CINCINNATI -- The suspense is over and FC Cincinnati’s international friendly opponent is now known. Valencia Club de Futbol of Spain’s Primera Division, better known as La Liga, will come to Nippert Stadium July 24 for the exhibition match.
Last year, fans packed Nippert to see English Premier League side Crystal Palace. Much as Palace came from a league where they rubbed elbows with big-named teams like Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City, Valencia CF annually battles giant squads FC Barcelona and Real Madrid.
While we know Barcelona features Lionel Messi and UEFA Champions League winner Real Madrid has Cristiano Ronaldo, Cincinnati fans might not be as familiar with Valencia. Here are nine things to know about this year’s overseas foe.
1. Plenty of history
Valencia is a well decorated La Liga side. It’s been a while since they’ve won major silverware, but since the team was established in 1919 it has had a storied history.
The club boasts 20 major trophies, including six La Liga titles -- 2001-02 and 2003-04. It’s also won the Copa del Rey -- the prestigious domestic cup in Spain -- seven times, most recently in 2008.
Valencia has also come close to winning the Champions League -- Europe’s biggest club competition -- losing in the final in 2000 to Real Madrid and 2001 to Bayern Munich.
2. Tougher times recently
Despite such a storied past, recent years have found Valencia as a mid-table side. The team has finished 12th in La Liga each of the past two seasons.
That span has seen six managers, including new boss Marcelino who was recently named to the job. Former Valencia player Voro Gonzalez had been filling the position on an interim basis.
If there was a highlight in the 2016-17 season it was knocking off Real Madrid 2-1 in February.
3. Los Che and the bat
The team’s logo features a bat, a symbol commonly used as sort of a mascot. The bat is part of the city’s emblem with a back story that says that a bat circled King James after he battled and defeated the Moors for control of the city in 1238 A.D.
We probably need to officially adopt Fiona as FC Cincinnati’s mascot before July so we can top that very cool team symbol.
4. Stadium issues
A team plays in a historic old stadium and is struggling to get a new one built. Hmm, that sounds familiar. It's not just FC Cincinnati in this predicament, Valencia is too and their situation is a bit of a mess.
Los Che play in Camp de Mestalla, one of the most fabled stadiums in all of Europe. Built in 1923, the stadium has survived a civil war and has hosted World Cup games. In the new century Valencia was to get a state-of-the-art arena. But a poor economy had other ideas and construction of Nou Mestalla came to a screeching halt in 2009.
Since then, the city has a partially finished cement bowl and the team continues to play in its historic home as funding is worked out to finish the new venue. Maybe Newport can offer them some tax incentives to relocate to the Ovation site.
5. Who’s on the team?
There are no real household names on the current version of Valencia. Nani, a Portuguese midfielder who once starred for Manchester United, is probably the most recognizable player. And his days could be numbered as rumors swirl about him being on the transfer block. But multiple reports say he would like to stay with Los Che.
Striker Munir, a loan from FC Barcelona who tied for the team lead in goals, isn’t expected to return to Valencia. Italian striker Simone Zaza and Spanish attacker Santi Mina tied for the goal lead with six apiece.
Argentine midfielder Enzo Perez captains the Valencia squad.
6. Stars of the past
Valencia has had some big names come through over the years. Contemporary soccer fans will know some of the stars.
Midfield talisman David Silva was with Los Che before moving to Manchester City. Barcelona’s Andre Gomes is another former Valencia man, as is Manchester United midfielder Juan Mata.
One of the biggest names to play there is Spanish national team all-time goal scorer David Villa. Villa won the World Cup with Spain while a member of Los Che before moving on to big years with Barcelona and Atletico Madrid. He now stars for New York City FC in Major League Soccer.
7. Great managers, too
Valencia might have had a lot of coaching turnover in the past two years, but they’ve also had some great bosses come through over the years.
Argentine Hector Cuper was responsible for getting Los Che to its two Champions League finals.
Current Newcastle United manager Rafa Benitez won two La Liga titles with Valencia before jobs with Liverpool, Chelsea and Real Madrid.
Last season’s English Premier League championship manager Claudio Ranieri -- who took Leicester City to one of the most improbable league titles ever in 2015-16 -- had two stints at the helm for Valencia.
And highly acclaimed Everton boss Ronald Koeman also spent two years in the job.
8. Orange crush
So what kind of city is Valencia?
Well, it’s the third largest city in Spain behind Madrid and Barcelona, with a population of 790,000. It’s a busy port city on the Mediterranean Sea where people speak in Valencian, a dialect of Catalan.
Many are probably most familiar with the city for its sweet oranges.
9. Comparing competition
FC Cincinnati and Valencia have something in common from last summer -- both played against Crystal Palace.
Palace defeated FC Cincinnati 2-0 at Nippert. Valencia lost 3-1 at Palace’s Selhurst Park.
Not sure why that matters, but maybe that means we could be in for a pretty tight game next month.
Dave Niinemets is a Digital Enterprise Editor at WCPO.com and oversees sports content for the digital team.