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Cincinnati soccer team awarded MLS status; will start play in 2019

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Councilmembers David Mann, P.G. Sittenfeld and Amy Murray; Carl H. Lindner III, majority owner and CEO of FC Cincinnati; Mayor John Cranley; Don Garber, commissioner of Major League Soccer; and Councilman Jeff Pastor. Photo by Michael Mitchell/Cincinnati Herald

By Herald Staff

On the strength of record-breaking soccer attendances and the completion of an innovative plan to build a new, state-of-the-art soccer stadium, Cincinnati has been awarded a Major League Soccer expansion team, Commissioner Don Garber announced Tuesday to an enthusiastic audience wearing the club’s colors of orange and blue at Rhinegeist Brewery in Over-the-Rhine, a event that was telecast to an even larger crowd watching at Fountain Square downtown.

The club will begin MLS play in the 2019 season.

The local team, which will continue as FC Cincinnati when it joins MLS, plans to play at Nippert Stadium on the University of Cincinnati campus until 2021, when a new 21,000-seat soccer stadium at the site of Stargel Stadium at Taft Information Technology High School in Cincinnati’s West End neighborhood is completed. FCC owners agreed to construct a new high school stadium near the school.

FC Cincinnati’s managing owner is Carl H. Lindner III, the co-CEO of Cincinnati-based American Financial Group, which owns Great American Insurance. Among Lindner’s partners are Scott Farmer, chairman and CEO of Cintas Corp., and George Joseph, president of Joseph Toyota and principal of local automobile dealerships in Greater Cincinnati.

“Major League Soccer is proud to introduce Cincinnati as our 26th team,” Don Garber said. “The rise of Cincinnati as a passionate soccer market in recent years, coinciding with the city’s growing economy and reputation as a top destination for young professionals makes it an ideal city for our growing league. We congratulate Carl Lindner and his partners, and also the soccer fans of Cincinnati, who have passionately supported FC Cincinnati in the USL (the minor soccer league).”

Since its first season in the USL in 2016, FC Cincinnati has set attendance records including three crowds of more than 30,000 fans during the club’s run to the semifinals of the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. During its first two USL seasons, the team has shattered league records for total attendance, average attendance and single-game attendance. In 2018, the club has surpassed 17,000 season tickets sold, and has averaged almost 24,500 fans per game to date.

The club also recently finalized a partnership with Mercy Health, to become a team partner when it begins play next season in MLS.

During the coming months, Major League Soccer will announce which conference FC Cincinnati will play in beginning in 2019.

“Cincinnati’s selection by Major League Soccer for an expansion team is a triumph for the continued renaissance of this incredible city,” Lindner said. “I have to start by thanking the supporters of FC Cincinnati, because from the beginning they were the foundation of the efforts of our bid to join MLS. We could not have done this without them. This has been a true team effort among the soccer fans, our partners and our civic and corporate leaders. This is a city with a historically deep relationship between the people and its teams, and we are going to take that to even greater heights in MLS. Thank you to Commissioner Garber and all of the league’s owners for their faith in Cincinnati. We’re excited to be part of Major League Soccer’s tremendous future.”

Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley proclaimed May 29, “Orange and Blue Day, recognizing the local club’s colors of blue and orange.
Cranley said, “Cincinnati embraced professional soccer in a way that is unprecedented in this country, and FC Cincinnati is an important thread in the fabric of our community. The news of Cincinnati joining Major League Soccer makes this a landmark day for our city. I want to thank Commissioner Garber and everyone with MLS for believing in Cincinnati, and I’m delighted that the faith shown in our beautiful city by Carl Lindner and his partners has been rewarded. In MLS, FC Cincinnati and its new world-class soccer stadium in the West End will spur additional economic and cultural growth for our city.”

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