If it were just on buzz alone, Cincinnati would have a Major League Soccer franchise today. But sizzle needs steak, and so far, we're waiting on the steak.
Wednesday night, more than 32,000 showed up to watch FC Cincinnati play MLS power Chicago in the round of 16 of the US Open Cup. It was a thriller. It went to penalty kicks -- a concept I've never embraced. It's like deciding a MLB playoff game by holding a Home Run Derby. But I digress -- and the local side wound up winning that 3-1.
The Chicago Fire arrived with a loaded roster. Bastian Schweinsteiger, Nemanja Nikolic and David Accam are MLS super stars. And thanks to some stellar goalkeeping by Mitch Hildebrandt and despite some bad officiating, FC Cincinnati is playing on.
Neither the crowd nor the result hurt FC Cincinnati's chances of getting one of the two MLS expansion bids the league will hand out late this year.
But then, there's that stadium issue. And that's roadblock.
To gain an MLS franchise, the MLS is insisting that any new team MUST have its own, soccer-only facility. The FCC group understands that and is putting up $100 million of its own money to get a stadium built. Problem is, it'll cost about another $75 million besides that. Given the political climate in Cincinnati these days, stadium building isn't likely where public money is going.
But, we are not alone. Last week, Sports Illustrated outlined the MLS expansion landscape. No city escaped without a pimple on its face. Most of the 12 expansion hopefuls suffer from the same thing FCC suffers from: stadium erection dysfunction.
If a new stadium is to be built, it's still my prediction that it will happen in Northern Kentucky. There are two compelling reasons why: Kentucky has no professional sports franchises -- minor league baseball doesn't count and University of Louisville fans and University of Kentucky fans, keep your jokes to yourselves -- and the commonwealth has no stadium financing hangovers like the folks in Hamilton County have.
Oh and by the way, will the next mayoral candidate in the city of Cincinnati please raise his or her hand if they're in favor of spending public money, in any fashion, on another stadium? Thought so. Thanks for playing along, John and Yvette.
The MLS in Northern Kentucky would be just fine. The various fan clubs could "pre-game" at the banks and march across the Purple People Bridge. Think of it, the city of Newport could have a parade every home game. Or they could party like it's 1999 all over again at The Banks. The Ovation location has a great view of the fabulous Cincinnati skyline. And the team could keep it's name FC Cincinnati would now mean "Fairly Close Cincinnati." It's Kismet!
Either way, I think the stadium deal gets done this summer. And I think the two expansion franchises will go to Sacramento and Cincinnati. And I think Wednesday night has got a lot of the soccer world -- around the world -- talking about Cincinnati.
Here's the most impressive thing: a professional Cincinnati sports team won a prime-time game on national television.
Now, some random thoughts...
I THINK Cincinnati will get an MLS franchise that will begin play in 2020. But I would be SHOCKED if Mitch Hildebrandt and Jimmy McLaughlin, the two most compelling players on the pitch Wednesday night, are not playing for some MLS team next season. Hildebrandt has been nothing but "found money" since soccer has come to Cincinnati...
Lost, to some, in the hoopla of what went down at Nippert Stadium Wednesday night was an unbelievable catch made by Reds right fielder Scott Schebler to rob Steven Vogt of a home run. If Hildebrandt has been "found money" this season for FC Cincinnati, Schebler has been the same for the Reds. His 20 home runs and .261 batting average have been more than a little surprising. Schebler has done it in 284 plate appearances. He hit just nine out of the park in the same number of plate appearances all of last season. But the catch was the real highlight...
I still think the Reds will trade Zack Cozart. They'd be crazy to let him walk or offer him a qualifying offer and they can't afford to keep him. My guess is Cozart, at his age, will be looking for a four-year deal in the range of 12-13 million per. That's too much for a player that old for a team that's trying to go young.
The real problem in dealing Cozart is that few contending teams need a shortstop. Most teams need pitching (duh) or an outfielder. Would the Reds consider trading Schebler or Adam Duvall? They should. I'd make every player on the 40-man roster available IF that trade will help the Reds contend by 2019. And by every player, I'm also including Joey Votto, if he'd consider leaving. Votto has a no-trade clause in his contract...
The great Robert Lamm, original and founding member of the group Chicago will join me on my radio show, this Sunday on 700 WLW. He wrote almost all of their early hits, including this one from the group's original album: Chicago Transit Authority.
That's Lamm, a very long time ago, on keyboard.
It was a major leap of faith for Chicago, marrying horns with guitars, the classic rock instrument of choice. But they made it work and about three members of the original group carry on with an ever-evolving cast.
James Pankow is still with the group and tours, as do Lee Loughnane and Lamm. Walter Parazaider is still alive but doesn't tour.
Amazingly, the group released Chicago XXXVI just about a year ago. Peter Cetera, Lamm and Pankow were just inducted into the songwriters Hall of Fame a few weeks ago. They also finally made it to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2016.
Can't wait to talk with Lamm.