Opinion: FC Cincinnati 2 Lexington
FC Cincinnati 2 Lexington
Eventually, in the next two or three years, FC Cincinnati will create a reserve team. It’s what all the cool MLS teams do, so we should probably follow their lead right? A reserve team gives your younger players a chance to get game time while still being under the control of the team. Rather than loaning out a young keeper to Louisville, you can keep them in house and make sure they are getting minutes between the sticks. Or if you have a creative midfielder, you can make sure the team they’re playing on is playing a style of soccer you expect them to be playing for your senior team.
The benefits are clear, but what isn’t clear is how to go about creating this reserve team. Having spent time in USL, FC Cincinnati fan have seen up close what works with these reserve teams and what doesn’t. And maybe, just maybe, I can suggest a few things that can help build the sport in the region.
So the first question is, where should this reserve team play? Projecting a few years out is always difficult in American soccer. Hell, 5 years ago the NASL was looking to challenge MLS for Division 1 status and USL was a third division league. If I were guessing, I’d say most, if not all, MLS2 teams in the USL Championship end up in USL League One. For starters, there are fewer requirements in the third division for running these teams, making it cheaper for the parent teams. Second, USL doesn’t need them in the Championship. They want the Championship to feature teams like Sacramento and Indianapolis, not “Bethlehem” Steel and Timbers 2. League One needs the teams, and adding MLS reserve teams helps build up their numbers. Taking notes from Orlando and Toronto, I’d expect FC Cincinnati 2 to begin playing in USL League One.
This is the dicey one isn’t it? There are three options that I can discern. One, keep the team in Cincinnati. This is what a lot of teams do, even if they have different branding. North Texas SC currently players in the FC Dallas stadium, despite being a reserve team. Or New York Red Bulls keeping their 2 team in the same market, but previously played their games at a local college. FC Cincinnati 2 could play their games at the new training facility in Milford, or they could play them at UC or Xavier’s soccer stadiums. This gives the front office staff a much closer look at the players, and keeps all of the soccer operations in the same space.
The other option is to go away from Cincinnati, but to keep the team nearby. And in this case, there are only two real options: Dayton and Lexington. Dayton is an interesting choice right off the bat, because it would be a real shot at Columbus Crew. Crew has long seen Dayton as “their’s”, and would likely try to work with MLS to stop the team from going in there. Dayton is a large enough city to support a USL League One team, and would still be close enough to be able to recall players on loan quickly. The team could even train in Milford and just play their games in Dayton if they wanted. Solidifying Dayton as a Cincinnati focused city would also really help the team when it comes to media rights negotiations.
Lexington offers another interesting choice where FC Cincinnati could work on making themselves the team of choice in Kentucky (minus that weird purple cosplaying thing in Louisville). Lexington is home to the Pride: Orange and Bluegrass, but has not had much of a professional soccer history as of late. If the home of the Kentucky Wildcats were going to get into soccer, FC Cincinnati would do well to get them focused on FC Cincinnati instead of Louisville or possibly Nashville.
This is where things get a little geeky, but is maybe the most important aspect of them all. If FC Cincinnati decides to place a team outside of Cincinnati, then they need to be successful. And successful reserve teams are, really, not reserve teams. By that I mean, they may serve a purpose for a parent MLS team, but they are ultimately an independent team winning over the local fan base
Rather than being S2, the Seattle reserve team that nobody cared about, they became Tacoma Defiance, with an awesome crest and an eventual move into a soccer specific stadium. Attendance rose and people were invested in the team, once it started to represent and reflect their local community.
And while Tacoma Defiance is a good idea, there is a drawback, they’re basically a zombie club. By that I mean they look like an independent team, but their main focus is the development of a roster for Seattle, not themselves. What’s good for Seattle is not always what’s good for Tacoma, and vice versa.
For me, the real model of success might be Reno. Reno started as a joint venture with local ownership and the San Jose Earthquakes. While I may have some of the details wrong, as best I can tell San Jose agreed to get the team up and running, managing the soccer side of things, while the local owners worked on promoting the team. After a five year agreement, the local ownership takes over the team, while the Earthquakes still help with the soccer side of things and loan players to them.
This is the model FC Cincinnati should follow and perfect. If anyone knows how to start a team in a market most people haven’t pegged as being a soccer hot-bed, it’s FC Cincinnati. The Pride already has the makings of local support! Being able to start a team in Lexington, wearing orange and blue I’m sure, and helping spread the beautiful game deeper into Kentucky would be good for the sport overall. Dayton will likely always be a Cincinnati first market, they root for our teams for everything. I’m not worried about Columbus Crew there. But Lexington is a city where the game could go from 0 to 60 in a year or two. We know USL has already visited the city when looking at prospective League One teams, so the groundwork is being laid. FC Cincinnati should help set up a team that represents Lexington, and after 5 years is an independent team helping to develop the players of tomorrow. Keep the u-23 and below in Milford, that makes sense, but professional soccer experience in Lexington would really help players coming though the academy. Combine that with Lexington mining Kentucky for soccer players and there would be a match made in heaven. I’ll leave naming and designing the crest for this team to the creatives, or even the people, but I would certainly not call it FC Cincinnati 2.
Using FC Cincinnati to expand the game of soccer, activating Lexington, and helping build another independent soccer team to annoy Louisville would be a fantastic legacy to leave in the lower divisions.