FC Cincinnati takes USL by storm

Artists rendering of Nippert Stadium for an FC Cincinnati match

taken from FC Cincinnati website

Artist’s rendering of Nippert Stadium for an FC Cincinnati match

FC Cincinnati is one of  the newest expansion teams of the United Soccer League. The USL is somewhat of a minor league for Major League Soccer in the US, providing a league where both players and entire clubs can develop to be their absolute best and possibly reach the highest level of professional soccer in the country.

While it is still very early on in the process, FC Cincinnati certainly looks to have started on the right track.

In their first few games they have a record of four wins, two losses and one tie with a goal differential of +3.  That mark is good enough for second place in the eastern conference, behind only Louisville City FC.  If that type of success is any sign of things to come, FC Cincinnati could be a force to reckon with in the USL. If they can keep rolling for a few seasons and succeed in the playoffs, they could be under serious consideration to be added by the MLS. The only team to successfully move from the USL to the MLS up to this point is Orlando City, which won two USL championships during their time in the league.

Even though putting a winning product on the field is important for a team with MLS aspirations, it is not the absolute driving factor for a team to move up. Attendance seems to be the main component of a team that must meet the expectations of the MLS.

As I mentioned before, Orlando City is the only USL team to reach the MLS. During their time in the USL, they had an average attendance of over 8,00 fans per game (2013).  In just three home games, FC Cincinnati has drawn crowds of 11,318, 14,658 and a USL regular season attendance record of 20,497.  For all of you math wizards out there, that’s good for an average of 15,491 fans per game. Obviously this is just a small sample size, but time will tell if the club can keep up this trend.

Another key factor in determining if they can move up to the MLS is the stadium situation. Currently, the team plays its home games at Nippert Stadium on the campus of the University of Cincinnati. One thing that the MLS is definitely looking for in an expansion team is one with a stadium solely committed to a soccer team. This is the obstacle that will probably be the most difficult to overcome for the team and it will be very interesting to see if they are able to get past it.

I personally have not had the opportunity to see one of their games yet, so I asked fan Alex Lott, who now works for the team by setting up the stadium before the games.

Pullquote Photo

He (Okoli) is definitely the star of the team

— Alex Lott

He gave me the scoop on some of the best players on the team. One of the players that Lott seems to be a huge fan of is Sean Okoli. Lott said that “he’s definitely the star of the team” and he has certainly proved it with his team leading five points (two goals, one assist). Lott also described him as the go to guy for the squad and comparing him to US national men’s team star, Jozy Altidore.

Another field player that he is high on is center back, Austin Berry. Even though he plays a defensive position, Lott was more fond of his ability to impact the game on the offensive end on corner kicks, calling him an “incredible aerial threat.”

Finally, Lott also likes the guy protecting the nets for the club, Mitch Hildebrandt. He went as far as to call Hildebrandt “amazing with the way he bails out the defense.” Hildebrandt has made a few great saves and has even once found himself a spot on Sportscenter’s top ten plays.

I also asked him about the overall atmosphere of being at the stadium for a game in comparison to being at other sporting events. He described the cheering section as one that  “certainly comes close to the Bengals'”. They play huge drums, wave flags and puff clouds of blue and orange smoke so that they can be seen and heard from far and wide.

Their next home game will be May 14 at Nippert Stadium when they take on the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. Hopefully this type of fanfare can continue for this game, throughout the rest of this season and future ones as FC Cincinnati looks to make their way to the MLS.