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FC Cincinnati Will Compete In 2016 USL Season

Tana Weingartner
From left: USL president Jake Edwards holds up FC Cincinnati's jerseys along with majority owner Carl Lindner III and GM Jeff Berding as Head Coach John Harkes looks on.

Update 8/12/15: FC Cincinnati majority owner Carl Lindner III says his is a soccer family and they're excited to be part of bringing a USL-level team to Cincinnati.

During a news conference Wednesday, Lindner pointed out Cincinnati is among the top cities in the nation when it comes to youth soccer participation. "We see soccer as sport that has tremendous growth and can unite fans of all cultures under the FC Cincinnati flag." Lindner says the opportunity to bring a USL franchise to town was just too good to pass up.

Standing beside Lindner and FC Cincinnati General Manager Jeff Berding, USL President Jake Edwards officially awarded the franchise. The three held up home and away jerseys in navy and blue and orange.

The USL touts itself as the fastest growing soccer league in the United States. Edwards says, "As we grow our national footprint across the country, we do so in a way that focuses on a way that focuses on a regional competition. For us, that is really important that we build those regional rivalries between the clubs." Cincinnati's nearest rival is Louisville City FC.

The team's minority owners include George Joseph of Joseph Automotive Group, Stephen L. Hightower of Hightower Petroleum Co., Jack Wyant of Blue Chip Ventures, and the Dutch Lions Capital Group (Dayton Dutch Lions soccer) headed by CEO Mike Mossell.

Credit Provided / FC Cincinnati
FC Cincinnati

FC Cincinnati takes its colors and lion in its crest from the Dutch Lions organization. Mossell says he's been in talks with Jeff Berding for years about creating a USL level team. The talks reignited two years ago, he says, when the Cincinnati Kings folded and relinquished their rights to a USL franchise.

"We're going to help scout players through our worldwide network," says Mossell. The organization also has experience in the USL PRO league which Mossell says will help as FC Cincinnati is starting out. "'How does this work?' 'How does that work?' 'What are regulations?' Immediately we have quick answers to those questions. That's helpful we've noticed already in the boardroom."

Mossell says he'd like to fill Nippert Stadium to it's 40, 000 soccer crowd capacity for its opening game. However, he says the league's top crowd is closer to 10,000, so that would be good. 

He says the team is already talking to "a lot" of sponsors, though he declined to name any.

Mossell wouldn't say much about finances but he expects the budget for player salaries will be in the top of the league at around "a couple of million." "We're really going after top-notch players to compete for a championship," he says.

As a long-time soccer fan, General Manager Jeff Berding says he's excited personally and professionally about this new venture. He expects the team will be a good resource for local youth soccer teams. And, certainly, the team will be relying on youth organizations to drive ticket sales. Berding has connections with the second largest youth program, Kings Hammer Soccer Club. The largest youth program, Cincinnati United, is also involved.

Berding says FC Cincinnati will host local tryouts during the process of compiling its roster. He says University of Cincinnati students, staff and faculty will also be offered special ticket offers. Season ticket plans are already being offered, starting with a $50 deposit. Season ticket prices range from $50 for students up to $595 for club seating.

Head Coach John Harkes says he understands the challenges of being an expansion team but he's looking forward to building something good here. "We want to give (the fans) something to be very proud of. This is the people's game."

Harkes also explains he has family ties to Cincinnati, saying his wife was born in the region (Kettering) and has family still living here.

The owner of the city's current lower-level NPSL team, the Cincinnati Saints, says his goals haven't changed with the announcement. David Satterwhite says his staff and players will continue to wear the Saints crest and continue their efforts to build their own fan base.

Original post, 08/11/15 at 10:09 a.m.: Professional soccer is set to make its Cincinnati debut in 2016. FC Cincinnati will officially launch during an 11 a.m. news conference Wednesday.

FC Cincinnati will play in the USL (United Soccer League). This is the second tier of professional soccer, just below Major League Soccer (MLS), though technically it is considered the third division by the U.S. Soccer Federation. The Cincinnati Saints currently compete in the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL), which is the fourth tier of U.S. Soccer. (The North American Soccer League, or NASL, is the official second tier. The closest NASL team is Indy Eleven in Indianapolis.)

According to a news release, FC Cincinnati will be owned by the Lindner family. Former Bengels executive Jeff Berding will serve as Club President & General Manager.

The team will play the 2016 USL season at the University of Cincinnati. The Cincinnati soccer community has speculated that former U.S. National Team midfielder John Harkes will be named head coach. FC Cincinnati confirmes that by showing several highlights of Harkes' playing career in its announcement trailer (below) along with the words, "Led by a world class coach, John Harkes."

The USL currently has 24 teams including a franchise in Louisville, KY named Louisville City FC. In 2014, USL announced a deal whereby seven MLS teams moved their second teams into the league. Eight MLS franchises now have USL sides. Teams are playing a 28 game schedule during the 2015 season. The league says the season will expand to 30 games in 2016.

Rumors about a USL team coming to Cincinnati have been circulating for several months. Two bloggers, Scratching the Pitch and Wrong Side of the Pond broke the story in May.

They pointed out the team's blue and orange color scheme and lion logo hint at a connection to the Dayton Dutch Lions. Wrong Side of the Pond reports Berding sat on the Dutch Lions' board of directors, though WVXU could not confirm if he is still connected with the team.

Cincinnati Saints

Credit Provided / Cincinnati Saints
Cincinnati Saints
The new Cincinnati Saints logo is more streamlined than its predecessor.

Meanwhile, NPSL side the Cincinnati Saints Tuesday also announced a change. The team is debuting a new logo. In a statement CEO David Satterwhite says "We wanted our logo to reflect our love for Cincinnati, it's heritage, our history, and our commitment to bring a professional soccer experience to the fans of this city"

The new logo is similar to the original, but more streamlined. The lion at the top has been replaced with a crown, scroll work on either side of the crest has been removed, the year of the team's founding, 2009, has been added at the bottom, and fleur de lis' in the white field have been replaced with a diamond pattern reminiscent of Bavarian flags in a nod to the city's German heritage.

The new logo also includes a shift from "Cincy Saints" to "Cincinnati Saints." The team says this represents a its professional growth.

Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.