CINCINNATI -- Rhinehaus owner Aaron Kohlhepp expected a decent crowd to watch FC Cincinnati’s inaugural game Saturday night, but nothing like the shoulder-to-shoulder mob that settled in by the scheduled opening kickoff.
The rain-delayed road game against the Charleston Battery was live-streamed through the United Soccer League’s YouTube channel and shown at several local bars and restaurants, including a dozen pub partners of the club, like Rhinehaus.
FC Cincinnati battled for more than 93 minutes before giving up the game’s lone goal in stoppage time.
“We knew we’d get a good amount of people, but I never imagined it would be shoulder-to-shoulder,” Kohlhepp said. “It was very reminiscent of U.S. games for the last World Cup, when we had wall-to-wall crowds. Seeing that national-level excitement for a local team is pretty awesome.”
The USL could not immediately produce statistics on how many viewers watched the game live Saturday, but as of Tuesday night, the YouTube channel link showed more than 7,300 individuals, households or locations had clicked to watch. That ranked as the fifth-most-viewed game of the league’s opening weekend, which featured 13 matches.
In Charleston, the game drew 4,394 fans, with a small crowd supporting FC Cincinnati, including some from “The Pride” supporters group who waited through a 45-minute delay that pushed kickoff back from its 7:30 p.m. start time.
Kohlhepp said the crowd at Rhinehaus stayed from original start time to finish. The bar also aired the team’s preseason games, and interest has been growing.
Taste of Belgium in Clifton, which serves as the official watch party location for FCC’s away games, also is expecting more fans to start showing up now that the season is underway.
About 40 came for the team’s championship game at the IMG Suncoast Pro Classic in February, and there already are 25 confirmed reservations for Sunday’s 3 p.m. game against Bethlehem Steel FC in Pennsylvania.
“We’re definitely noticing an increase in supporters,” Clifton Taste of Belgium general manager Davon Barreto said. “People are coming in wearing their FC Cincinnati T-shirts and gear. It’s great to see local support for professional soccer.”
Taste of Belgium, which is only a block away from FC Cincinnati’s field at Nippert Stadium, also will hold pre-match festivities before home games, which Barreto said should draw crowds.
Before the April 9 home opener against Louisville, the bistro plans to hold raffles and offer specials, such as $3 Stellas and $5 beer cheese and loaded croquettes. Moerlein’s Blood Orange IPA — a collaboration between the brewery and FC Cincinnati — also will be unveiled at the event.
“We’re wanting to embrace ‘futbol,’ which is a very European game, and we’re European-themed and close by for pre-match specials — and a great environment for away games on the stomping grounds of FC Cincinnati’s home territory,” Barreto said.
FC Cincinnati’s other pub partners include Molly Malone’s (Covington), O'Bryon's Bar and Grill (O'Bryonville), The Pub (Rookwood), Brass Tap (Clifton), Listermann Brewing (Evanston, near Xavier University), Hap's Irish Pub (Hyde Park), Slatt’s Pub (Blue Ash), 50 West Brewing Company (Columbia Township), Longnecks Sports Grill (Wilder and Hebron), Next Chapter (Mount Adams) and MadTree Brewing.
Kohlhepp said he knew when FC Cincinnati launched in August it would produce a good following. He opened Rhinehaus as a soccer bar three years ago because he and his partners saw a niche for it.
There is a soccer community in Cincinnati that “has been here a long time and hasn’t had a lot to get behind,” he said. FC Cincinnati is filling that need.
“It’s bringing soccer fans out of the woodwork that maybe weren’t so public about it before,” Kohlhepp said. “It’s awesome to see that FC Cincinnati can fill that void, and that fans are getting behind it.”