32,287 fans packed into Nippert Stadium on Wednesday to see USL side FC Cincinnati beat the Chicago Fire of Major League Soccer in U.S. Open Cup Round of 16.
It was the second-largest crowd in U.S. Open Cup history.
Second-tier FC Cincinnati is the hottest story in American soccer right now.
[ MORE: Full US Open Cup roundup ]
On Wednesday Cincinnati won on penalty kicks to embarrass Bastian Schweinsteiger and Co. as the red-hot MLS side came unstuck in front of Cincy’s incredible supporters, with Mitch Hildebrandt saving three penalties to send Cincinnati’s fans wild.
Since their USL debut in 2016 (that’s right, just over 12 months ago) the progress FC Cincinnati has made is startling, first under USMNT legend John Harkes as coach and now under Alan Koch.
With an average crowd of 17,296 for league games in 2016, Cincinnati had crowds of 35,061 for a preseason visit of Crystal Palace last July, 24,376 to watch them play Orlando City B in the USL in September and then 30,187 for a USL playoff defeat to Charleston Battery in October. Palace were blown away by Cincinnati’s support and ProSoccerTalk understands plenty of other Premier League clubs have been interested in including the Ohio city as a stop-off on U.S. tours of their own.
The old saying “if you build it, they will come” doesn’t ring true in Cincinnati. They’re already there.
These attendance numbers are unprecedented at this level, with Sacramento Republic and Orlando City the only two who can come close to the USL records Cincinnati has set over the past 22 months as a club.
With the Ohio city on a shortlist of 12 for the next round of MLS expansion for a $150 million fee, Don Garber and his expansion committee have to sit up and take notice of the incredible progress Cincinnati has made in such a short space of time.
Yes, other cities like Sacramento and San Antonio have now had a strong franchise for many years and the steady attendance figures suggest so, but Cincinnati is blowing all of their expansion competitors out of the water with the scenes witnessed at Nippert time and time again over the past 12 months.
Adding Cincy to MLS makes sense geographically too, as it will help link up Columbus Crew, Sporting KC and Chicago Fire in a mid-west square. Everything about having FC Cincinnati in MLS adds up.
However, the new stadium deal is a must and FC Cincinnati released those plans for a soccer-specific venue earlier this month. However, just like we’ve seen in Atlanta and in Seattle in the past, having an MLS team based at a larger stadium sometimes works. Why couldn’t FC Cincinnati stay at Nippert if they’re packing it out?
All of that remains to be seen but what we do know is that Cincinnati is backing soccer and FCC in a big way. With NASL and USL expanding, lower-league soccer in the U.S. has never been stronger than it is right now.