In hindsight, it’s possible that FC Cincinnati didn’t need to rush to join Major League Soccer so quickly or to build a new soccer-only stadium downtown. A few corners might have been cut as a result, since the team just finished dead last in MLS for the third year in a row and TQL Stadium was shoehorned into a neighborhood straddling Over-the-Rhine and the West End. Still, when MLS came calling in 2016, Cincinnati had one shot with the country’s top soccer league or it would have gotten jumped over by Nashville, Miami, Austin, and other “hot” cities waiting in line—so FCC said yes and took the leap.
There’s no arguing that TQL Stadium, which opened in May, is a fun place to watch a match. The grass field, enclosed roof, and well-designed seating bowl (including the steep standing section for the drum-beating, flag-waving, singing superfans behind one goal) make for a wonderful in-person experience, as do the various suites and club sections if you possess the right tickets. No other sporting scene in Cincinnati can touch the fan march down Central Parkway and up the main staircase before each home match.
It’s also possible that, five years from now, everyone will be singing “Kumbaya” in the stands after FCC starts winning consistently, a live/work/play village grows around the stadium, Hamilton County’s new parking garage opens, and West End residents are lifted by the development’s rising tide. The predominantly African American neighborhood has been abused before, most infamously by I-75 construction, and FCC ownership has offered olive branches in a variety of ways: building a new football field for Taft High School, sponsoring youth soccer teams, and paying to relocate impacted residents.
FC Cincinnati, TQL Stadium, and the West End were all works in progress in 2021. FCC will have a new general manager and head coach running the team next season, so things are looking up on the pitch; how the stadium and its neighbors get along remains to play out. • fccincinnati.com