CINCINNATI -- FC Cincinnati gained global attention last summer with its sellout crowd for an international friendly against English Premier League club Crystal Palace.
Cincinnati has a long way to go to match that enthusiasm for Monday’s summer special against Spain’s Valencia CF.
Ticket sales only crossed the 15,000 threshold Wednesday, and FC Cincinnati holds a modest goal of drawing 20,000 to 25,000 fans, which has been an almost typical United Soccer League crowd at Nippert Stadium. The club’s first-ever international friendly last year -- on a Saturday in mid-July -- still holds FC Cincinnati’s all-time attendance record at 35,061.
“We’ll end up being north of 20,000 and from our standpoint if we’re in the 20-25,000 range that’s what we projected,” FC Cincinnati President and General Manager Berding said, noting the club is hoping for a strong sales push after its game Saturday against Harrisburg City. “It’s a Monday night, not a Saturday and we had two enormous Open Cup matches against Chicago and Columbus Crew SC and a U.S. Women’s National Team game going on sale. Last year’s game against Crystal Palace was the first big match beyond the USL for FC Cincinnati and obviously we’re well beyond that now.
“We’re excited to host Valencia. It’s been a little bit of a different challenge, but we’re likely going to be in 20-25,000 range and we’re very satisfied.”
FC Cincinnati drew more than 30,000 fans to its mid-week Open Cup games against Columbus Crew and Chicago Fire earlier this summer.
Berding said the busy schedule, including Saturday’s USL game against Harrisburg, might have pushed the friendly with Valencia to the back burner for some potential attendees, but unfamiliarity with the Spanish opponent also might be playing a factor.
Valencia plays in one of the top leagues in the world, as La Liga has produced the last four Champions League winners, but the club hasn’t lifted a major trophy since winning Copa del Rey in 2008. The last of its six La Liga titles came in 2004.
“It’s probably more an indication of less ardent soccer fans, but as we brought professional soccer to Cincinnati, we’re growing sophistication,” Berding said. “As we talk about Valencia, it’s understanding they come from La Liga, where FC Barcelona and (Real) Madrid play and some of the top players and clubs come from. Valencia beat Real Madrid this season. I think that’s out there a little bit, but I think when we brought Crystal Palace to Cincinnati last year it wasn’t by any means a household name, and it is now.”
Crystal Palace was coming off a 15th-place finish in the English Premier League heading into its preseason match in Cincinnati last year but had garnered some attention as the runner-up to Manchester United in the FA Cup final. The pull of an opponent from the Premier League -- which even casual fans are aware of thanks to international TV broadcasts -- drummed up interest easily enough on its own, even though Crystal Palace’s highest finish in the league was a third-place standing in 1990-91.
FC Cincinnati had topped 25,000 tickets sold by the end of June for the July 16, 2016 matchup.
FC Cincinnati coach Alan Koch said fans should be excited to see a storied club like Valencia.
“No disrespect to Crystal Palace, but this is a team that's gone outside their country and league and had some success,” Koch said. “It's bringing a team that's really among the upper echelons of European soccer to come to Cincinnati, and it's a very exciting game for the club, the players and the fans too. I think for fans that like to come to the game, watch it and analyze it and appreciate the different styles, we're going to play against a team that's going to play completely different than the other teams we've played so far.
“It's a historic club, and the beauty of our sport is there is a lot of history around the world and we get to embrace and be a part of their history just like they get to be a part of our history.”