The Long Game

FC Cincinnati - A Love Story

The success FC Cincinnati has realized in quickly entrenching itself among the local sports landscape has been amazing for those caught up in it. The club's meteoric rise can be assigned to many things – primarily the hard work of an extremely committed ownership and front office.

Naysayers will refer to this last season and a half as a “honeymoon period,” and claim that once the Reds are relevant and the fad wears off, FCC will go the way of all of our previous minor league infatuations. My own journey to soccer suggests otherwise.

As a lifelong Cincinnatian I've been around soccer all my life. Growing up in the 80s, all the kids played it. While my family was the farthest from one of those soccer-centric suburban households, I did at least have a brief stint as a SAY midfielder. Still, the game was viewed by my peers and myself as primarily a kid's sport.

In 1994 I was lucky enough to be in Ireland while their national team was playing in the World Cup. People over there painted their houses in support of their team. In a pub in Galway, I watched as Ireland beat eventual runner up Italy 1-0. The energy and passion was amazing. The hungover girl behind the reservations desk the next day had her arm in a sling from breaking it in jubilation the night before. I caught a glimpse at the priority that the game held for everyone but Americans.

As the years wore on, I became an ardent fan of our local Cincy teams. Upon graduating from XU, I purchased season basketball tickets. For 6 straight years my wife and I attended, and I painted my face for, every Bengals home game (missed one due to honeymoon). We grew to love the pace and daily routine of Reds baseball in person or on the radio.

My Bengals fandom was especially participatory in that home games were an all day affair. We even had a Who Dey van. When the team's performance nose-dived, I would be routinely chided for still caring/going. In my defense I cited the allegiance that Europeans have to their futbol clubs. I truly valued that cradle to grave fandom-as-a-way-of-life ethos. I would represent my team and my city to the best of my ability regardless of what the local 11 did on the field. But while I admired the passion of its fans, I still felt that once every 4 years (World Cup) was not quite often enough to really care about soccer.

In May of 2012, my wife gave birth to our first child. With his arrival, sleeping in on Saturday mornings became a thing of the past. In an effort to stay awake, I discovered English Premier League Games on TV. Any live sporting event beat the other early morning options. It did not take too many Saturdays to become immensly impressed. The agility and athleticism was a thing to behold. I realized that the same grace, quickness, and touch that constituted the best QB/WR combos in the NFL also existed within the best soccer clubs. Even though I didn't have a team in particular to root for, I loved it. This was far more than a bunch of 5 year olds chasing a ball around.

When FC Cincinnati's formation was announced, I was excited with some reservation. I was all-in on soccer as a concept, and hungry for a team to call my own. But the quality of play would be key to my long term investment in the team. After seeing them play in that first home game (capped off by Okoli's spectacular bicycle goal) dispelled my concerns to that end. While this wasn't EPL quality, it wasn't visually far below MLS. It definitely wasn't a bunch of high school kids.

So while FCC has obviously connected to those who were already rabid soocer fans, they have also won the love of people like me – local sports fans who love their city and teams who have finally accepted soccer into our personal pantheon of sports that we care about. This did not happen overnight, but over decades of varied exposure to the game.

The soccer/non-soccer dichotomy is dead. We who fill Nippert are not elititst euro-wannabes who are too cool for American sports. We are not all soccer parents strictly catering to our kids' fascination. I still split Bengals tickets with friends as I hang my Who Dey banner on Sundays. I still go to most XU games and follow the Reds every day. But I've made room for the new guys as well and hope that they stay for good.

- Ben Shooner