The debut of FC Cincinnati was a rip-roaring success, all but silencing doubters such as, well, hi there. Nearly fifteen thousand showed up to see the, uh, Blue and Orange? C Lions? Nearly fifteen thousand showed up to see the Unofficial Nickname To Be Determined play a very entertaining and exciting game, beating Charlotte 2-1.
It's way, way too early to chart the direction of this team, but early signs could not be better. Selling $5 student tickets with home games on a campus bigger than UCLA was clever marketing, but let it also be noted that the most expensive single-game tickets ($25) were completely sold out. The team themselves at their best showed the quick, crisp passing of a Bruce Arena team in its groove. Because who else was John Harkes going to model his coaching style on?
FCC was victimized by the demon Walkup, the scourge of American clubs both hither and yon. It was colder than a Nigel de Jong apology Saturday night, and FCC apparently didn't buy into their own hype like, to pick an example at random, Chivas USA. It was much more reminiscent of, well, nearly every other MLS debut - fans looking at other fans with the "I didn't know there were this many of us" look.
Very quietly, a delightful soccer culture has taken root in the NFL heartland. I'm extremely interested in how FCC handles their next home game - a visit from Louisville, who themselves have built a fun soccer community in an unlikely town, and who have also been quick and enthusiastic to exploit FCC's checkered forays into marketing and social media. I expect a noticeable visiting contingent, so even if the next game has a dropoff in attendance, there should still be a fun atmosphere.
Not that I expect actual fighting, but FCC even can boast some criminals among its new fans. Not content with a ticket stub and memories for souvenirs, some enterprising fan who plays by his own rules decided to steal one of the tarps. (The banner was returned after it turns out the fellow was filmed stealing it. To live outside the law, you must be honest.)
So we have a new contender for an MLS expansion team, right? Not so fast.
Let me digress with a quick story about Cincinnati. I hadn't heard of the Carew Tower before moving here. I was surprised to be told, by two separate people, that at the time it was finished, the Carew Tower, at 574 feet, was once the tallest building in the world.
As it turns out, a lot of people don't realize that the Carew Tower was once the tallest building in the world...mostly because it isn't true. When the Carew Tower was started, the largest building in the world was the Woolworth Building in New York, at 792 feet, which was completed in 1913. When the Carew Tower was finished, it wasn't even the tallest building in Ohio.
Which brings us to Nippert Stadium, which FC Cincinnati touted as a "world class facility."
The last shot in this sequence was taken about twenty minutes after the final whistle. During the game, it was packed with people standing.
I'm a poor photographer, as it turns out, so I might not have gotten across the things I most wanted to - namely:
1. The Bailey, at the north end of the stadium, is a fun, happy, energetic place where I could cheerfully recommend enjoying a game. (Unless you're like me, and still a little bent out of shape about the Cincinnati Saints. But more on that presently.)
2. Unless you're in the very front row, you have an obstructed view - whether the fans are standings or not. But they're gonna be standing.
3. MLS ain't gonna put a team in Nippert Stadium, except in the very short term. There's the north end thing, and having a bunch of Saturdays in fall declared off limits.
4. Every single expansion candidate with a stadium plan at the drawing board stage is ahead of FC Cincinnati, record-setting attendance or not.
5. People in Hamilton County, from the scruffiest Bearcat in the Bailey to the Lindner family butler, may not understand this.
6. Major League Soccer probably won't be in a hurry to tell them.
Now, if this were 1996, and we're all busy trading stories of how surreal it is trying to watch a game at Spartan Stadium, then FC Cincinnati would be looking pretty darn good. But it was twenty years ago that Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play. Century old college football stadium bowls are not a perfect fit for FIFA regulation fields, and MLS has outgrown the need to bounce around the echoes of Ohio Stadium, the Rose Bowl, and so forth. Gentlemen callers to MLS either understand that, or will come to understand it.
I'm perfectly aware that compared to former MLS home fields such as Dragon Stadium, Cardinal Stadium, Buck Shaw Stadium and the Kansas City baseball field whose name escapes me, Nippert is Wembley. FCC can be a lower division jewel for years, maybe decades. I'm pretty sure that isn't the business plan, though. FCC ownership is going to have to build a stadium, and they're going to have to pay for it themselves.
They may not say this publicly, because, well, they have to sell tickets today, not to a potential stadium for a potential MLS team. And the good news is, they have a product that justifies the price, for the moment. But to the extent they're selling a future in MLS, they'll need a Plan B, for Build a New Stadium. Enjoy those $5 tickets and short walk to the stadium while you can, Bearcats.
Because it was, and probably will continue to be, a lot of fun stuck in the North End - but these aren't the doofi we grew up with, cheering for throw-ins and judging goal kicks by distance. These were fans who were trying to watch the game - eventually, I think they're going to want a facility that will let them do so.