The Crystal Palace Friendly Paradox

Waking up on the Thursday morning before the Crystal Palace friendly, a match being billed as “the highest level soccer match ever to be played in the city of Cincinnati,” I’m feeling anxious, excited and frankly, ready for the work week to be over. I’m also feeling a little confused and here’s why. This match, while it’s monumentally important for the city of Cincinnati as a soccer town, is most likely unimportant as an actual soccer match.

There is a ton of hype around the match, and rightly so. Never has a team with the quality of Crystal Palace set foot in the city of Cincinnati. Never has this town embraced the sport in such great numbers or with such fervor. This is indeed another opportunity to show the world (as the match will be broadcast worldwide via Facebook Live), and anyone at MLS that might care, that Cincinnati is a major league soccer town with passion that can rival any city, anywhere.

This match is, of course, a friendly though. We already know that both teams will give playing time to almost all of the players available (including reserves), with an eye on the experience rather than the result. Crystal Palace has not travelled with its full squad and will be focused on gaining fitness, gaining new fans, and integrating new signings into the team. FC Cincinnati will likely be cautious with its squad, and rightfully so. Starting on Wednesday July 20th, they will embark on a vitally important period of their USL season. Over a stretch of 11 days they will host 3 games against their closest competition for supremacy of the Eastern conference. It’s critical that they go into those matches well rested, at peak fitness and focused on the task at hand.

When I walk into the stadium as a fan of any team I support, my mind is always focused on “How is this going to go?”, “Will we win?”, “What are the key matchups?, “Where is the beer stand?” This match will be different. Aside from the beer, those factors are not really important. This is a normal situation for friendlies. People know that the actual match isn’t that important. But most friendlies aren’t being billed as the most important soccer match in a city’s history.

I’m not trying to be a downer or suggest people shouldn’t get excited and enjoy this match. They absolutely should and I will be right there beside you. The match is going to be a great day in the sun and a great celebration of the game of soccer and its long-awaited success in Cincinnati. Regardless of what happens on the field, that celebration will happen and that’s what matters.

A few other thoughts as we head into the Palace friendly:

We ran a poll earlier this week which asked “Will you follow Crystal Palace FC more closely this Premier League season because of their friendly with FC Cincinnati?”

About two thirds of the respondents said “Yes,” they would in fact follow Crystal Palace more closely. Obviously this is not a large or statistically unbiased sample but it highlights the fact that these friendlies do work from a business perspective. Let’s hope that Crystal Palace FC is the first of many high level clubs we see come through the Queen City.

Crystal Palace opened their US tour on Wednesday with a stop in Pennsylvania at the home of the Philadelphia Union. They played to a rather tepid 0-0 draw in front of a crowd of 12,881 at Talen Energy Stadium.

There’s been a lot speculation on who will start and play for CPFC in Cincinnati and this match gave us some insights into that.

As expected, Crystal Palace manager Alan Pardew made several changes in the second half. The following players entered as substitutes: Delaney, Tomkins, Croll, Zaha, Sako, Lee, Wickham, and Campbell.

Further, this is the best press conference quote from Alan Pardew so far on the US tour.

“American audiences are different. They get excited about corners – I love that. We hope to bring out the crowds enthusiasm tomorrow night.”

With all of the fanfare, let’s not forget that a USL season is still being played and last night an important result went in FC Cincinnati’s favor. The Charleston Battery played to a goalless draw with Orlando City B (does anyone actually click on a link called “goalless draw”, methinks no). If 4th place Charleston had won, they would have pulled level on points with FC Cincinnati in the standings. Given the result, they sit 2 points behind FCC having played one more match.

The USL hosted another friendly against Premier League opposition yesterday, when the Charlotte Independence played Swansea City at Ramblewood Soccer Complex. The gulf in class was apparent and Charlotte took a 4-0 battering at the hands of their Welsh guests. Not so friendly. Let’s hope and expect that the boys in Orange and Blue will fare a little better on Saturday. Make no mistake though. The talent of our opposition is, literally, in an different league and this Charlotte result emphasizes that.

Get out for some of the fanfare associated with this match. There is literally a weekend’s worth of activities surrounding Saturday’s game. Check out the following resource by Cincinnati Soccer Talk with a summary of the weekend’s events.

The current forecast is calling for a high of 87 degrees and the chance of a stray shower. It should be cooling by 7pm and let’s hope mother nature is kind to us and that’s as hot as it gets. Otherwise, our friends from England may in fact melt on our artificial turf field. Given the luck FCC has had with weather so far this season, this is a really a forecast to be thankful for.

Overall…enjoy. I’m thinking of this as a mid-season celebration before we return back to the second half of the USL campaign and with any luck, a decent playoff run.

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