FC Cincinnati to join MLS, become city's newest pro sports franchise

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - On Tuesday, Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley walked up to a microphone at Rhinegeist brewery and made a short joke.

"I may not be big enough for this podium," he quipped. "But Cincinnati is big enough for soccer."

To say the least, he was in a good mood, admitting local beer may be partially responsible. Another reason, of course, was the official announcement of Cincinnati landing its newest professional sports franchise.

By this time next year, FC Cincinnati will already have started playing Major League Soccer games, a few more than 1,000 days after the club got its start.

"This day was always the vision," said team president and general manager Jeff Berding, to a raucous, capacity crowd at Rhinegeist minutes before the mayor spoke. "It was always the plan from the day we began on Aug. 12, 2015."

Team and city officials were joined by the MLS commissioner, ESPN analysts, and rowdy fans to celebrate the expansion announcement in Over-The-Rhine. The chanting wasn't limited to Rhinegeist, however, as blocks away fans donning the club's orange and blue littered Fountain Square.

About a year ago, FC Cincinnati put MLS on notice, beating two of its teams -- the Columbus Crew and Chicago Fire -- in the U.S. Open Cup.

The team's momentum would lead, eventually, to an application for one of the league's available 2020 expansion bids. Of the finalists named, Nashville was the first team chosen to fill one of those vacancies. That left Cincinnati, Sacramento, and Detroit scrambling to get their soccer-specific stadium plans straightened out.

When news of FC Cincinnati's MLS application was reported, Hamilton County commissioners and residents alike were curious whether the team could play its games at Paul Brown Stadium to avoid putting a greater financial burden on taxpayers. FC Cincinnati ownership responded by announcing it would self-finance a soccer stadium if the city and county were willing to put up infrastructure costs.

Originally, there were three potential sites for such a stadium: Oakley, the West End, and Newport, Ky. The team set its focus on the West End, a site met with the most resistance, given it was already home to Taft High School's Stargel Stadium.

After a series of meetings with community groups and Cincinnati Public Schools, the team struck of community benefits agreement that would put money toward scholarships and youth sports programs in the area.

In April, Cincinnati City Council approved a proposed infrastructure funding plan for a 21,000-seat stadium.

[1,000 days later: A quick look back at FC Cincinnati's rapid rise]

"We are a three major league city," Cranley said Tuesday.

Residents and soccer fans will find out if that is true soon enough, as FC Cincinnati will leapfrog Miami and Nashville to begin MLS play in 2019.

"To the fans -- you folks have shocked the world and showed us that if you have the right city, ownership and management, public support and the ability to bring fans together, great things can happen," MLS commissioner Don Garber said. "And the world has taken notice. Congratulations to all of you."

The team will continue to play at the University of Cincinnati's Nippert Stadium until the West End soccer stadium is complete in (potentially) 2021. Berding says the club is expected to break ground on that project soon.

As the team looks to make the jump to pro ball, a free agent and draft process will take place. But not everything will change -- Berding says the logo will remain the same, for now, and head coach Alan Koch will remain at the helm.

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