CINCINNATI — FC Cincinnati defender Nick Hagglund can't wait for the team's home opener on May 16.
The former Xavier University and Lakota West High School soccer standout knows there is plenty of anticipation with the official opening of TQL Stadium.
"This is one of the best stadiums in MLS," Hagglund said. "And for it to be in Cincinnati is crazy to me. Growing up I would've never thought that I would see a soccer-specific stadium in the heart of downtown."
Hagglund, a West Chester Township native, remembers going to Columbus Crew games as a youngster.
Now in his third season with FC Cincinnati, Hagglund is grateful to play in front of family and friends.
"For me it's been, just to watch the journey of this club grow the past five years, and for me to be in MLS and for the stars to align in that way, for me to be a part of it, to watch it, to be able to play in it is a dream come true," Hagglund said.
Hagglund said the team is ready to make the transition from Nippert Stadium to the new home. FC Cincinnati has a scheduled intrasquad scrimmage at TQL Stadium today.
"There were a lot of great memories at Nippert," Hagglund said. "But, Nippert is a college football stadium so for this to be soccer specific in downtown Cincinnati with the amazing lights, everything is put together - the field is grass, it's not the turf at Nippert. We're really excited to call this home and to go to battle on that field."
Hagglund said for most players what happens between the lines on a soccer pitch is consistent in each location.
But, entering the stadium - especially with fans - will be a welcome element after the emptiness of 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"You've got your fans behind you no matter what's going on," Hagglund said. "As we start to head to goal you can hear the rumble. As you make a big play you can hear the fans cheer. That gets you going. That gets you excited."
Lakota West coach Rick Cooper understands how much Hagglund has enjoyed playing professionally in Cincinnati.
"He's something that exemplifies what you want your kid to grow up and be that kid," Cooper said. "He works hard at everything he does. He takes everything very seriously. He's fun loving, he's got a great personality."
Hagglund has been able to return to Lakota West and connect with younger players who have watched his career.
"It's an amazing thing to get a chance and play in front of your home crowd and that kind of stuff," Cooper said. "Like I said I can't stress enough what a great person he is - things he's given back to the building, to our team. He's a great ambassador for FCC, for MLS, for soccer in general."
Hagglund signed a one-year deal in December with FC Cincinnati.
Although the club has endured a tough start to this season with an 0-2-1 record, Hagglund is optimistic things will turn around.
"I feel like the energy and the positivity is still in the group and we're ready to fight and we're excited about getting home and getting in front of our fans and excited for opening up in the new stadium," Hagglund said. "You only get your first game at the stadium once so we're excited and ready to go and starting to kick on."
FC Cincinnati plays Inter Miami CF at 4 p.m. May 16. That is the first of two home games this month. FC Cincinnati returns home May 29 against the New England Revolution.