The Queen City's newest professional sports team will be led on the field by a Cincinnati native. FC Cincinnati has signed 27-year-old defender Austin Berry. Berry, a Summit Country Day graduate, was selected in the first round of the 2012 MLS SuperDraft and was named MLS Rookie of the Year in his first season.
Berry says it was easy to sign with the startup soccer team. "I have my family here, parents and grandparents. I've always loved Cincinnati, growing up, playing soccer here." Berry was drafted by the Chicago Fire, traded to the Philadelphia Union in 2014, and loaned to South Korea - FC Anyang in March 2015.
"I've always wanted and thought about coming back to Cincinnati and now I get to come back here and get to play soccer and get to help grow it in my hometown, so there's nothing bigger for me. And to be at the beginning of it... The coaches and the ownership and staff have shared their vision with me and it was important for me to be at the beginning of that."
The Cincinnati soccer franchise owned by Carl Lindner III on Monday announced its first eleven signings.
They are: Berry; Corben Bone, midfielder; Mitch Hildebrandt, goalkeeper; Pat McMahon, defender; Francisco Narbon, defender; Paul Nicholson, midfielder; Tyler Polak, defender; Eric Stevenson, midfielder; Ross Tomaselli, midfielder; Kenney Walker, midfielder; Andrew Wiedeman, forward.
General Manager Jeff Berding says a team's first signings have a special place in history. "Nearly every Bengals' fan knows that Bob Johnson was the first Bengal. And nearly every Reds' fan knows that Chuck Harmon was the first African-American to play for the Cincinnati Reds. Fans know the first. These players, led by Austin, they're our first. And that is a very exciting thing."
Head Coach John Harkes says he couldn't be happier with the first group of players. He says he and Assistant Coach Ryan Martin were looking for players who were "humble, hungry, soccer intelligent, good characteristics on and off the field, skill set, imagination, creativity, good leadership... all of that's right here today so I'm very, very excited."
Wiedeman's signing is still pending an International Transfer Certificate approval, though club officials don't expect that to be a problem. FC Cincinnati paid a transfer fee to acquire the rights to Corben Bone from the USL's Wilmington Hammerheads. Francisco Narbon of Panama City, Panama and Paul Nicholson of Whitehaven, England are the team's first international signings.
Eric Stevenson and Kenney Walker also have Ohio ties. Stevenson is from Columbus and played at the University of Akron before being drafted by the New York Red Bulls in 2014. Walker is from Wickliffe, Ohio and played collegiately at the University of Louisville. He was drafted by the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2012.
The team also announced Xavier University assistant soccer coach Jamie Starr is joining the FC Cincinnati staff as a goalkeeper coach. Starr is also a former Cincinnati Saints player and coach. Last week the Saints rebranded the team as the Dayton Dynamo.
FC Cincinnati will begin play in march in the United Soccer League (USL). The first home game is expected in April at UC's Nippert Stadium.
General Manager Jeff Berding says more players will be signed in the coming months. Some of those who came out during the open tryouts will be called back to see how they play and train with the current team members. That will occur in January.
Berding says the team plans a 24-player roster, but not all players will be set by February 1. "There might be guys that become available after February 1 that we might think would be a good addition."
Brief Player Bios
- Austin Berry, 27, a defender from Cincinnati who played at Summit Country Day and was drafted by the Chicago Fire in 2012, earning the MLS Rookie of the Year honors that season. This past season, Berry, 27, has been playing in South Korea with FC Anyang after being traded to Philadelphia Union for the 2014 season.
- Corben Bone, 27, a midfielder from Plano, Texas who made his professional experience with the MLS Chicago Fire on May 8, 2010. He also has experience with the Philadelphia Union and Wilmington Hammerheads. He attended Wake Forest University where he was ACC Offensive Player of the Year and First Team All-ACC in 2009.
- Mitch Hildebrandt, 27, a goalkeeper from Livonia, Michigan who made his professional debut on May 25, 2012 with the Minnesota United FC. He made 15 appearances for Minnesota United FC from 2012-15. Hildebrant attended Oakland University in Auburn Hills, Michigan earning First Team Honors in the Summit League in 2009 and 2010.
- Pat McMahon, 29, a defender from Bolingbrook, Illinois who signed his first professional deal in 2013 with the Swedish side, Ljungshile SK. In 2014, he signed with the USL’s Rochester Rhinos. He attended the University of Illinois at Chicago from 2005-08 where he started 85 consecutive matches, a school record he set in 2008.
- Francisco Narbon, 20, a defender from Panama City, Panama. In 2014, he played soccer at James Madison University. Narbon also represented Panama in the FIFA Under 20 World Cup in 2015 and the FIFA Under 17 World Cup in 2011.
- Paul Nicholson, 29, a midfielder from Whitehaven, England has played professionally with the USL’s Wilmington Hammerheads since 2011. He played soccer at the University of Rio Grande from 2005-08 where he earned First Team All-American and First Team All-Conference awards in 2008.
- Tyler Polak, 23, a defender from Lincoln, Nebraska made his MLS debut with the New England Revolution on March 10, 2012. In 2013, he joined the USL’s Rochester Rhinos and, in 2014, he played for NASL’s Minnesota United FC. Polak played soccer at Creighton University in 2010 and earned conference honors including Freshman of the Year.
- Eric Stevenson, 25, a midfielder from Columbus, Ohio who was drafted by the New York Red Bulls in the second round (34th overall) in 2014. He played soccer at the University of Akron from 2010-12.
- Ross Tomaselli, 23, a midfielder from Wilmington, North Carolina who played with the USL’s Wilmington Hammerheads in 2014. He played soccer at Wake Forest University from 2010-13.
- Kenney Walker, 26, a midfielder from Wickliffe, Ohio, who was drafted by the Los Angeles Galaxy in the second round (38th overall) in 2012. He made his debut for Los Angeles on May 26, 2012 against the Houston Dynamo. He also has playing experience with the Fort Lauderdale Strikers and the Carolina RailHawks. He played soccer at the University of Louisville from 2007-11.
- Andrew Wiedeman, 26, a forward from San Ramon, California, who was drafted in 2010 by FC Dallas in the second round (21st overall). He also has playing experience with Toronto FC and the Ottawa Fury. Wiedeman played soccer at University of California Berkley from 2007-09 earning First Team All Pac-10 honors in 2008 and 2009. His signing is pending International Transfer Certificate (ITC) approval.