This past Saturday night was apparently not the long-awaited first victory in TQL Stadium that FC Cincinnati was looking for, instead dropping a 1-0 decision to Inter Miami on a back-breaking 90th minute goal. The Orange and Blue are winless in nine home tries and in 12 successive matches overall. Their last victory came on June 26 vs. Toronto, who happens to be Cincinnati’s next opponent this Saturday night in the West End.
With left back Ronald Matarrita on international duty with Costa Rica, head coach Jaap Stam elected to play a 3-5-2 lineup, with Isaac Atanga and Alvaro Barreal on the wings and Nick Hagglund, Geoff Cameron, and Gustavo Valecilla at center back. Miscommunication between Miami’s Brek Shea and teammate Lewis Morgan was the only thing that prevented Shea from converting into an empty net in the 25th minute. But minutes before FC Cincinnati could nab its ninth draw of 2021, Shea slipped in behind rookie Calvin Harris—making his first appearance since May 16 after recovering from knee injury—to bury the match’s lone goal in the 90th minute.
FCC continued its the overall staleness of play last weekend, and in truth Miami wasn’t any better, as just three of the two sides’ 20 combined shots were on target—and Shea’s goal was the visitors’ lone shot on goal. Boos rang out across TQL Stadium immediately after the final whistle, a clear signal of mounting frustration among what’s been a loyal and patient fanbase.
Through the weekend’s matches, FC Cincinnati ranks fifth in attendance among the league’s 27 teams, averaging just over 20,000 fans in 26,000-seat TQL Stadium. In its maiden MLS voyage in 2019, FCC ranked third in attendance, averaging 27,336 spectators at Nippert Stadium. Luckily for FCC, 2019 and 2021 were/are “first-year experience” events: 2019 was the first time Cincinnatians witnessed the top level of American professional soccer, and of course this season the club opened TQL Stadium.
In both years, whether the attendees were diehard supporters, casual sports fans, or folks in search of something different to do on the weekends, FC Cincinnati had/has the advantage of offering an attraction that doesn’t rely on the on-field product. With the pandemic eliminating fans from the stands and completely altering the 2020 campaign, it’s impossible to know how FCC supporters would have reacted to another poor season or if The Bailey’s exuberance could have altered the result of a handful of home matches at Nippert.
In any case, last Saturday night was the first indication of fan frustration—which has been building for months in Cincinnati pubs and in online communities—consolidating into a sound of universal disapproval. It’s possible the new stadium honeymoon period is already over. And anyone who has spent any amount of time following the Reds and the Bengals knows that Queen City sports fans eventually stop showing up when the home team consistently loses and shows no sign of reversing its fortunes.
FC Cincinnati management are fooling themselves if they think the club’s supporters will be any different. FCC has a very devoted support base at this point, and even in great seasons you wouldn’t find the Reds and Bengals near the top of league-wide attendance charts. But blind loyalty only goes so far in any sport when the home side is consistently at or near the bottom of the standings. Diehards may continue to buy tickets regardless of the results, but FCC needs less-invested patrons to show up in order to fill TQL Stadium.
FC Cincinnati (17 points, 13th in East) will certainly be feeling the pressure Saturday night vs. Toronto, whose 15 points are dead last in all of MLS. FCC won’t have a better chance at home victory for the rest of 2021. A defeat would drop the Orange and Blue below Toronto into last place in the East, and should that happen, rest assured the booing will reach a higher decibel level. It’ll only be a matter of time before fans start displaying their displeasure with their wallets.
Grant Freking writes FC Cincinnati coverage for Cincinnati Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @GrantFreking.