Why MLS needs FC Cincinnati in its Eastern Conference
When you think of soccer culture in America, two cities come to mind: Seattle and Portland. These are intense soccer clubs with a great rivalry and even better atmosphere at their games.
Seattle mainly because of the sheer 42,000 fans they pile into the Seahawks' CenturyLink Field, making it one of the loudest places to play. Portland's games are out of control, the fans are loud, the tifos are creative, and they have Timber Joey, a local lumberjack, chainsaw a slice of wood off a giant tree every time they score a goal. Just check out these videos of the Timber's Army work here and here. It's a soccer culture unlike any other in the league. Even though they're only averaging a little over 21,000, Portland still has an unmatched atmosphere. Close behind them would be Seattle, with their "boom, boom, clap" with 40,000 participants. Other locations like Kansas City, Orlando, and recently Atlanta, also boast great support and atmosphere's at their home matches.
It's already well known that FC Cincinnati has an incredible following here in Cincinnati, and it's attendance numbers has brought on, even more, fans, and more supporter groups. The supporters already have traditions, tifo's chants, the whole sha-bang. This results in an amazing atmosphere on game days in Nippert, especially when we've got 30,000+ packed into the stadium. Cincinnati has it's own distinct soccer culture now and it has no signs of slowing down.
If FCC finds it's way into the MLS in the next two years or so, they will for sure be put into the Eastern Conference (unless the league does some restructuring), and the MLS needs them in it. The biggest, most infamous soccer supporters, Seattle and Portland, are both in the Western Conference. Overall, almost all the excitement in the league tends to favor the West, even if the East boasts itself as more competitive (at least at the moment). In the Wes,t California could have upwards of 5 teams by the time expansion is done. Right not they've got, LA Galaxy where international stars go to finish their careers and slowly fade from fame. Up the coast, they've got supporter hotbeds with Portland and Seattle, and Vancouver just above them. And in the south, they've got FC Dallas who are consistently good and pull in crowds and above them Kansas City who has built out their own impressive little niche in the Midwest. Outside of Minnesota who has had a less than stellar MLS debut, Colorado who can't decide if they are the best or the worst team in the league, and ho-hum Houston and San Jose, most of the teams in the West have an exciting culture or aspect to them.
Moving to the East we've got some pretty good teams, but they just don't earn the following they should. It's yet to be seen if Atlanta United is the gold mine MLS thinks it is or if it's simply a debut season anomaly. But both them and Orlando have shown impressive numbers and support. They are still young in the league and haven't really cemented themselves as the go-to scene in the East, although Orlando's wall is impressive. NYCFC has a decent following, but the fact it's games are played in Yankee Stadium keeps it from being top-tier. All the other teams struggle to bring flair to their supporter sections, and this is where FCC could really fit in.
It's already been the go-to location for USL games, with many coaches wanting their players to get in front of the 25,000+ crowds. We've been getting so much notice FCC's Open Cup game against the Fire could be broadcast on ESPN.
FCC has the opportunity to become the premier spot in the East where other fans want to come just to be a part of our soccer culture and experience. Some fear that us leaving Nippert to our own stadium could take away from some of the charm the club has been working with, but I believe a new stadium will only increase the atmosphere and culture FCC has cultivated. Let's continue to make Cincinnati a force in the soccer world, both on and off the pitch.