FC Cincinnati’s first MLS win came in front of a sellout crowd of 32,250 at the University of Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium who were treated to quite the first look at their new league.
The hosts looked sharp from the opening kickoff and jumped out to an early, deserved lead. That lead came courtesy of a 15th minute header from Kendall Waston. Getting his head on the end of the Leonardo Bertone set-piece delivery, the Costa Rican captain nodded the Orange and Blue’s first goal past a helpless Jeff Attinella. The goal was like pin being removed from a grenade, instantly releasing a deafening roar from the home crowd.
That lead would grow in the second half, and quickly.
Dual strikes, just minutes apart, tripled the early advantage. The first of those second-half goals came from a brilliant bit of skill from Allan Cruz. A deflected shot from Roland Lamah fell to Cruz in the middle of the box, and the midfielder sent the entire Portland defense the other direction with a cheeky backheel. FCC’s third would come just two minutes later, as Mathieu Deplagne tapped in an assist from substitute Darren Mattocks.
Portland’s hopes of a comeback were dashed just seven minutes later. A second yellow for defender Larrys Mabiala saw the visitors reduced to 10 men, and the Timbers never threatened again.
An atmosphere for the ages
Record-breaking crowds at Nippert Stadium played a huge role in FC Cincinnati earning a place in MLS. And though the sellout crowd for the club’s 2019 home opener didn’t break any league records, the city certainly turned out to support the club on its big occasion.
“It’s kind of incredible that we’re even here [in MLS],” said Jared Handra, president of FCC supporter group Die Innendstadt. “So we’re just going to keep doing the what got us here, and that shows our passion for this club and this city.”
That passion was on full display both at the stadium and in the leadup to the match. Bars surrounding campus were packed to the brim, with several reporting gatherings in the hundreds. At the match, the supporters unfurled their largest tifo yet. On it, a design paying homage to famous Cincinnati modernist, Charley Harper. And for a full 90 minutes, the crowd provided ample energy off which the team seemed to feed.
— D.J. Switzer (@wrongsideofpond) March 17, 2019
“You could see in the warm-up, they were excited,” FC Cincinnati coach Alan Koch said.
However, the third-year manager didn’t want his players to get too carried away.
“We told them, don’t get caught up in the moment or the occasion,” he said. “Our job is to focus on the game. And I think players went on to do exactly that. They didn’t worry about managing location. Staying focused on their jobs is what set us up for success.”
After rebounding from a heavy defeat opening week in Seattle, FC Cincinnati’s point at Atlanta last weekend marked an impressive amount of progress. But with 2018 MLS Cup runners-up Portland coming to town for match No. 3, many assumed continuing with that progress would be no easy task. Instead, FCC logged the most impressive all-around performance of the club’s short MLS tenure on Sunday.
But did Koch and his staff see this type of result coming?
“No, and I hate to disappoint you,” Koch replied, drawing a laugh from gathered media. “We were very, very disappointed with the performance [in Seattle]. And I think we took elements of gratification by getting a point on the road [in Atlanta]. And then we’ll take a lot of gratification out of the performance tonight. I’m just glad we could reward the city and our fans with that game.”
But don’t take that to mean FCC or Koch are getting ahead of themselves. “Yeah, we don’t get too carried away,” he said.
Given the momentous occasion that the day was for the city and club, you could forgive them if they did. At least just this once.
Mar 17, 2019; Cincinnati, OH, USA; FC Cincinnati fan Cami Brunsman, age 1, kicks the ball outside of Nippert Stadium before the inaugural home match for FC Cincinnat against the Portland Timbersi. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports