CINCINNATI – FC Cincinnati didn’t waste its moment on the national stage with its upset of Major League Soccer side Chicago Fire SC Wednesday night in the U.S. Open Cup. But ESPN’s TV personalities didn’t even need the win to be impressed.
Whether it was the crowd of 32,287, the strong support of several groups in The Bailey and beyond or the atmosphere in and around Nippert Stadium, ESPN play-by-play man Adrian Healey and sideline reporter Julie Stewart-Binks admitted they have never seen anything like it from a non-first-tier club.
“I have never… never,” Binks-Stewart told WCPO.com. “I think this is a great opportunity to show the rest of the world since it’s on ESPN. You never know who’s watching.”
Stewart-Binks said the crew came from the Portland Timbers hosting the Seattle Sounders – arguably MLS’s biggest rivalry – and said some players she spoke to here compared the atmosphere to that. Healey confirmed it was on par.
“It’s blown me away completely,” Healey told WCPO.com. “It matches, quite frankly, even some of the most vibrant support of the MLS. You go to places like Portland, Seattle and Kansas City and this is the sort of experience we have.”
“The number of people emailing me, texting me saying, ‘What is the deal with this team? Is it a big game? Who is this team?’ I think (Wednesday’s game) will really put you guys on the map,” she said.
Healey made mention of the club’s popularity with fans during the game, marveling during the broadcast about FC Cincinnati having six support groups in just a year-and-a-half of existence.
“What they’ve done in 15 months has been quite remarkable,” Healey said before the game.
Healey and ESPN color analyst Taylor Twellman discussed on air at halftime the possibilities of FC Cincinnati being accepted into Major League Soccer. The biggest hurdle will be creating a team-controlled, soccer-only stadium, something the team has been pushing with proposed sites in Oakley, Newport and the west end. Whether it can secure up to and estimated $100 million in public funds to build it remains to be seen.
Twellman said on air that FC Cincinnati has a ready-made market that would give it some advantages over the other cities in contention. He echoed what Healey said before the game on FC Cincinnati’s hopes.
“The stadium is the crucial thing,” Healey said. “They’ve managed to check a lot of other boxes with what they’ve done.”
Both Healey and Stewart-Binks pointed out that FC Cincinnati’s previous U.S. Open Cup game and victory over Columbus Crew SC is another asset for the team because it’s a natural rivalry.
“MLS loves rivalries,” Healey said. “Portland-Seattle, the New York rivalry. Cincinnati-Columbus would be of great interest.”
“You want to be in places that have support and have support like you already do with Columbus,” she said.
Stewart-Binks said before the game that it didn’t matter whether FC Cincinnati won or lost – just being on ESPN and getting national attention are huge wins for the club.
“It definitely helps because it’s competitive – those 12 teams trying to be one of the four getting in (to MLS),” she said. “Any little bit helps to bury in people’s brains thinking, ‘you see this here and this isn’t even an MLS team yet and look at the support you have.’”
The shootout win likely only buried a little more in people’s brains.