FC Cincinnati’s playoff-clinching victory over the Pittsburgh Riverhounds last weekend got me thinking about Hideo Nomo. Who? Allow me to explain.
In a match between the first- and third-place teams in the United Soccer League’s Eastern Conference, Fanendo Adi’s late goal propelled front-running FC Cincinnati past Pittsburgh on September 1. The victory secured the Orange and Blue’s third consecutive (and final) USL playoff appearance. (Unless you’ve blocked out the outside world playing Fortnite all summer, you’ve probably heard that FC Cincinnati is jumping up to Major League Soccer in 2019.)
The first USL team to clinch a playoff spot in 2018, with over a month of league play remaining, FC Cincinnati is sitting pretty at the moment with league-best totals in points (60), wins (18), and losses (3), so a home playoff match at Nippert Stadium is all but set. Since FCC joined USL prior to the 2016 season, the highest regular-season point total achieved is 69, so FC Cincinnati needs to accumulate only 10 points from its final seven league matches to better that mark.
In the East, FC Cincinnati is 13 points clear of reigning USL title-holder Louisville City, which is where FC Cincinnati will put its 16-game unbeaten streak on the line Saturday night. Louisville was the last USL team to beat FCC, claiming a 2-0 decision on May 26 at Nippert Stadium, three days after MLS officially accepted FC Cincinnati’s expansion bid. (FCC lost a U.S. Open Cup tilt to Minnesota United, an MLS team, in penalty kicks on June 6.)
FC Cincinnati has gone one-and-done in its previous two playoff appearance, falling 2-1 to Charleston in 2016 at Nippert and 3-0 to Tampa Bay last year. A home victory would make local pro sports history.
The city of Cincinnati has not enjoyed a postseason advancement by one of its pro sports teams since the 1995 Reds swept the Dodgers in three games in the National League Division Series. (Anyone remember Mariano Duncan, Benito Santiago, or Mark Lewis?) Since then, the Bengals, the Reds, and FC Cincinnati—I’m discounting the Cyclones, who have had playoff success but don’t register at the same emotional level with fans—have failed to win playoff games and/or a playoff series 15 consecutive times: eight by the Bengals, three by the Reds, and two by FC Cincinnati.
The cherry on top off that sundae of sadness? The Bengals, Reds, and FC Cincinnati have not secured a single home playoff victory since Oct. 6, 1995. The 2012 Reds won the first two games of their 3-2 series defeat to the Giants in San Francisco, then lost three straight at home. The Bengals’ last home playoff victory was a 41-14 pounding of the Houston Oilers on Jan. 6, 1991. But on that fateful fall night in 1995, the Reds polished off their three-game demolition of the Dodgers by throttling Hideo Nomo, the National League Rookie of the Year (at 26) and an all-around baseball sensation. Over five innings, he yielded five runs, seven hits, two walks, and a wild pitch.
The wounds created from so many playoff setbacks remain open and foster an inferiority complex among the city’s pro sports faithful when times are particularly rotten. But FC Cincinnati—re-armed by the recent additions of Adi and Fatai Alashe, a pair of MLS veterans instrumental to FCC’s major league plans—seems poised to cap its USL finale on a high note.
This city deserves a flip of its playoff narrative. Anyone seen Nomo lately?