Top 4 Clinch . . . Best in the East . . . USL Regular Season Champs . . . 2018 USL Cup?

Image: Joe Craven

As the Orange & Blue prepare for the resumption of play in Lousville on Tuesday, let’s take inventory of the current playoff picture and the run to the 2018 USL Cup.

Through Week 26 of the USL regular season, FCC still holds a commanding lead in the Eastern Conference. With seven matches remaining, FCC leads Pittsburgh by 11 points, Charleston by 12 points and Louisville City by 13 points. FC Cincinnati can finish no worse than fifth in the East based on the maximum points available per team (see below). FC Cincinnati needs 12 total points in any fashion to win the East outright and lock down home pitch advantage for the entire Eastern playoffs.

Eastern Conference Table

Teams Ranked by Maximum Points

So what’s up for grabs this coming week? None other than clinching a home playoff match October 20th at Nippert. Note the 3 point differential between FCC and Indy Eleven* above in yellow. To guarantee a first round home playoff match, only one of the following results needs to occur this week:

  • FCC closes out the win versus Louisville City FC Tuesday evening
  • The Orange & Blue beat Toronto FC II on Sunday
  • FCC draws LCFC Tuesday and Indy Eleven draws Penn FC on Wednesday
  • FCC draws TFC II Sunday and Indy Eleven draws Penn FC on Wednesday
  • Indy Eleven loses to Penn FC on Wednesday

*  With any of the results above, FC Cincinnati owns the first tiebreaker of most league wins over Indy

Ok, great…but who will the Orange & Blue be playing come October 20th at Nippert? Let’s take a look at the following graphic that shows a sensitivity analysis of possible playoff opponents (teams ranked by projected points) and the impact that current, projected and maximum points have with respect to the Eastern Conference playoff race.

Eastern Conference Playoff Race

Graphic by Connor Paquette

If the season finished today, and using the projected points metric (points per game earned extrapolated over 34 total matches) represented above, FCC would be hosting the Bethlehem Steel FC in the first round with the opportunity to face the winner of Charleston Battery vs Indy Eleven. All things considering, this is a pretty decent path to a potential Eastern Conference final where they could face the winner of the other side of the bracket (currently Pittsburgh, Louisville City, Nashville and New York).

Several factors go into the ideal, most favorable first round opponent at home, including:

  • Head to head results this season
  • Away record of possible opponent
  • Recent form
  • Any suspensions or injuries
  • International call-ups during the FIFA International October window

Who do you want to face in the opening playoff match? What surprises might we see in the remaining five weeks of USL play? Who would be the most difficult first round playoff opponent?  Let’s hear from you FCC fans.

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for your remaining 2018 regular season and playoff coverage.

#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.

FC Cincinnati Links In Review – April 8th

Our Links in Review segment takes a look at the past week and some of the best FC Cincinnati related content produced by various outlets.

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In this segment, we highlight our feature article of the week, and take a look at some of the best FC Cincinnati related content produced by other outlets. It’s a way to recap the week’s events and share content that we think is worth your attention.

Ironing Out the Wrinkles: The Top 5 USL Eastern Conference Kits – Geoff Tebbetts – Orange & Blue Press

In our feature article of the week, we take a look at the five finest kits the USL’s Eastern Conference has to offer, and how they stack up against FC Cincinnati’s new look for 2018.

FC Cincinnati expects to have a more diversified attack with new talent – The Athletic Cincinnati / Justin Williams

The Athletic is a subscription-based service covering Cincinnati sports, and is now delving into FC Cincinnati coverage. This well-written article focuses on the new and improved FC Cincinnati roster and the differences in attack from the 2017 season to the 2018 season. The article highlights new FCC players Emmanuel Ledesma, Emery Welshman, and evaluates manager Alan Koch’s tactics with the influx of new talent. It also references our Hydra attack article, cheers Justin.

In conversation with Ottawa Fury FC Captain Richie Ryan – Apt613.ca/Josh Lemoine

This is an OLD article but one we noticed recently. It’s an interview with current FC Cincinnati midfielder and former Ottawa Fury FC captain Richie Ryan. The article took place in 2015 shortly after the midfielder’s former club won the NASL championship game. It even mentions former FC Cincinnati inaugural player Andrew Wiedeman and his hair. This is a hilarious must-read.

Eastern Conf. Notebook – FCC, LouCity Set for Rivalry Renewal – USL/Chris Hockman

Even though we all know it as the “Dirty River Derby,” this is still a great piece about FC
Cincinnati and their rivals, Louisville City FC. The article mentions some of the past highlights of the rivalry as well as looks ahead to the latest edition of it. The article also includes interviews with both club’s managers.

Old Man Ultras – An “Exceptionally” Unofficial FC Cincinnati Podcast

This podcast started back in September of 2017, but they are really hitting their stride this season. Join Shindler, Maccabee, Stone Delicious, and Bubbles as they re-live FC Cincinnati’s adventures on the pitch each week. They curse and they don’t take themselves too seriously, which are two key ingredients for any good podcast (…Michael Walker speaking).

A Big Step for FC Cincinnati in the West End – WLWT

Could this be the beginning of the end of the stadium saga? On Friday, April 6th, the West
End community council shared a plan with the public that endorsed FC Cincinnati and the idea of finally bringing the club’s stadium to the West End. One major proponent of this deal is PG Sittenfeld who has finally joined the FC Cincinnati march and appears to have brought the club one step closer to its MLS aspirations.

ICYMI on Twitter

Just when we thought the Tommy Heinemann contract situation was in the rearview mirror, forceful words were exchanged between the MLS Players Association and FC Cincinnati via press release this week (both statements below). It looks like the case is heading to the American Arbitration Association later this month for resolution. Stay tuned to this space.

In happier news, Evan Newton was selected to the USL team of the week AND collected the save of the week (his second) for his performance against Indy Eleven on March 31st.

Did you read something that’s a little different and worthy of a shout out? Let us know. Come back later for the Orange & Blue Press Deeper Cuts analysis further breaking down last night’s latest derby match.

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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.

First Day of Preseason 2018 – My How Things Have Changed

John Harkes and Alan Koch speak to the team during a training session in the first week of preseason 2017.

I was just looking back at the first preseason article of 2017. It’s remarkable how much this team has changed over the past year.

Last Year’s Article: FC Cincinnati’s Preseason Kicks Off

New signing Aodhan Quinn was the cover boy. Preseason started at the end of January last year, and John Harkes was still the manager. Alan Koch had just arrived. He spoke to us about his new role as assistant coach, and head of scouting and analytics. Daryl Fordyce and Matt Bahner had signed two weeks prior to that and they, along with Quinn, were the “big splash” acquisitions of the offseason at that point.

The squad is dramatically different today. Only Kenney Walker, Corben Bone, Matt Bahner, and Jimmy McLaughlin return from the group that trained in last year’s first week of preseason. Djiby and Victor Mansaray had not yet signed. Danni König, Josu, Justin Hoyte, Sem De Wit, and others didn’t ink pen to paper until the USL season had started.

Two weeks later John Harkes was out as head coach and Alan Koch took the reigns at FC Cincinnati just before their preseason trip to Florida.

Off the pitch, #MLS2CINCY was just gaining momentum. The soccer Don visited Cincinnati for the first time at end of November the year prior, and 12 cities had just submitted expansion applications on January 31st.

If the first two seasons are any indication, FC Cincinnati’s offseasons aren’t ever going to be boring.

Preseason Patience and Naz

Fast forward to today. Patience is the watchword that Jeff Berding has been preaching with regard to MLS expansion, as FC Cincinnati’s continues to work through a “competitive situation” with Sacramento and Detroit for the next expansion slot. The most recent rumors suggest that the decision could be delayed beyond January, perhaps even as late as March.

Even more recent headlines suggest Miami may finally be getting their act together down in Florida. Beckham recently met with his new revamped investment group in Kansas City, and the Miami Herald is reporting that they will hold a “team-launch news conference” by late January. There’s been so much misinformation about the timing of these decisions though, I’m won’t believe much until Don Garber is standing in a city with an announcement to make. MLS doesn’t exactly have a great track record in this space.

Patience is going to be a theme beyond MLS expansion. It’s going to take time for Alan Koch to mold this roster into a team given all the new additions. Fifteen of the 24 players currently on the roster have never kicked a ball wearing FC Cincinnati colors. Add to that another three-game away trip to start the season, and the Orange and Blue faithful need to accept that this team might not come flying out of the gates. There’s no doubt that FC Cincinnati has a much stronger overall squad now than at this time last year. Talent does not necessarily equal results, but it sure as hell helps. Even if everything comes together nicely, it will likely take some time for Koch to mold this into an effective group capable of winning the USL Cup.

Here’s one player that will certainly feature in the middle of the field in 2018.

Just today FC Cincinnati announced the signing of Nazmi Albadawi. The Raleigh, NC native is a two time NASL best XI player, and his playmaking ability should be a game-changer for FC Cincinnati in 2018. Albadawi at NCFC and Emanuelle Ledesma (at NY Cosmos) created 129 chances in 2017 if their stats are combined. Heinemann, König and the rest of FC Cincinnati’s attack will have plenty of good service to get on the end of this season. Good times ahead.

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

FC Cincinnati Rings in an Action Packed New Year

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FC Cincinnati fans have a lot to be optimistic about as they head into their third season as a professional franchise. The regular season doesn’t kick off until March, but the Orange and Blue will create plenty of headlines before then. Here’s what we’re most looking forward to in FC Cincinnati’s New Year.

#MLS2CINCY

Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first. All eyes will be on Cincinnati’s bid for MLS expansion in January. After MLS announced Nashville’s expansion spot on December 20th, they delayed announcing the second expansion team without much explanation other than it will be announced in the “new year.”

The situation still looks promising for Cincinnati though. Detroit is still handicapped as the least likely to win a bid this round. Additionally, Sacramento’s ownership group recently revealed the departure of investor Meg Whitman and are now searching for additional equity partners. Both situations recently led to Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl predicting that the next spot will come to the Queen City.

 “Cincinnati will be awarded an MLS expansion team, beating out a Sacramento bid that couldn’t get its financial backing fully in order in time.”

The latest rumors suggest that all that remains for FC Cincinnati to do is to get through the legal paperwork with MLS. We won’t know for sure until Don Garber is standing in Fountain Square with an announcement to make. Who’s ready to party?

Koch’s Roster

Last season, Alan Koch was playing with a squad mostly assembled by John Harkes. The manager moved a number of players in and out of the team throughout the season in an attempt to find the right recipe. This year, he’s revamping the roster with a lineup built to his liking.

FC Cincinnati acquired eleven new players shortly after the close of the 2017 season. They added two goalkeepers, three center backs, two midfielders, three forwards, and Lance Laing who can play both left back and left wing. However, 17 players left the squad for various reasons. That leaves six roster spots still to fill if they want to match their 2017 roster size of 26 players.

Look for the transfer activity to heat up again once the MLS situation is resolved. If a spot in the top division of on tap for FC Cincinnati, it will change the complexion of who they can sign, especially if they begin play in 2019. Let’s not put the cart before the horse though.

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USL Schedule Release

The much anticipated USL schedule release gives us the chance to earmark all the key dates and best matchups of the new year. We’ll highlight rivalry matches, plan away trips, and circle dates when teams we’ve never seen before will visit Nippert.

The rapidly growing USL will look markedly different again this year. The Western Conference adds Las Vegas and Fresno in 2018 but loses the dissolved Vancouver Whitecaps 2. The Eastern Conference adds Atlanta United’s “2 team”, Nashville SC, and North Carolina FC but sees the departure (hiatus) of the Rochester Rhinos. Note that some teams could shift conferences, as we’ve seen in past USL seasons.

The season will be longer with the addition of two games for a total of 34 matches. Those games will span 31 weeks, starting March 16th and ending October 14th. Last season the schedule release was delayed until January 31st due to the second division sanctioning drama. There’s drama in US Soccer yet again, so it’s likely that the schedule release date will be similar this year.

Preseason in Florida

February will see Alan Koch’s side once again head to the Sunshine State to prepare for the season ahead. We know they’ll take on the New England Revolution in Bradenton on February 6th. They’ll also likely participate in a full slate of games at the IMG Academy’s annual preseason tournament. Details on the full schedule at that tournament have yet to be announced. If March is too long to wait for your fix of the Orange and Blue, a trip to Florida in February can cure that and your Cincinnati winter blues.

FC Cincinnati won the IMG preseason tournament in 2016 prior to their inaugural season.

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Photo Credit: FC Cincinnati

USL Opener at Nippert?

Of course, what we’re all really waiting for is a chance to get back to Nippert and cheer on our favorite team with our favorite people. In the past two seasons, FC Cincinnati started their USL campaign with multiple consecutive road games. In both cases, Nippert was under construction; first to lay down new turf in 2016 and then to expand the width of the field in 2017. Since Nippert is now ready for play, we may finally get a USL opener at home in March, and not have to wait until April to see all the new players in action.

There’s certainly a lot to look forward to, and we didn’t even get to the regular season, the existing Louisville rivalry, the new competition from Music City, and the US Open Cup. What are you most looking forward to in 2018?

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

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