FC Cincinnati Shows Life in Its Stadium Opener, but Falls Short

A fan march and Bailey chants finally returned last Sunday, but so did FCC’s propensity to crumble in crucial moments.

The opening of TQL Stadium brought back what are becoming time-honored FC Cincinnati home match traditions: The fan marches, the chanting from the first kick of the game to the final whistle, and the slip-on-the-banana-peel moments from the home side. FC Cincinnati christened its $250 million shiny steel monolith in the West End last Sunday before a national television audience with a 3–2 defeat to Inter Miami, sending FCC to its third straight loss after a season-opening draw.

FC Cincinnati’s starting XI opened the new TQL Stadium on May 16.

Photograph courtesy FC Cincinnati

For the first time since fall 2019, FC Cincinnati played a home match in front of spectators, with a reduced-capacity crowd of around 6,000 filling the stands. They were treated to an exciting, haphazard match that saw the hosts deliver a sloppy first half showing…only to rebound in the second half to tie the match…only for Miami to score three minutes after FCC equalized. It was the Orange and Blue’s 36th straight defeat after conceding the first goal in a match.

FC Cincinnati not only broke in a stadium on Sunday, but head coach Jaap Stam handed team debuts to three players. Long-time Eredivisie goalkeeper Kenneth Vermeer, signed off waivers on May 7, started over Przemysław Tytoń. Geoff Cameron, a 35-year-old veteran of the English Premier League and the U.S. men’s national team, started at center back despite participating in one full training session following his signing. Cameron’s partner at center back, 21-year-old Gustavo Vallecilla, was acquired on April 5 and was making his MLS debut, too. (No pressure, kid.) Also, Allan Cruz got the nod over Kamohelo Mokotjo (who appeared to be a healthy scratch) in midfield, Calvin Harris started over Jurgen Locadia on the left wing, and Lucho Acosta returned to the starting XI after a two-game injury absence.

While the Orange and Blue were full of changes, though, they were well-rested, having last played on May 1. The same couldn’t be said for Inter Miami, which had already logged five matches and had less than three days rest after playing on Thursday. FCC also trained three times at TQL Stadium in the run-up to the game, getting acquainted with their new surroundings.

The first half featured great television shots of the new stadium and the surrounding West End neighborhood as well as the same poor transition defense, aimless offensive play, and mental mistakes that have plagued FC Cincinnati since it joined Major League Soccer. Miami required only seven minutes to strike first, with Brek Shea becoming the answer to a trivia question after he slotted home a close range shot. Right back Joe Gyau committed a double blunder during this sequence, as he kept Shea onside and let Shea get in front of him for the goal. At halftime, FC Cincinnati not only trailed 2–0 but had logged 15 (mostly purposeless) crosses and racked up 10 fouls and three yellow cards, a product of poor positioning and a lack of composure.

Fortunately for the home crowd, the Orange and Blue responded in the second half. Alvaro Barreal produced a moment of wonder and a glimpse of his potential with a goal in the 59th minute, calmly securing Ronald Matarrita’s long pass and flipping the ball over Miami goalkeeper John McCarthy for his first-ever MLS goal and the initial score for FCC in their new digs.

As the second half wore on, FC Cincinnati wasn’t creating enough real chances and looked to be running out of time to salvage a point. But in the 85th minute, substitute Nick Hagglund thundered in a header off a corner kick from Acosta, leveling the score and supplying the Cincinnati native a moment he’ll never forget. And yet, since FCC have long since proven that it can’t handle having nice things, Miami needed just three minutes to surge ahead, with Hagglund’s misplaced clearance near midfield setting off a Miami counterattack that resulted in Gonzalo Higuain’s second goal of the match. The aging-but-still effective striker—who spent his younger years playing for Real Madrid, Napoli, and Juventus, among other European giants—outran a cramping Cameron, who FC Cincinnati had failed to sub off in time.

It was a bummer of an ending for the home fans, many of whom had last Sunday circled on their calendar for some time. Because of the reduced capacity, not all season ticket holders were able to attend. FC Cincinnati’s next home match is May 29, with increased capacity ahead of the lifting of the state mask mandate on June 2. The first sellout could be in the third home match following the international break on June 19.

On the field, there’s quite obviously plenty for Stam to attend to, but ending the two-plus match scoreless streak and exhibiting serious spirit in the second half were positive steps. He may have officially introduced himself to the fans last week, but his leash isn’t going to be very long if the losing continues, regardless of the public vote of confidence ownership has given Stam and General Manager Gerard Nijkamp. FC Cincinnati has to start racking up points, and the next opportunity is against CF Montreal in Fort Lauderdale Saturday afternoon.

Grant Freking writes FC Cincinnati coverage for Cincinnati Magazine. Off the pitch, he is the managing editor for Signs of the Times magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @GrantFreking.

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