MLS Week 14/15: Real Judgments at a Fake Break

As any breathing, thinking fan of Major League Soccer knows, the league is taking a break until June 22nd – U.S. Open Cup action excepted,…

Photo Credit: Stephanie Romero

As any breathing, thinking fan of Major League Soccer knows, the league is taking a break until June 22nd – U.S. Open Cup action excepted, something that matters more to some teams than, um, others (a-hem, FC Cincinnati). With those two weeks off and 15 games behind every team in MLS except the Houston Dynamo, New York City FC, and my Portland Timbers, this seems like as good a time as any to step back and assess where every team in the league stands going into the brief hiatus.

I started the process over on my home site, Conifers & Citrus, with the latest Form Guide ULTRA. Related thereto, I’ve added “strength of schedule” data to the mix, something that proved enlightening for teams like the Chicago Fire, Minnesota United FC, Real Salt Lake, the Vancouver Whitecaps, the Colorado Rapids and the New England Revolution. To get right into it, there’s a curious/fun divide between all those teams – and it’s one that gets to why I obsess about results so much. As much as both Colorado and the Revs deserve credit for turning around, frankly, abysmal seasons, both teams benefitted by playing against teams going through their own sh*t – and that applies to Colorado more than it does New England (see their last game, especially). As for the other four teams, they’ve all struggled recently, and mightily. They’ve also run through a gauntlet of tough games, something that could 1) explain their mid-season woes while also, 2) providing some context for seemingly inexplicable surges later in the 2019 season.

Before moving on to the general, and to make anyone who needs to feel better, FC Cincinnati has played a tough schedule recently – by my count, they’ve played five of their last 10 games against teams that I rated as “contenders” in the Form Guide ULTRA. In other words, while it’s both easy and reasonable to feel down about FC Cincy’s chances this season, there’s a plausible case to be made that they went through the worst of it over these past 10 weeks. Having just looked ahead, that could actually hold up. “Grey skies are gonna clear up, put on a happy face…” (Sing along if you know the words!)

That’s enough for local interests; how’s everyone else doing? With the hurly-burly of regular results going quiet for a while, let’s take a look – something I’m doing by staring at the standings and all the work that went into the Form Guide ULTRA.

The first thing that stands out is the distinct possibility that the teams now in positions 2 & 3 in the East, and the teams between 2-7 in the West might not be in those same spots when the playoffs start. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Toronto FC slide deeper into oblivion based on current form, and major questions loom over teams like the Los Angeles Galaxy, the Seattle Sounders, Houston, Sporting Kansas City and, yes, the Timbers. Overall, I’d call only the top of the Western Conference and the bottom of the Eastern Conference the known quantities in the MLS right now. Everything else feels like a million moving parts, and with even more variables in play. Mind you, that’s not the same thing as saying it’s all random, because it’s not. There are very real trends in play surrounding every single team listed above, as well as all the rest, and I’m going to spend the rest of this post teasing out the 10 biggest stories from around MLS, as I see them.

1) LAFC and Atlanta Are On a Collision Course, Yes?
If there’s one undisputed reality in MLS this season, it’s that LAFC is running away with the league and rushing toward one or more titles. They’ve developed a system that pins even the best teams in the league against the ropes and pummels them into giving up one or more goals (with some exceptions). Underneath all of LAFC’s noise, Atlanta United FC has managed to tie them on points (21, all ‘round, along with Philly) over the past 10 games. The trick is that Atlanta has built their success around the league’s stingiest defense – just 11 goals allowed over just 15 games. (I say just twice because 15 teams of the 24 in the league have now played 16 games). While it’s impossible to argue (as I did in the Form Guide ULTRA) that Atlanta’s attack has “come online,” there’s something appealing about the best attack in the MLS squaring off against its best defense. Fortunately, we’ll get a preview on July 26. Here’s to hoping that’s not the only time they meet this season…unless the Timbers get a shot at it, because I’m totally down with that. Speaking of…

2) False Signals Dialed to Eleven
The Dynamo sit at fourth place in the West, just four points off the Galaxy in the pack that LAFC continues to leave behind. The Timbers, meanwhile, sit stalled at the bottom of the conference, four points below the playoff line and, to note it, 10 points behind Houston. The most obvious difference between them comes with the number of games played at home – nine out of 13 for Houston versus 12 on the road for Portland, plus one bear of a game (against LAFC) at home. No one knows what happens with either team going forward, but Houston’s 1-3-0 road record seems every bit as suggestive as the 13 points from 18 available that Portland picked up over the last six games of its road trip. On a deeper level, the Timbers splurged on a striker who certainly looks real (Brian Fernandez) and, until LAFC kicked their asses, they had a solidly functioning defensive scheme. This is just one signal as to why the West feels more open than the East. Of further note, both Houston and Portland play three games between June 22 and the end of the same month (just…why?), and with travel involved in both cases – more for Houston than Portland, for the record. And that’s something else to watch.

3) The Post-Chad Marshall Era
Related, the Sounders currently occupy third place in the West, but recent results (2-4-4 in their last 10 games) makes it seem really unlikely that they’ll stay there. Seattle has been reliably terrifying since joining MLS, and they’ve had this habit of starting slow before grinding down all comers on their way to MLS Cup – or at least that’s what happened in 2016 and 2017, when Seattle reached the MLS Cup and won it once. If you look at the standings for every season between 2015 and now, you’ll see a team that never scored a ton of goals, and that’s kind of the point. Seattle’s success came from keeping other teams to zero goals scored and knocking in one or two of their own. When they can’t do that – see their last three games – they’re pretty damn helpless. They signed a guy – Xavier Arreaga – and he’s going to go a long way to determining how far they go this season. That said, the Chad Marshall Effect died this season. And that’s a big deal.

4) Average in Every Way
FC Dallas went into the break with a 6-6-4 record, 22 goals scored and 22 allowed. If that doesn’t make them the most average team in MLS, that’s awfully damn close. Once you get into the details, you see a team that is neither great at home (4-1-3) nor useful on the road (2-5-1), and that makes them something of a litmus test for the league at large. They are the Kung Pao Chicken of MLS, the team you measure against as a mean – e.g., solid, but capable of neither absolute failure nor greatness. If I had to name an Eastern Conference equivalent – and this is a stretch – I’d go with the Chicago Fire. Speaking of…

5) The Struggle Is Real…
As with Cincinnati, it only became apparent that Chicago, Vancouver and RSL played through tough schedules when I went through the whole business of sorting out strength of schedule. RSL definitely had it easier than the other two – both of whom faced four teams I ranked as Contenders four times over their past 10 games, while RSL picked up only three. That gets to the curious telling thing about all this: Chicago picked up two points from 12 while Vancouver got five points from 12. That feels like a pretty sound barometer in the here and now with all three teams. There’s another level too…

6) Olde Tyme Wrassling
Around the turn of the century, really winning a fight meant taking an eye out of the other guy’s head. I think RSL falls into that camp, right alongside Orlando City SC and the San Jose Earthquakes. I don’t think any of those three teams will challenge for the title this year or the next (or, frankly, the one after that), but all three of them have players that will fight you whistle to whistle. Better still, each of them have something – whether it’s Chris Wondolowski, Nani (anywhere but the penalty spot), or Jefferson Savarino – that can turn a game on a dime. They’re also good enough – all of them – to straddle the playoff line all season long, and that means the path to the Promised Land goes through them. You do, in fact, have to be better than they are to make it.

7) A Dark Horse
When you look at New York City FC, it’s hard not to be underwhelmed; after all, they have more draws than wins and losses combined, and with two games to burn. And that has to matter at some point…right? They’re also kind of a weird team because they’re doing fine. I mean, they just picked up 8 points of 12 from a four-game road-trip, and things only look better when you expand the sample size to their last eight games. I had the opportunity to watch them absolutely dissect the worst team in MLS last weekend (Cincinnati), and that’s kind of the point: a good team that knows what it’s doing does that kind of thing, they go on this type of run. Watch NYCFC.

8) Even a Horse Needs a Spine
I count Sporting Kansas City’s bout of turning sickness as one of the biggest shocks of the 2019 season. By the few accounts I read, the assumption was they had talent and depth to spare. As it happens, they are bad – as in they have as many wins as FC Cincy, which should drive the point home nicely. SKC got worse when they lost Roger Espinoza, but they only became hopeless when Matt Besler went down. At the same time, that’s the deeper story of this team: neither of those players will be around forever, so what’s next? Outside of that, SKC has so much talent (Johnny Russell) and promise (Gianluco Busio) to make things feel good, but, barring a major turn-around this looks like a lost season for, frankly, an amazing set of players.

9) A Normal Man Sleeping
The lowliest category I have for any team in MLS in the Form Guide ULTRA is road-kill. Toronto FC have played themselves into the outhouse by the simple act of going 2-5-3 over their past 10 games. In other words, this team has to grow a litle before I call it a sleeping giant. And, as a reminder, all this happened with a pretty slick DP coming into the team (Alejandro Pozuelo), and with most of TFC’s key players on the field. Given their last…seven results (0-4-3), and given that they’ve played…really average teams over their last five games – vs DC, @ RSL, vs SJ, @ VAN, vs SKC – and to get only three points out of that run? You’re no longer a contender.

10) A Touchy Subject
It took some serious investigation to get the full measure of Colorado’s and New England’s turn-around since they fired Anthony Hudson (right?) and Brad Freidel, respectively. While I down-graded both teams from an “M+” to an “M-“ in the Form Guide ULTRA, I’d argue that Colorado picked up the easier points over the past five-six weeks. At the same time, both of those teams chucked their coaches around the same time FC Cincinnati and, factually, both of those teams have done wildly better since then, while FC Cincy has…done something different. And that should make you think, FC Cincy fans. Not in the sense of what could have been stopped in the here and now, but in terms of what to watch for as a “Danger, Will Robinson” moment in the future. All the same, I have never seen a coaching/team mismatch quite a manifest as Friedel’s meltdown with New England. I wouldn’t hire that guy to coach my kid’s team, and she doesn’t even play soccer.

And that’s it. I mean, that’s literally it. This will be the last MLS Weekly for Orange & Blue Press, unless they get someone else to do it – and I hope they do. I wish I could keep posting here, but, god’s honest truth, I only want to spend so much time on soccer every week, and this added too much weight. If you want to write for them and they let you, they’re good people to work with.

After that, I wish FC Cincinnati and their fans all the best. If I had to guess, the next few seasons will be…well, fucking miserable. I mean, like Minnesota and Orlando, but also maybe worse, so brace yourselves. As for me, I’m going to follow and love the team all the same. If it’s any consolation, I think every team should suck for a while, aka, they should put their fans through seasons of dismay and torment (for those who choose the latter), if only to make the sun shine brighter when it does. It makes the ultimate victory, whatever form it takes– MLS Cup, the U.S. Open Cup, or (yes, The Holy Grail) The Supporters’ Shield – feel better, and more real and earned. Goddammit.

And, to wrap this up fully, thank you to Michael Walker, Geoff Tebbetts, Stephen Buckeridge, and Connor Paquette, and I wish I had more time with some others. It was fun posting here, but I also have one hell of a time saying no to things. Cheers.

Last 10 MLS Designated Player Signings and Trends for FC Cincinnati’s First DP

What qualities will FC Cincinnati’s first Designated Player have? The most recent MLS Designated Player signings provide some hints.

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Image: Joe Craven

While FC Cincinnati’s final USL season is on full-tilt, MLS preparations must move forward at the same time. One of the most exciting prospects for the Orange & Blue as they enter the league’s top flight is the prospect of signing top talent as a Designated Player (DP). While signing DP’s is only one aspect of building a complete MLS roster, Designated Players are undoubtedly the personnel that will draw the most headlines during FC Cincinnati’s inaugural MLS season.

Some FCC fans may already know the basics of MLS’s Designated Player policy. The rules of that policy stem from the league’s salary-restricted single-entity structure. In case you aren’t familiar, here’s quick summary of how it works.

Every team has just over $4 million per season to spend on its senior roster, which consists of player spots #1-20 on the team. The most any team is allowed to spend on a senior player is just over $500,000 (also known as the “maximum budget charge”).

“The Designated Player Rule allows clubs to acquire up to three players whose total compensation and acquisition costs exceed the maximum budget charge.” [MLS]

The club then pays whatever amount of money is required to procure the player’s services, but only the maximum budget charge is applied to the team’s annual salary budget. Additionally, there are significant salary cap benefits to signing younger Designated Players.

“A Designated Player who is 21 years old to 23 years old during the League Year will carry a budget charge of $200,000, while a Designated Player age 20 or younger will carry a budget charge of $150,000.” [MLS]

While a DP signing and announcement is not imminent for FC Cincinnati, the search is most definitely underway. According to technical director Luke Sassano, FCC hopes to acquire one DP for the beginning of the 2019 season, with more to follow thereafter, either later in 2019 or the following season. [Stejskal]

Let’s take a look at the last ten designated players signed by MLS clubs and identify some trends, as well as discuss the kind of player FC Cincinnati is likely to select to fill one of these coveted positions.

Last 10 Designated Players Signed

Here are the key trends that we see in these Designated Player signings.

Attacking Players

Unsurprisingly, aside from two central midfielders and one defender, the last ten DP’s signed have been attack-minded players. FC Cincinnati, or any MLS team, is most likely to use DP-level money on players in these positions. This is because attacking talent demands the most money on the open market. Crew SC fullback Milton Valenzuela is one of only three DP defenders across all MLS rosters. Whomever FC Cincinnati signs as their first DP, it will likely be a player who can create and score goals.

South America is Happening 

Seven of the last ten DP’s signed are from South America. MLS teams are increasingly looking to countries like Argentina, Columbia, Paraguay, and Venezuela for top talent. This isn’t necessarily a new trend. One can look back to a DP like Guillermo Barros Schelotto in Columbus for evidence, or even Carlos Valderrama, who played before the DP era. However, the frequency with which Designated Players are being selected from South America is at a high. MLS teams can find the right blend of talent, price, and desire to play in MLS by sourcing there.

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Emmanuel Ledesma / Image: Ryan Meyer

FCC’s current Argentine star Emmanuel Ledesma is evidence enough that quality is available in South America at many price points. Reports also indicate that Luke Sassano is currently in South America on a search for 2019 talent. [Hatch]

It’s interesting to note that while MLS currently imports a lot of talent from Central and South America, FC Cincinnati currently does not. Coaches networks and scouting networks may come into play here.

Youth is Trending, but Experience Still Rules

As a league, MLS is increasingly selecting young players as DPs. Atlanta United’s Miguel Almirón is the poster boy for this new breed of talent. A key benefit in signing this type of player is that the club then has a chance to sell the player on for profit, or at least at a residual value similar to what was paid. It must be noted that there are complex rules for MLS player sales, and the club only receives a portion of the profits.

While selecting young talent as a DP is more common now, it’s certainly not the rule. In our list of the most recent ten, Horta, Mosquera, Valenzuela, and Romero all fit that young DP bill. They also represent teams taking advantage of MLS’s Young DP policy, which comes with a lower salary budget hit. Each of those teams also has more senior Designated Players already on the books.

The other six players in the list of 10 above are 27 years of age or older. If a club is going to pay top dollar for a Designated Player, it’s reasonable that they want proof that the player can produce consistency in another league. Alan Koch built an experience-heavy USL roster this season, and one can wager that he’ll do the same for the team’s first MLS campaign. FC Cincinnati may sign a young DP at some point, but it’s likely to be after one or two more established DP’s are on the roster.

Big Names in Big Markets

Historically, when people think of Designated Players, they think of big name European players in the twilight of their career. David Beckham, of course, signed for the LA Galaxy in 2007 and was the original Designated Player. The only player in our list that fits a similar bill is Wayne Rooney. This flavor of DP is still around, but is less common than earlier in league history, and this player is usually found on teams in the biggest media markets.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic recently signed for the LA Galaxy and comes to mind when it comes to big names in big markets. However, LA used TAM (Targeted Allocation Money) rather than the DP mechanism to acquire Ibrahimovic. We’ll explore TAM and how FC Cincinnati might use it to build its roster in future articles.

Will FCC’s First DP Signing Follow Recent Trends?

So now we can paint a picture of what FCC’s first designated player will look like, if Sassano and Koch follow recent trends. The player will be a seasoned professional in his late 20’s, but probably not a household name. The player will also be either a forward or attacking midfielder, most likely from South America. While factors other than market trends will come into play, Sassano and FC Cincinnati are boasting an aggressive approach to their 2019 transfer business.

“We’re going to be aggressive in the marketplace. We have a very committed ownership group. I anticipate that we’ll have those higher-level type of impact players in Year 1.” –Luke Sassano [Wiebe]

Who would you like to see FC Cincinnati sign as their first DP? And does that fit within the current MLS trends for DP signings? Let us know in the comments.

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We’re in! #MLS2CINCY, It Had to Be; Garber: “Your fans have shocked the world”

FC Cincinnati was announced as the 26th MLS expansion team by commissioner Don Garber on Tuesday, May 29th at Rhinegeist Brewery.

Image: Joe Craven

Don Garber visited Cincinnati on Tuesday with a “special announcement” about the future of soccer in Cincinnati. FC Cincinnati supporters, players, coaches, media, and of course the front office and owners packed into Rhinegeist Brewery for the half hour presentation.

FC Cincinnati live-streamed the event on the big screen at Fountain Square. The majority of fans attended there and celebrated at the party hosted by 3CDC that featured food, drink, a DJ, and lots of FCC gear.

Fast Facts

  • FC Cincinnati was announced as the 26th MLS expansion team by Commissioner Don Garber.
  • They will start play in MLS in 2019 at Nippert Stadium.
  • The club’s proposed 21,000 seat stadium to be built in the city’s West End neighborhood is scheduled to be completed in 2021.
  • As previously announced, Mercy Health will be the team’s jersey sponsor, starting with the 2019 MLS season.
  • FC Cincinnati’s MLS conference has not yet been determined, but will be finalized in the coming months. The assumption is that it will be the Eastern Conference, but the decision is dependent on several factors.
  • Season ticket members have priority in seat selection for the inaugural 2019 MLS season. Fans without priority can earn a higher priority in 2019 by purchasing pro-rated 2018 season tickets from now until June 30th. On Monday July 2nd, FCC will begin taking $50 deposits for 2019 season tickets.
  • Average MLS attendance for 2017 was an all-time high at 22,106 per game. FCC’s current attendance for the 2018 season stands just under 24,500 fans per game.

Commissioner Garber confirmed in the post-event press conference that the long delay in a decision was related to the ability to secure the West End Stadium site.

Tonight’s event is the culmination of 18 months of negotiations between FC Cincinnati and MLS. Those are the basics. Stay tuned to Orange & Blue press for images and more color from Tuesday’s #MLS2CINCY celebration.

#MLS2Cincy Hall of Fame – The Players Who Got Us Here

In an enthusiastic take on Cincinnati’s top flight ambitions, Connor Paquette takes a look at the FC Cincinnati players who earned the privilege of being recognized for epitomizing #MLS2Cincy.

It’s over. It’s going to be announced. Cincinnati will host a Major League Soccer team. While the massive effort by the front office and supporters has taken center stage, it’s still incredibly important to remember the local legends that have risen to the occasion for our city. Certain players have been the catalysts that sparked the unrivaled juggernaut that is Queen City soccer.

With that in mind, come with me as I take a look at the most intrinsic players behind one of the Midwest’s worst kept secrets: the blossoming powerhouse known as Cincinnati soccer.

Due to my focus on listing the “Hall of Fame” players who contributed the most, ensuring Cincinnati’s rise to Major League Soccer (and for the sake of avoiding petty drama), this list will only feature players who have played for the team during the 2016 and/or 2017 season(s), as new signings simply haven’t played long enough to really make a sincere impact.

And now! Without further ado . . . my list for the FC Cincinnati players who have earned the privilege of being recognized for epitomizing #MLS2Cincy for all eternity.

Honorable Mentions

Give a humble thank you to these men who’ve joined us to lift this incredible city even higher. We are grateful for every ounce of effort contributed.

  • Matt Bahner (D), 2017 – Present
  • Austin Berry (D), 2016 – 17
  • Omar Cummings (M), 2016 – 17
  • Josu (D), 2017 – 18
  • Danni König (F), 2017 – Present
  • Justin Hoyte (D), 2017 – Present
  • Paul Nicholson (D), 2016 – 17
  • Tyler Polak (D), 2016 – 17
  • Eric Stevenson (M) 2016 – 17
  • Andrew Wiedeman (F), 2016 – 17

5. Jimmy McLaughlin (M), 2016 – Present

Mr. McLaughlin is a peculiar case because he’s not consistently in the starting eleven, let alone a stats machine earning Player of the Year honors. However, he does have one attribute that has simply taken the Queen City by storm. What Jimmy has that sets him apart, something that can’t be taught, is an absolute ruthless love for the game of soccer and all who adore it.

I hear it whenever I’m in the stands at a game “We want Jimmy! We want Jimmy!” This is always followed by a standing ovation when he enters the field (or even when he’s subbed off). No matter what insanely amazing move, goal, save, etc. a new member of the 2018 season accomplishes, they will simply never get the cheers that “Pennsylvania Messi” does.

To not be the best scorer, not have the highest stats, and sometimes not even play, but still be one of the biggest draws for the game is mind boggling. I can’t wrap my head around it – until I’m reminded why. Whenever there’s a run to a deep corner in the opposition’s territory, running as though his life depended on it, Jimmy is tracking the ball down and juking an opponent into oblivion.

In an instance of casual keep-away, Jimmy creates game changing chances that take the audience’s breath away. When he’s on the field the game becomes an intense drama. His lively fervor is naturally contagious and raises the spectators in a unanimous symphony of roaring support. When a goal is scored you can bet your house there’ll be a ridiculously silly dance he’d been practicing in the mirror for a week. Perhaps his natural quirks are what make him so relatable: so human. He’s a performer on the stage, but a hero in our hearts. There has simply been no one else like him.

The first real FC Cincinnati soccer star, Jimmy McLaughlin was surely one of the most important pieces required when attracting supporters. We’ve fallen in love with the kid, and his commitment to us is showing off.

4. Harrison Delbridge (D), 2016 – 2017

I think for many reading this, you’ll agree with me when I say that, arguably, Harrison Delbridge is the best pure soccer talent to have donned the Orange & Blue. Starting nearly every game that he’s been on FC Cincinnati’s roster next to captain Berry in central defense, it was Harrison who always anchored the back line with incredible tackling precision and rugged but thoughtful challenges.

While many (including myself) were extremely disappointed to see him sign with Melbourne City FC after the 2017 season, this was a good thing. Let me explain. There is never a finish line when it comes to sports. The game is always changing and evolving. When one legend dies, another is born. Harrison Delbridge, just like any other player when it comes to the sport, is another spoke on the wheel.

But Harrison’s journey didn’t end when he left FCC, he began a new chapter. Harrison’s aspirations were to represent his home of Australia on the national stage, and he made strides in his journey by joining a top team there. This only proves to soccer analysts, that when players join FC Cincinnati, they grow.

Whether it be due to the supporters aggressively asking for just a little more from the team, our coach’s ability to guide each player to be the best they can be, or just top talent demanding a player rise to the occasion every day, FC Cincinnati is a hub for evolving soccer talent to its next level.

This is absolutely essential to be considered one of the top teams in the country. The best soccer players sign here because Cincinnati is a breeding ground for unlocked potential. So as soon as we rise to division one, players will think twice when signing elsewhere. Harrison Delbridge’s success is a reminder of that, and we continue to wish him the best on his journey.

3. Djiby Fall (F), 2017 | Sean Okoli (F), 2016

Be honest, do you remember who Sean Okoli is? If you were one of the original seven thousand or so season ticket holders, I’m sure you do. The Golden Boot winner with 16 goals in FC Cincinnati’s inaugural season, Okoli was voted the league’s MVP. He scored the team’s first home goal in breathtaking fashion when he scissor-kicked a pass out of nowhere into the back of the net. His dominance in the game helped FCC finish in third place in 2016. He was so good that many supporters called for the team to go after him in 2018 to help bolster the attack after a lackluster 2017 season. But similar to Harrison Delbridge, Cincinnati lifted him higher and Sean has enjoyed plenty of professional success ever since – he signed with MLS’s New York City FC in 2017.

Djiby Fall, while similar in success, was quite different as a person. Very quiet in his day-to-day life, his actions were loud on the field in comparison. While some moments were controversial, Djiby’s intoxicatingly odd field presence caught the attention of every FCC supporter. He set a franchise record in a single game by breaking the 2017 home schedule open with a four goal performance. But his most important contribution came in the earth shattering 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup run.

Djiby set records on his way to being named one of the tournament’s top players. He scored four game winning goals in total, most of which came against a variety of top opponents including: 2017 USL Champions Louisville City FC, 2017 NASL Conference finalist Miami FC, and 2017 MLS Conference Finalist Columbus Crew. All of his efforts culminated into one of the most incredible tifos I have ever witnessed, unveiled by The Bailey in the Open Cup semifinals against MLS’s New York Red Bulls.

Image: JES Photography

As I’ve mentioned, the success of this team is without a doubt one of the most compelling reasons to attend one of their matches. Without Djiby and Sean Okoli, you have to wonder where this team stands and whether they might have missed the playoffs otherwise. What if the U.S. Open Cup run ended in the 120 minute marathon against NPSL side AFC Cleveland? America and the rest of the soccer world took notice of FCC directly because of the impact these two players made. For that, I recognize them in the Top 5 most important players that contributed in making Cincinnati a division one soccer city.

2. Kenney Walker (M), 2016 – Present | Corben Bone (M), 2016 – Present 


The crucial field presence like Okoli and Djiby; the conductors catapulting the team to new heights like captain Berry; the irrational and insane dedication to the game they love like Jimmy; arguably the best this team has to offer like Delbridge; all of this while only dedicating the spotlight to their teammates and supporters, Corben Bone and Kenney Walker are two of the greatest minds to ever take the field for the Orange & Blue.

I have little to say about these two originals because you simply need to watch their games to fully grasp how much FC Cincinnati became because of them. Frustrating me at times, it’s only because they’ve eclipsed all my expectations, causing me to raise them further game after game. Yet, they continue to surprise me. I genuinely believe these two men are among the three individuals essential in creating the FC Cincinnati of Major League Soccer quality that we know and love today. However, there is still another who went above and beyond even them…

1. Mitch Hildebrandt (G), 2016 – 2017

Hot take: Cincinnati would’ve failed our endeavor for this round’s expansion bid if Mitch Hildebrandt never stepped on Cincinnati soil. The 2016 USL Goalkeeper of the Year had one very distinct moment that shouted defiantly into the ears of all neigh-sayers that “CINCINNATI IS A MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER CITY!” It came over the course of about 10 minutes on Wednesday, June 28, 2017, broadcasted live to the entire nation on ESPN’s flagship channel.

Never in my life have I nearly suffocated due to my own stubbornness of refusing to take a breath. I couldn’t; I wouldn’t allow myself. Mitch needed all the support he could get. I had to keep yelling; I had to be loud. Or so, that’s what I thought when we went to penalty kicks against the Chicago Fire in the Round of 16 of the 2017 U.S. Open Cup.

We missed our first penalty kick. I thought it was over. We weren’t supposed to win, and I had even convinced myself long before of it being just fine if we didn’t. Having the opportunity for our humble little team to go against top soccer squads in the state locale was enough. But then we made it to overtime. And then we made it to penalty kicks. And then, well, see for yourself…

Here’s the bottom line. Of all the FC Cincinnati players to take the pitch at Nippert, Mitch Hildebrandt is far and away the most important of them all. After all, what hasn’t Mitch accomplished in the city of Cincinnati? “Mitch says no!” Will go down in history as the most iconic dialogue of all the lore in the Orange & Blue bible. Simply put, without Mitch Hildebrandt’s life changing contributions in the 2017 U.S. Open Cup, I don’t believe Cincinnati would, at the very least, be considered so early for an MLS expansion team. His titanic performances destroyed the floodgates revealing Cincinnati’s enormous love for the game to all in the nation. For all he has done, he’s earned my #1 spot atop the #MLS2Cincy Hall of Fame.

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Reaction to Upcoming MLS Expansion Announcement

An announcement next Tuesday looks likely to be an invitation for FC Cincinnati to join Major League Soccer. O&B Press’ editor penned a few words in reaction to what the news means to him and soccer fans in the city.

Image: JES Photography
On Thursday, FC Cincinnati fans finally. . .and I mean finally, got news of Don Garber’s intention to visit the Queen City for an announcement regarding the team’s bid for MLS expansion. It’s been a long road and we, at Orange & Blue Press, have written our fair share about expansion over the past two years. I’ve personally been vocal about blocking out the drama surrounding the circus, in favor of focusing on the actual soccer being played. I penned a few words summarizing my reaction to the news, assuming Tuesday’s announcement is the expected invitation to join Major League Soccer.

Yesterday’s long-awaited news leaves me with a feeling of joy, elation, relief, and optimism quickly followed by a stirring panic…holy sh*t, there’s a LOT to do between now and January of 2019 when a potential MLS preseason camp would start.

And I don’t actually have to do anything besides observe, enjoy it all, and write a few words on this blog. Nevertheless, the club has a huge task ahead and a lot of pieces to put in place in nine months to be MLS ready.

But right now is not the time for those worries. It’s time to take a step back, truly pause and savor the moment because it’s historic and important for this city. It’s time to appreciate the fact that we are able to be around the club, observing and supporting, during this formative time.

Deserved Accolades

A massive thank you and congratulations are in order for Jeff Berding, the ownership group, and the tireless staff at FC Cincinnati. Mr. Berding is still villainized by some for his involvement in the Paul Brown Stadium deal however many years ago. But man, am I glad he was in charge of this one. A unique skill set was needed and he brought that to accomplish so much with this franchise in just under three years.

He and his staff leveraged his sales executive experience from the Bengals and combined it with the political skills he garnered on city council. He mixed these two like peanut butter and chocolate for a delicious recipe that resulted in bringing this team to the highest level of American soccer. Let’s not forget that it takes money and influence too, lots and lots of it. Thank you Carl Lindner III and the entire ownership group for that.

Also, congratulations and thank you to all those involved in the Build It Here effort and anyone who got involved. You battled against some long odds to help make a stadium location in the urban core a reality.

The Importance of an MLS Franchise

The reason why this opportunity is important, and the thing I am most thankful for, is that this news should ensure the sustainability of professional soccer in the Queen City for some time to come. We’ve had our fair share of false starts with pro soccer here in the Queen City. And this news certainly doesn’t guarantee top level soccer here forever. Only enduring support, committed local owners, ambitious but responsible club management, and the financial growth and success of soccer in our country can do that.

The USL has been a great partner since 2015 and its growth is impressive. I hope that growth continues and that a strong and healthy pyramid develops in the lower leagues, maybe even one that can support promotion and relegation. But right now, the lower leagues are still volatile, and the long-term profits that FCC’s investors are understandably seeking will likely exist only in the top flight. Right now, there aren’t guaranteed profits even at that level. This is a long-term high stakes play for the team’s investors. Playing in the top league in our country helps ensure that continued investment.

If you would, also take a moment during this time to think about our soccer-loving brethren in Columbus, who are still fighting for their team. I very much hope that this news does not come at the expense of our rival to the north, who started their journey over 20 years ago.

Finally, I can’t wait to enjoy this with our soccer-loving city…the next week is gonna be great. A very sincere and humble thank you to everyone who has followed along with Orange & Blue Press during the past two plus years. We appreciate every reader and hope to bring you continued high-quality soccer and statistics-rich coverage of the team in 2019 and beyond.

Opinion: Tuning out the MLS Expansion Jam Band

Being an MLS expansion candidate was fun for a while, but that ended sometime in 2017 and here’s how I’m dealing with it.

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Don Garber at Lunken in 2016. Note the “jam band” I’m referring to is not the fine KOB folks pictured here.

I classify my interactions with FC Cincinnati over the past couple of years as some of the most fun and positive experiences of my life. The sport I have loved since the age of five exploded in front of my eyes in 2016, in my hometown, a place that I returned to eight years ago.

There are dozens of FC Cincinnati memories that I already treasure: The first game at Nippert and that Sean Okoli scissor-kick, a success-laden inaugural season led by U.S. legend John Harkes, Djiby’s four-goal fiesta against Saint Louis FC in ’17, Mitch’s brilliance in the Chicago penalty shootout during the U.S. Open Cup run, and the people I have met while covering the team and while cheering in the stands. I love each plume of Bailey smoke like a small child I raised myself (ok, overboard). Hell, even “Streamergate” and the Louisville City “bite” scandal are already part of the lore, and I will remember those moments fondly when I look back on this in a few years.

Originally, the possibility of MLS expansion was woven right into that excitement. I watched Don Garber land at Lunken and stood by as Taylor Twellman announced our top-flight aspirations to the nation. It seemed like an unstoppable wave. That was November of 2016. Here we are in March of 2018, and that MLS excitement and anticipation couldn’t seem further away.

Sometime in early 2017, a cloud formed over the MLS expansion conversation. Maybe it started last April when the Saint Louis stadium plan narrowly fell short, and soccer fans around the country, including Cincinnati, celebrated their loss. Maybe it was the opaqueness in the MLS timeline, process, and decision-making criteria that became evident over time. Anthony Precourt’s intentions to move the Columbus Crew to Austin certainly added to the gloom, and that’s a cloud that’s still raining on us today.

Add to that our local government wallowing in the agony of the Paul Brown Stadium deal. Then our beloved media joined in to paint FC Cincinnati as a greedy corporate machine preying on the Cincinnati taxpayer, just to wind people up and generate clicks. How about the special interest groups that have used FC Cincinnati’s popularity to draw attention to their own cause? Throw in all those putting a hand out to get a piece of the Lindner money if they support the stadium plan. I know the process of “how the sausage gets made” can be ugly, but this is disgusting. That’s an idiom usually reserved for lawmaking, but the analogy fits.

So where does that leave me as an FC Cincinnati fan? Fatigued and annoyed, but steadfast. Soccer is the beautiful game. It’s a perfect blend of athleticism, simplicity, strategy, and art, played and watched by every flavor of human being on the planet. It’s supposed to be fun. It’s fun to play. It’s fun to watch. It’s fun to argue about it with my friends over drinks. It’s really fun to make fun of fans from Louisville for…reasons not fit to print.

I’m still in favor of #MLS2CINCY, because I think it’s vital to securing the long-term future of professional soccer in this city. But I’m ready for soccer to be fun again, and I plan to make that happen by fiddling with the controls of my soccer social-media equalizer. I’ll be turning down the blow-by-blow details of MLS expansion, and turning the soccer-specific content up to a ten. Now that the season is in full swing, that’s what I’ll be listening to. So tap me on the shoulder if Don Garber books a ticket to the Queen City. I’m happy to miss the middle part of the MLS expansion jam-band song. Soccer got me into this happy mess, and soccer will get me out of it.

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FC Cincinnati Stadium Construction and Economic Inclusion

Economic Inclusion – What is it and how does it play into FC Cincinnati’s plans to do things the right way when it comes to stadium construction.

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Side view of a potential FC Cincinnati soccer specific stadium presented by Meis in June 2017

When Cincinnati’s Horseshoe (now Jack) Casino was built on Broadway Commons, owner Dan Gilbert committed to an economic inclusion plan for its construction that was widely considered a successful effort to achieve inclusion goals on a private construction project.

What is an economic inclusion goal, you might ask? It isn’t our forte at Orange and Blue Press either, but we dug a little deeper into what this means and what to expect if (fingers crossed) construction begins on a stadium.

In essence, an economic inclusion goal as it relates to construction ensures opportunity and inclusion in the development effort, especially by women and minority-owned businesses. Specific minimum goals are set to ensure these groups have a suitable stake.

The city of Cincinnati, in fact, has a Department of Economic Inclusion that certifies minority and women-owned businesses and sets inclusion goals for development efforts funded by the city.

In a recent interview on Eric Kearney’s Rise to Shine radio program, Jeff Berding discussed FC Cincinnati’s potential stadium construction and the economic inclusion that would be part of the plan.

“We will have inclusion. … We want to meet the goals consistent with or better than the casino. We have outlined an inclusion plan consistent with that.” 

The casino, whose construction completed about 5 years ago, targeted a 20 percent inclusion goal for MBE/WBE participation. MBE stands for “Minority Business Enterprise”, and WBE stands for “Women Business Enterprise”. A firm is considered an MBE, for example, if it is 51% owned and controlled by a minority group, and a WBE if 51% owned and controlled by women.

The general contractor for the casino’s construction was Messer. They received a fee for managing the overall project and issued subcontracts for a portion of the work, rather than self-performing all of the construction. An inclusion percentage was measured by determining how many dollars of all subcontracts issued went to minority-owned or women-owned firms or suppliers.

An inclusion percentage can also be measured based on the fee paid to the general contractor. In the case of the casino, Messer partnered with three minority-owned firms: TriVersity, D.A.G., and Jostin, who received part of the management fee and were responsible for driving equitable inclusion rates with the subcontractors.

The overall project achieved a 37 percent construction contract inclusion rate, well exceeding the goals set.

FC Cincinnati wants to emulate and possibly even improve on the casino’s successful plan in their efforts to build a soccer-specific stadium in the Queen City. Although the media is focused on the stadium location efforts in the West End, all three sites are still in play. This inclusion policy will apply regardless of which location is selected.

“The inclusion plan will be consistently administered regardless of the site. … We need this inclusion program to lift people up. … We need to extend opportunity consistently in this community.”

Conclusion

Building a new stadium in Cincinnati is a complex and multi-faceted proposition. The baggage of past stadium deals makes this task even harder. While some FC Cincinnati fans are frustrated with the seemingly slow progress, the club seems committed to putting the stadium where it will work for the business AND do the most good for the community. Yes, FC Cincinnati is a business and hopes to make profits in the long-term based on the growth of soccer in the US. However, in the near term, they are looking to make a substantial investment in one of our communities, backed by the most philanthropic family in the city’s history, and supported by a Community Benefits Agreement authored by our city’s leaders.

FC Cincinnati should not necessarily be applauded simply for making economic inclusion a goal. That is really an expectation today for large construction initiatives, even if most of the funding is private. However, they are making inclusion a business priority and setting goals similar to those of the casino makes their intentions clear. We wanted to shed a little light on economic inclusion goals and underline this as an example of the club trying to do things the right way.

Special thanks to Byron Stallworth, National Roofing Partners for doing his best to educate me on economic inclusion in the construction industry. MGW_5547-3

West End Stadium Location Takes Center Stage

The timeline and events leading up to yesterday’s FC Cincinnati West End stadium proposal, as the club reaches out to engage CPS and the local community.

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Twelve days have passed in what has already been a busy February in FC Cincinnati’s pursuit of a potential stadium location. While there’s no news yet in terms of securing an MLS spot, there is a LOT happening in the city’s West End neighborhood, which is the current focus of FC Cincinnati’s stadium negotiation efforts.

On Monday night Jeff Berding presented his vision of what a West End stadium might look like to Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) Board of Education. The details of the proposal are complex, and there’s still a lot to be negotiated, but the proposal can be summarized as follows:

FC Cincinnati is proposing a land/site swap involving the current CPS-owned Stargel Stadium, in order to build a soccer stadium in that location (and nearby plots). FCC would build a new improved Stargel Stadium in return on a different site adjacent to Taft High school. The construction of the new Stargel would be done prior to any impact on the existing Stargel stadium, ensuring no interruption in school or neighborhood activities.

In addition, FCC promised to keep Cincinnati Public Schools “whole or improved on every level” (taxes), continue community engagement to address neighborhood concerns, and enter into a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) established by the City of Cincinnati to protect the interests of residents in the neighborhood.

Monday’s meeting is the culmination of a series of recent events in the West End. Things kicked off at the end of January when FC Cincinnati sent a letter Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) asking them to engage with the club and discuss a partnership in pursuing a stadium located in the West End. A week later, FC Cincinnati secured the option to buy 60 empty lots in the neighborhood, that were acquired from the Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) for residential development.

Here’s a timeline of the events that followed, with corresponing links if you want more details:

  • Jan. 31 – CPS met and discussed FC Cincinnati’s letter. They request more clarity on what is being asked of CPS in an “open and public” forum.
  • Jan. 31 – Cincinnati NAACP publishes a statement indicating that they are “monitoring the developments with serious interest.” Their statement demands transparency and community engagement.
  • Feb. 2 – A letter from CPS President Carolyn Jones requests more information and transparency from FC Cincinnati on their stadium plans.
  • Feb. 2 – Jeff Berding and Mark Mallory speak on 700 WLW, reiterating that all three sites are still in play, that Taft High School “won’t be touched”, and that Mallory’s involvement is needed “to get the correct information out” in the West End community.
  • Feb. 5 – Jeff Berding attends Cincinnati City Council Budget and Finance committee meeting. Councilman Mann recommends a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) for the new stadium. Berding states that he is targeting to know MLS’ decision by end of February and have a firm stadium plan by March if they are awarded entry.
  • Feb. 6 – The Enquirer publishes an editorial by Jeff Berding stressing that a stadium in any neighborhood must a net positive for the neighborhood and the club with make decisions with the community and city leaders where it is located.
  • Feb. 7 – Hamilton County Commissioners update the expiration date of their December resolution to pay for a $15M parking garage in support of a stadium, extending the expiration date to February 28 (it originally expired at the end of 2017).
  • Feb. 8 – West End Community Meeting is held and media reports indicate a negative neighborhood reaction to the proposed stadium. Cincinnati City Councilman Wendell Young makes statements opposing any impact on Stargell stadium and has concerns about gentrification.
  • Feb. 10Jeff Berding goes door-to-door in West End neighborhood to seek input and hear concerns of West End residents on a potential FC Cincinnati stadium.
  • Feb. 12 – A CPS Board of Education meeting is held, where Jeff Berding presents details on plans for a West End Stadium site and residents that live in CPS districts have an opportunity to speak for and against the stadium proposal.

Summary

While we don’t often wade into the waters of the politics surrounding the stadium situation (this is a soccer blog after all), we will make a few observations about recent events in the West End.

The Beginning

Monday’s proposal might feel like the conclusion of several events pointing to a West End stadium location. However, this is likely just the beginning of an arduous negotiation process. The club must see great value in the West End location because the path it needs to travel to get a deal done there will be a difficult one. Each location presents its own unique obstacles, but one could argue that the West End might be the most politically charged and financially difficult of the three.

Dynamic Situation Across Three Sites

Berding reiterated on Monday that all three stadium locations (Oakley, Newport, and the West End) are still very much in play. The Oakley traffic and environmental studies promised in December are now underway. The Newport site has made the fewest headlines, but don’t be surprised it if rises to the surface again if negotiations take a bad turn elsewhere. This is a dynamic situation, and the club has to keep all its options open as it pursues a viable situation on multiple fronts.

FCC to Go Big on Outreach and Transparency

The three points Jeff Berding made in his editorial are going to need to become the hallmarks of the club as they move forward: communication, outreach, and partnership. FCC is going to have to overcommunicate and go above and beyond with both community engagement and probably financial generosity to get a deal done, particularly in the West End. The club has taken some hits in the media for not being transparent enough. Whether you agree with that or not, expect them to now engage fully and make a big push in these respective communities to turn a plan into reality.

Update: Feb. 13  – On Tuesday, Jeff Berding presented a customized version of the West End stadium proposal to the West End Community Council. This version of the plan, which was presented with the assistance Mark Mallory, was customized and focused on the potential benefits and impact to the neighborhood. Thereafter he fielded questions and concerns from the council. No public comment was a part of the meeting.

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press, where we’ll get back to talking about soccer-ball-kicking soon enough. Wednesday’s friendly with the Chicago Fire reserves was canceled, so the next time we’ll see the Orange and Blue in action is Thursday, February 22nd at Indy XI.

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Miami’s MLS Expansion Spot, in Cincinnati “Process is more involved than expected”

MLS has officially landed in Miami while FC Cincinnati continues to tackle an expansion process that’s more involved and more time-consuming than expected.

David Beckham and Don Garber officially announced the long-awaited Miami-based MLS franchise on Monday. The event was big on fanfare and short on details, but the Miami Herald reports that the franchise expects to begin play “at a temporary site” in 2020. The team name and branding were not revealed. Beckham gave a surprisingly long and somewhat a heartfelt speech which reflected the difficulties his ownership team encountered during the process. He finished with, “Miami is a city built on dreams, today you made my dreams come true…it’s a special day for all of us.”

The announcement brings to a close a four-year-long saga where Beckham and company worked to secure an ownership group and stadium site suitable for MLS. The logical question that some Cincinnati soccer fans are asking is, “Does the news in Miami hurt FC Cincinnati’s chances for MLS expansion?”

The short answer is no. MLS chased and supported a Beckham led Miami franchise for a very long time, long before FC Cincinnati was even a sparkle in Jeff Berding’s eye. This announcement should have come well before the current round of expansion. Garber has been extremely patient, and MLS believes that the Miami ownership group finally has enough sorted out to call it official. Cincinnati was never going to displace Miami, a huge media market, with a star-studded ownership group, that’s also an attractive tourism destination. The only thing Miami’s bid was ever going to impact was the timing of when FC Cincinnati enters the league, if granted a bid. Miami’s lengthy delays could still provide Cincinnati a chance for earlier (2019) entry.

Cincinnati – “Process Is More Involved Than Expected”

In Cincinnati, Jeff Berding made appearances with a few local media outlets over the past week, to talk about the shorter-lived saga that is FC Cincinnati’s MLS bid.

“We’re not quite there yet. The process is more involved than we expected. We appreciate people’s patience, . . . we hope we’re going to host a big party here sometime soon.”

A few themes repeated themselves in these interviews. Berding reiterated that they consider all three sites (Oakley, West End, and Newport) winning sites. A purchase option is signed on the Oakley site, and that was the primary site presented at the December 6th meetings with MLS in New York. However, all three sites were presented, as was FC Cincinnati’s ability to redirect efforts to any of the three sites (if local or MLS interests drove things that way). FC Cincinnati committed to performing a traffic study on the impact of building a stadium in Oakley. Berding also committed to a holding a community dialogue in any location where they try to move forward. He put a major emphasis that any stadium plan needed to be a win for the neighborhood in which it would be located. “We’re going to increase home ownership in the neighborhood, we’re not going to displace anyone”. [WCPO]

One implication of the information shared in these recent media appearances is that further clarification on the specific stadium site does not seem to be a prerequisite for winning the MLS bid. The narrative he presented is about needing to first secure the MLS franchise, then having a dialogue with the community and city leaders about the best place to locate the stadium.

It is interesting that some of the hurdles in Miami were attributed to not having the stadium site locked down. So how can Cincinnati secure a franchise with a number of questions outstanding about its own stadium proposal? No one’s really sure. Miami’s bid had more problems than just stadium details though. Those problems were resolved by revamping their ownership group and adding Jorge and Jose Mas. It appears that the local ownership piece in Miami was perhaps the biggest deficit, and with that resolved, they got the green light from MLS to move forward. And Cincinnati certainly isn’t Miami. It’s a different situation, and somewhat different criteria might be used by MLS to decide what “ready” looks like there versus here.

This brings up another point. There isn’t much point in speculating on when and how this decision will be made by MLS. But everyone’s doing it, because 1) it’s fun, and 2) there’s a dearth of information coming from the real sources. Without clear information and MLS leading the dialogue about what’s happening, people are going to speculate, and Don Garber is clearly ok with that, or he would have said more by now.

Why hasn’t he said more? There could be some simple explanations. Defining the specific criteria for acceptance suggests that MLS’ decision is an equation, and if a city’s bid plugs in the right numbers, stadium + ownership + finances + support, MLS spits out a winner. One could argue it’s not that simple. It’s a subjective decision, it’s nuanced, and ultimately it’s a judgment call for MLS to decide which city’s situation has the best chance of improving the league and improving the financial prospects of its owners. It is a business after all.

Also, there are serious financial implications for the winning (and losing) cities and the ownership groups involved. It behooves MLS not to make the exact decision-making specifics public. If they did, it locks them into what was stated and gives them less flexibility to change their minds or re-evaluate things as each city’s bid evolves. It could open them up to criticism or even legal recourse if they stated detailed specifics and then didn’t follow them “to a T”. So while it’s annoying, confusing, and frustrating to many fans and onlookers that the whole expansion situation is opaque, it seems to be so by design.

Waiting Game

So FC Cincinnati fans must wait. The good news is that there is an end in sight. Don Garber said MLS’ decision on the next expansion team will happen before the first game of the MLS season (March 3rd).  So, it’s likely that the news will come sometime in February, perhaps even early February. Moreover, preseason is kicking off for this year’s exciting and revamped USL squad. FC Cincinnati leaves for the preseason IMG tournament in Florida on Friday. Alan Koch’s new-look team will be back in action in eight short days against the New England Revolution. So there will actually be some real soccer to keep us busy while we wait. And isn’t that actually what it’s all about?

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s 2018 season.

Seven Takeaways – FC Cincinnati Stadium Plan Reveal

FC Cincinnati revealed stadium plan details at an event for season ticket holders on Monday. Here are seven takeaways on FC Cincinnati’s potential new digs.

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FC Cincinnati revealed plans for a new stadium on Monday when they hosted a special event for season ticket holders at the Woodward Theatre in OTR. Majority owner, Carl Lindner, and President and GM, Jeff Berding, hosted the event. They were joined by Dan Meis from Meis Architects who presented renderings of a soccer specific stadium for the Queen City.

Takeaways

The Stadium Will Glow

Supporters of FC Cincinnati’s MLS bid have been waiting a long time to see what a local stadium might look like. They weren’t disappointed on Monday. The stadium design is based on an expandable 25,000 seat horseshoe-shaped structure. The most striking feature of the renderings of the Meis design, is a light-panel glowing effect similar to Bayern Munich’s Allianz Arena. The Meis firm is well known for its stadium projects, soccer and otherwise. They have built multiple MLS stadiums including Columbus Crew SC’s venue, and are currently working on designs for Everton FC and AS Roma.

No Site Secured…Yet

The three sites that have been discussed for some time are all still in play, and no determination has been made about which site they will focus on. Those three sites are the West End (OTR adjacent), Oakley, and the Northern Kentucky Riverfront. They will select and focus on one in the near future and attempt to gain ownership control of that site in association with a successful MLS bid. They are still analyzing each to determine which is the most viable based on several factors. If everything goes according to plan and MLS entry is granted this year, they would break ground on the site in 2018 for completion by 2020.

Northern Kentucky Is Definitely in the Running

The presentation and renderings were based on a single site for demonstration purposes. That site was Northern Kentucky. Berding was very clear that they had not selected the Northern Kentucky site, and that it could just as easily end up in one of the other two Ohio locations. However, he did cite a strong relationship with a partner influential in developing the Northern Kentucky riverfront, and talked-up the possible benefits of the Kentucky site, calling it “part of our region”, and highlighting its riverfront proximity to the Reds’ and Bengals’ stadiums.

Tax Increment Financing

FC Cincinnati won’t be looking for new public taxes to help fund the stadium. They also reiterated several times that the investment group will be putting up $250M in funding. The owners will fund $150M for the MLS expansion fee and $100M for the stadium, covering over half its cost. They will look to cover the rest with public funds and a public-private partnership using Tax Increment Financing (TIF). With this model the municipality where the stadium is built would “divert future property tax revenue increases from a defined area or district toward an economic development project.”[1] You can read more about TIF here. This is the same financing model that was used to fund the development of the Banks on the Cincinnati riverfront.

There Won’t Be A Public Referendum

The TIF financing won’t require a public vote because they aren’t looking for new taxes to support the project. It will, however, require community dialogue on the proposed benefits of a new stadium, and ultimately the support of the elected officials in the municipality where the stadium is built.

It’s About The End Game

Debate is fairly heated amongst FC Cincinnati fans about which site would be best for the team’s new stadium. Some Cincinnati and Ohio natives are opposed to the idea of the team being located on the other side of the river. Both Carl Lindner and Jeff Berding made it clear that while they’d like to build in Cincinnati, the goal is to win the MLS bid. They will do what it takes to make that happen. FC Cincinnati will select the site that gives them the best chance possible to get a deal done, because the stadium is such a vital piece of a successful bid.

Call for Support

Berding urged FC Cincinnati’s most passionate supporters, who were in attendance for the stadium plan reveal, to be active and make their voices heard. He suggested that they contact local officials, show up at public meetings, and make a “powerful” statement that will get the attention of elected representatives. He also said that the organization of public support for the stadium plan will be led by the team’s supporters groups rather than the club itself.

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more news and updates as FC Cincinnati’s MLS bid unfolds.

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