CINCINNATI — Standing mid-stage with an orange Futbol Club Cincinnati scarf raised chest-high, Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber made it clear to the USL club's supporters that he was impressed by his first visit to the city.
Garber’s one-day trip last Tuesday began with 70 FC Cincinnati supporters greeting his arrival at an airplane hangar and it ended in a 500-person town hall meeting that discussed the club’s future with MLS.
“I’m very impressed with what the city has shown me, and the fans are wonderful,” Garber said.
“This is the beginning. It starts with this visit,” he continued. “But there’s a lot of work to be done here.”
FC Cincinnati is already off to a great start, with fan support exploding in only a brief span of time. Founded in August 2015, FC Cincinnati finished third in the USL East in their 2016 inaugural season and led the league in total attendance, averaging 17,296 spectators per game.
“What you’ve done in your city is truly remarkable and you should be proud,” Garber said. “[It] shows how serious you are about the game.”
Prior to the town hall, the commissioner toured Cincinnati, visited Nippert Stadium and met with the club’s front office and city officials. He also visited bars in Over-the-Rhine, a trendy downtown neighborhood that he said reminded him of SoHo or Tribeca in New York City.
The Commissioner’s visit helped solidify the city’s standing as a candidate for future MLS expansion. The top-flight league currently has 20 clubs and continues to grow. With three teams on their way – Minnesota United FC and Atlanta United FC kick off in 2017, LAFC in 2018 – and Miami still vying for a club, Garber indicated the chase is for spots 25 through 28.
“We’re going to be smart,” the commissioner told the town hall about the league’s expansion strategy. “We’re going to make sure we make the right decision.”
Both Garber and Jeff Berding, FC Cincinnati’s president and general manager, considered Tuesday the first interaction about a long-term partnership for the league and club.
“This is the start of a conversation to show what a great city we have,” Berding said. “If you love soccer, you have to love what’s going on in Cincinnati.”