CINCINNATI, Ohio – The final lower-league team in the 2017 US Open Cup was eliminated in the semifinal Tuesday night, but the effects of FC Cincinnati’s “magical” run may be felt for far longer than one tournament.
Cincinnati’s dream run ended with a heartbreaking 3-2 loss to the New York Red Bulls after leading by two goals with just 28 minutes left to play at a sold-out Nippert Stadium, but head coach Alan Koch had only positive things to say about his group after the match.
“We’re disappointed, yes…but throw that aside and there’s nothing but pride, absolute pride, in a group of players that put everything they could out in the pitch tonight for our team, our club, our city,” he said. “I just told the players they could be very proud of the effort they put in, not only in this game but in this cup run. It’s been truly magical.”
Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch immediately launched into praise for the MLS expansion hopefuls before taking any questions at his postgame press conference, even sending a message to MLS Commissioner Don Garber, who attended the match.
“The first thing I want to do is congratulate this city and this club. What an incredible environment and incredible performance for this team,” he said.
“I heard that [Garber] was here tonight, so I would hope that he takes notice of what’s going on here. And I’ll tell you what, I don’t think it will be long before we’re back here playing more meaningful matches.”
The coaches weren’t the only ones impressed by the atmosphere the USL club and its 33,000 fans created on Tuesday night.
Match-winner Bradley Wright-Phillips said the game reminded him of FA Cup matches in England, and Sacha Kljestan said the Cincinnati players were difficult to play against and that the home-field advantage made for a challenge.
“It felt like a big game, and I think that’s what made the game so good,” he said. I’ve got to give a round of applause to not only the team of FC Cincinnati, but the fans as well.
“I think the team has every right to be where they are in the tournament right now. … They got to the semifinal as no fluke. And the fans and the stadium atmosphere was amazing tonight.”
Cincinnati is one of 12 organizations vying for the next round of MLS expansion, and Koch – who coached Vancouver Whitecaps 2 before coming to Cincinnati ahead of this season – said there was “nothing” left to prove for a franchise that feels ready for the top level.
“I worked for an MLS club before I came here…and this is right up there,” he said. “I’ve said it already: this is an MLS city. The club is heading in the right direction, and that was a special night.”
Marsch echoed that sentiment, adding that his club escaped “by the skin of our teeth.”
“The atmosphere was electric – as good as I’ve seen anywhere,” he said. “Right now, the momentum in our sport is incredible, and so I’m glad the people in this city have recognized that having a team here has been really good, has been fun, has been entertaining and that the sport is growing. I think Cincinnati would be a feather in the cap of MLS.”