Futbol Club Cincinnati ended up in the news all the way across the pond last week when English Premier League club Crystal Palace announced plans to play a friendly in the Queen City this July.
But FC Cincinnati had been making its way into all sorts of publications — even in the United Kingdom — well before that.
The first-year club’s record-breaking attendance figures and ambitions to be included in future Major League Soccer expansion have drawn attention from even the most unlikely places.
“A lot of different publications have called to talk to us, so it’s gratifying that people are recognizing how great a soccer community Cincinnati is,” FC Cincinnati president and general manager Jeff Berding said as the club prepares to host Harrisburg City at 7 p.m. Saturday in the first of four straight weekend home games. “It’s one of the beauties of sports — it helps put your city on the map, and in particular pro sports put you on an even bigger map.
“Being in national publications and the (ESPN SportsCenter) Top 10 plays, it puts the city in a light, showing it’s a city embracing soccer at unheard-of levels and making Cincinnati recognizable as a great place to live and work.”
Among the most talked-about stories, MLSsoccer.com did an “inside the ‘off-the-charts exciting’ rise” profile on the club May 13, and then published a short write-up after FCC broke its own United Soccer League attendance record with a crowd of 23,375 fans at its win over the Pittsburgh Riverhounds on May 14.
Berding said at least one national soccer publication has been in touch for an interview, and FCC coach John Harkes said he has spoken with Sports Illustrated and The Players’ Tribune.
“I have friends all over, so some of it I find out just from all of a sudden a friend sending me a note, ‘I just read about the team here,’ ” Berding said. “It’s fun.”
International publications have taken an interest, too.
The Guardian, a UK-based newspaper, wrote about the team “quickly becoming America’s most fascinating new club,” an article published May 16 — four days before the Crystal Palace announcement. The story was shared more than 6,000 times and had 81 comments a week after publication.
The UK Daily Telegraph also had featured FCC back in April after the club set its first USL attendance record in the second home game of the season, titling the article “FC Cincinnati show strength in numbers for MLS push.”
“There is nothing else I’ve been a part of that even compares to this,” FCC forward Andrew Wiedeman said. “I’ve never been a part of a startup club before and the attention and success we’re having is pretty remarkable for an expansion club.”
Wiedeman is from San Ramon, Calif., about 90 miles from Sacramento, where the fellow MLS-aspiring Sacramento Republic set the former USL record at 20,231 in 2014.
Having come from a soccer hotbed in California and having played in other big soccer markets, Wiedeman has been pleasantly surprised by the amount of attention a first-year club in Ohio has drawn.
“From what I can tell, this is a pretty big youth soccer area, but that doesn’t always translate into fans in stands,” he said. “I played in Dallas in MLS and Dallas is one of the biggest hotbeds for soccer in the U.S., but that didn’t equate to full stadiums. There were games we had 10,000 fans. Out here, we’re technically a third-tier (league) and drawing 20,000 fans to home games. It’s pretty amazing to see the support.
“I think the city has just embraced us. I think the front office has marketed the club really well and put it together really well and the fact we’re getting results on the field helps as well.”
FC Cincinnati entered last weekend second in the USL Eastern Conference table but currently sits in fourth after its scheduled game at Charlotte was postponed.
Harkes said that while all the attention is nice, there is still a lot of work to do. He still lives by the lesson he learned as a player: Don’t read the news too much.
“It’s great we get the exposure,” Harkes said. “We’re doing something exciting here. To be fair, it’s such an early phase of who we are and our development as players but also as a club. We’re still in the embryo stage and from our perspective that’s nice and all, but we still need to keep ourselves focused on what we need to do — and that’s on the field.”