FC Cincinnati: Wait… This is Lower-division Soccer?

The Soccer Tour schedule is centered around watching a Major League Soccer match for all 22 teams in 2017. But MLS is just part of it.

Fans of lower-division soccer know that a number of incredible experiences exist outside MLS. Experiences that I was not going to miss on this trip. Experiences like an FC Cincinnati match at Nippert Stadium.

In their first-ever season, FC Cincinnati thrust themselves into the spotlight — including the watchful eyes of those at MLS — after achieving unprecedented levels of support for a lower-tier side. The side averaged 17,296 fans in league matches and attracted a state-record crowd for a pro team in Ohio when 35,061 fans turned out for a summer friendly against Premier League side Crystal Palace.

The club has fostered strong, passionate supporters, all of whom showed me a fantastic occasion during my day in Cincinnati.

Here’s what my day looked like. (WARNING: Lots of embedded tweets… sorry.)

On Saturday, May 27 at 4:30 a.m. I left Grand Rapids, MI to ensure ample time to complete my five-and-a-half-hour drive to Cincinnati. I was told to get there early to get the full experience of pregaming before the match and no amount of naps, coffee breaks or wrong turns was going to stop me.

After stopping for a quick nap, grabbing a coffee and driving toward Columbus for 20 minutes without realizing my error, at noon I finally took the exit for my friend Boston Brazzell’s house. Boston is a co-host of Cincy Soccer Talk and host of The Soccer Tour during my three separate stops in town. He’s a lifesaver.

I jumped in the shower and we jetted off for downtown Cincinnati. Our destination was something I had been craving since my last visit in town… Skyline Chili.

Closed. We’d have to settle for another location after the match. I was going to get my coneys one way or another.

We walked around downtown, grabbing a bite from some of the vendors at Taste of Cincinnati, before heading to the FC Cincinnati team store where Boston said someone was hoping to meet me… club president and GM Jeff Berding.

His tweet made me feel pretty special, too.

Our next stop was Mecklenburg’s Garden, the German-inspired bar and designated pre-match home of Die Innenstadt, one of FC Cincinnati’s two main supporters groups.

After conversing with the group over some FC Cincinnati Blood Orange IPAs, it was time to march to Nippert Stadium. Now, I’ve taken part of many supporters marches. None compared to the size and scope of this one. As we marched down the streets, supporters would pour out of the bars and restaurants to join us. When we converged with The Pride, the size — and sound — of our party doubled.

The match was nothing short of major league. From the atmosphere created in The Bailey — home of the supporters groups — to the product on the field, everything I experienced told me I was at an MLS game.

I even got to try my hands on the drums… enduring a bit of a shaky start. (Nothing like getting booed, then cheered by what seemed like all 18,000+ in the stadium.)

And after, I finally got what I really came to town for.

Big thanks go out to Boston Brazzell for hosting me, Jared and the members of Die Innenstadt, Chris from The Pride, the Bailey Bastards for scarfing me, Jeff Berding, CincySuperFan for being a hero, the number of wonderful supporters I met, and, last but not least, the wonderful people at Skyline.