Will new Cincinnati soccer team succeed where others failed? – Cincinnati.com
The city has seen many soccer teams come and go, but with a prominent home, notable backers and a solid league, this time could be different.
The Enquirer has learned that an announcement will come Wednesday about the establishment of Futbol Club Cincinnati, a United Soccer League team funded by Carl Lindner III and other investors. The team is set to take the field in spring 2016.
The team will play at Nippert Stadium, the University of Cincinnati’s newly renovated, 40,000-seat football stadium, a source told The Enquirer. Tickets will go on sale after the announcement and will range from $50 for students to $595 for club seats for 15-17 games.
While an $86 million renovation of Nippert currently is on time and on budget and the seating capacity is expanding from 40,000, the stadium will be reconfigured to utilize only 10,000 seats for USL matches.
What is the USL?
The USL, currently comprised of 24 teams, is the third tier of American soccer, below top-tier Major League Soccer and second tier North American Soccer League. Several USL teams are designated affiliates of MLS franchises.
For some, the phrase “minor league” might mistakenly result in direct comparisons to Major League Baseball’s tiered system of affiliates and lower-league teams.
The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup tournament offers USL teams an avenue to compete in meaningful matches against MLS clubs. And it’s not uncommon for USL teams to upset MLS teams in the competition. First-year USL franchise Charlotte Independence turned the trick in June when it upset four-time MLS champion D.C. United.
Another key difference is some USL teams are attempting to move into America’s top league. One ofÂ Cincinnati’s new peers, Sacramento Republic FC, has previously stated its desire to make the jump to MLS. And Orlando City SC serves as an example of a USL club that has already succeeded in jumping to MLS.
Orlando City now routinely plays before home crowds of tens of thousands, and is fronted on the field by Brazilian star Kaka.
Soccer’s past in Cincy
This might be the most prominent soccer league of which the city has been a part, but history has shown that past efforts have not ended well.
Cincinnati has seen a variety of soccer teams come. And they’ve seen them go. Some were of the indoor variety, most notably the Cincinnati Kids, which played in the Major Indoor Soccer League in 1978-79. (The team might have been best known for having Reds legend Pete Rose as a minority owner.) The team only lasted one season.
The Cincinnati Silverbacks, also an indoor team, played at The Crown (now U.S. Bank Arena) as part of the National Professional Soccer League. The team existed for just three years, from 1995-98. The Cincinnati Excite of the American Indoor Soccer League lasted from 2004-08.
Traditional outdoor teams have also not managed to stay in business. The Cincinnati Comets won the American Soccer League championship in its inaugural season in 1972, but folded after the 1975 season.
The Cincinnati Riverhawks and the Cincinnati Kings, both of the U.S. Premier Development League, failed to last. (The PDL is the fourth tier of American soccer leagues.)
One team that’s still alive is the Cincinnati Saints. The team is part of the 70-team National Premier Soccer League and has been in existence since 2009. According to a May 2015 Enquirer article, the team, which plays home games at Withrow High School, drew upwards of 500 fans at games during its 2014 season.
But those number are paltry compared to the attendance numbers that could be achieved in the USL, say the league’s backers. According to its website, www.uslsoccer.com, the league’s single-game attendance record was 20,886 for its 2013 championship won by Orlando City in Orlando.
Still, the Dayton Dutch Lions, a team in much closer proximity to Cincinnati, averaged only 531 fans per home game in 2014.
A success story
Though Dayton hasn’t seen great fan participation for its games, the USL’s Louisville City FC has seen strong attendance and an enthusiastic fan base in this, its first season.
Steven Peake, director of media relations for Louisville City, says officials of the new Cincinnati franchise observed a couple of games at Louisville Slugger Field this season.
Peake said the team started the season March 28, drawing 6,000 for that first game. He said the fan base was loud and they were very intelligent.
“We had supporters set up before the team was announced,” Peake said. “We couldn’t ask for a better start.”
Louisville City has averaged 6,391 fans a game, which is second in the league, according to Peake. The top attendance average in the league is for the Sacramento Republic FC with 11,274.
Peake said he heard from fans that said they didn’t like soccer before the season, but came away very impressed with the atmosphere once they attended the Louisville FC City games.
“They would say, ‘This is awesome. I am coming back. This is great.’ “
And he’s already heard excitement brewing about a rivalry.
“Our fans,” said Peake, “are already talking about road trips to Cincinnati.”
Optimism in the air
University of Cincinnati men’s soccer coach Hylton Dayes will get an up-close look at the new team since it’s playing on campus. He’s seen the benefits firsthand of having a professional soccer team in town.
“I was around when the Riverhawks were here and it was great for the city,” Dayes said. “One benefit for us will be our guys having the opportunity, literally, to go from their dorm to Nippert and watch pro soccer.”
Xavier University men’s soccer coach Andy Fleming welcomed the news and said it will add another element to the area soccer scene.
“As a collegiate program that was built mainly on local and regional talent, this adds another gateway to professional soccer and is something that can only help with our recruiting, possible facility development and continuing the careers of our college players,” Fleming said.
Former U.S. star John Harkes is reportedly the new Futbol Club Cincinnati coach, according to Sports Illustrated.
“Obviously John’s name speaks for itself and adds instant credibility to the franchise, as we all know him as a true American great,” Fleming said.
As for fan interest, UC’s Dayes doesn’t think it will be an issue here.
“I think fans will be excited to watch pro soccer,” he said. “Cincinnati is a big sports town and soccer has a long history here.”
Dave Niinemets contributed.
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