And, we’ve got so many solid midfielders, you can’t even keep up.

Most important, every single one of them is a solid teammate, a locker room guy with a chip on his shoulder. Winning will come. Maybe not right away. So what. This is Hustle City. We’re here to get to work.

We appreciate the warm reception. You’ve been kind of enough to welcome us to MLS and we’re grateful for the opportunity. You keep asking if we’re ready for MLS. Seattle, Atlanta, Portland. We see what you did there. We’re ready. We’re still gonna go.

If you can hear yourself think on March 17 when Nippert’s 30,000+ rain havoc down on the Timbers, when the Bailey reaches decibel levels their unborn descendants will hear all the way back in Portland, then kindly please ponder this:

Are you really ready for us?

Welcome to Cincinnati, MLS.

Steve Haldeman