2019 MLS debut in sight, expansion FC Cincinnati "don’t want to be average"

CINCINNATI—FC Cincinnati are in. For 2019.

Yes, the upcoming MLS season will see FCC's expansion debut.

As MLS Commissioner Don Garber will readily acknowledge, history indicates that's a "short runway" to accomplish a multi-item checklist that looms large for managing owner Carl H. Lindner III and President and GM Jeff Berding.

“They've got to build out their organization, they've got to expand their employee base, they've think about how they're going to approach – differently or not – their technical side,” Garber said, following Tuesday's announcement. “Do they change their philosophy? All those things. Jeff is going to be busier now, leading up to March of 2019, than he was trying to get this done."

Berding is ready for the challenge, and said Tuesday he doesn't fear work, even as he understands the magnitude of the job in front of him. He draws upon the support of his family – conceding they know big hours are part of his effort – and the commitment of his staff.

“I tell people, ‘If you want to be mediocre, go somewhere else.’ We don't want to be average. You don't get excellence with modest effort, you get it with enormous effort and enormous sacrifice. And I believe that's the culture of our club … We'll show up tomorrow; we have a plan. We'll execute the plan.”

As decisions get made and enacted on the business side, FC Cincinnati will have to similarly scale up its on-field product, from constructing the stadium to building out a full academy and fleshing out a roster that adheres to the MLS salary budget structure. It's been a time of uncertainty for the technical staff and players, but now that the decision is behind them, concentration can shift from the will/won't questions to those of the how.

Head coach Alan Koch, seen here celebrating last year's U.S. Open Cup victory over the Chicago Fire, will make the jump from the USL to MLS with FC Cincinnati next season. | USA Today Sports Images

For head coach Alan Koch, that meant a "very constructive" team meeting Tuesday morning to discuss moving forward and what that means. He acknowledged that the players on this roster are going have a step ahead of everyone else – they're being scouted as closely as possible, given that they play for the team.

Yet that same prominence also brings the specter of other USL players aiming to replace them, potentially adding an extra layer to all competition this season, even as the day called for celebration.

“I'm on the inside, so I've known certain things, but nothing's ever done until it's done, so I found out outside [at the event],” Koch said. “This club and the city truly deserve this. We've all witnessed what's happening in the city, we've all witnessed the fans showing up for every single game – it's truly remarkable. Major League Soccer made a great decision today.”

FC Cincinnati's new stadium, imagined here, is scheduled to open for the 2021 season. | FC Cincinnati

Lindner had his sights set on MLS from the beginning, even prior to starting the club as a USL entrant in 2016. That led to pursuing Nippert Stadium as a venue (they'll open MLS play there, before a scheduled 2021 move into the West End), and pouring in additional investment at a greater financial risk than the opportunity usually entails.

The fun was the draw, he said, along with the fact that he will be able to connect with the city on a deeper level. And though the challenges will be many, Lindner's confidence in Berding rings clear. This is the man he chose to guide the team through what he feels is one of the most enjoyable periods of his life.

“[Jeff] and I got together and the rest is history,” Lindner said. “My dad said the most important assets ride up and down the elevator with him every day, and the best decision I ever made was choosing Jeff Berding as my business partner. Our gifts and talents meld well together and, he and I, we make a great team. We've had more fun than a barrel of monkeys the past three years.”

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