CINCINNATI -- FC Cincinnati president and general manager Jeff Berding said he is still holding out hope the first-year club can get Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber to town before the scheduled meeting here in late November.
Club executives have been trying for a while now to bring MLS representatives to Cincinnati for a home game, but weren’t able to work out a date that fit Garber’s schedule, according to Berding.
FC Cincinnati and city officials got Garber on the books for a visit Nov. 29, but if Cincinnati happens to get another home playoff game after Sunday’s first-round United Soccer League match against Charleston, another invitation will be extended.
“He expressed interest in coming to a home game, but it hasn’t worked out with his schedule,” Berding said Friday. “His schedule fills up pretty quickly, and it just wasn’t going to work during the season and we didn’t know soon enough that we would get a home game in the playoffs. If we have another home game, we certainly will invite him, but whether that works in his schedule or not, I don’t know.”
FC Cincinnati is seeking to be included in future MLS expansion plans, as the league hopes to grow from 20 to 28 teams by the mid- to late-2020s.
MLS already has four of eight planned expansion markets in the works, including the addition of Atlanta United FC and Minnesota United FC in 2017, Los Angeles FC in 2018 and Miami expected to follow, pending a finalized stadium plan. Sacramento Republic and St. Louis FC -- two United Soccer League clubs looking to move up -- also appear to be in the pipeline for probable expansion.
FC Cincinnati has worked its way into the conversation with its stunning crowds and impressive performance on the field in its first season. The club clinched a playoff berth with seven games left in the regular season and smashed the USL season attendance record after just 10 home games, also setting single-game records three times with the latest coming in the home finale Sept. 17 with 24,376 tickets sold.
Its average attendance of roughly 17,300 fans is better than five MLS franchises, and more than 20,000 tickets had been sold to Sunday’s playoff opener as of Thursday with expectations to hit 30,000 by gameday.
“FC Cincinnati and the passionate soccer fans throughout Ohio and northern Kentucky have made a bold statement to the entire American soccer community,” MLS executive vice president of communications Dan Courtemanche told WCPO in July. “We applaud (owner) Carl Lindner, Jeff Berding, (head coach) John Harkes and the entire organization on the incredible inaugural season. The tremendous crowds have generated headlines, and the team is certainly producing on the field. We are monitoring the progress of the club.”
According to a recent SI.com report, Garber told reporters at the U.S. Open Cup final Sept. 13 the expansion committee will meet in New York the second week of November to discuss an expansion timeline and procedures for determining the next wave of markets to be included.
Two weeks later, he will be in Cincinnati, unless an earlier date works out.
“We’re preparing extensive data on various markets and what the impact of expansion would be on a wide variety of aspects of the league,” Garber said, according to the report. “That group will meet for a couple days. We’ll talk about it further at the December board [of governors] meeting after MLS Cup and we’ll hopefully be able to come out of those meetings with a view as to what our plan is. And the most important part of that is the timing.”
Representatives of FC Cincinnati already have visited MLS headquarters in New York City within the last two months, but Garber’s visit to the Queen City will enable him to tour the city and check out the setup at Nippert Stadium, Berding said.
It would likely benefit Cincinnati to get Garber to a game before the next expansion meeting, but Berding said it’s not critical.
“I expect the MLS expansion process will continue through all of 2017, so certainly there will be an opportunity to get him to a game, whether we get him in this postseason or not,” Berding said. “We view those as separate efforts. We will have great plan for Nov. 29.
“It’s an honor for him to come here at all. He doesn’t visit every city that wants to be considered for expansion, so we are pleased we will have the opportunity to show why this is such a great soccer town and a market that could support Major League Soccer.”