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FC Cincinnati Ready To Kick Off First-Ever Match At TQL Stadium

FC Cincinnati
Tana Weingartner
Players warm up Wednesday, May 12, 2021, ahead of the stadium opener on May 16.

Updated May 14 at 12:20 p.m.

After nearly two-and-a-half years and $250 million, FC Cincinnati plays its first game in its new West End stadium on Sunday. Around 6,000 people are being allowed inside TQL Stadium.

Head Coach Jaap Stam says it will be good to have fans in the stands, even if limited in number.

"That still gives you a very positive, a very good, feeling in playing because you know these are your fans," he said ahead of Sunday's match. "They're cheering for you as a player. They want you to do well so they're pushing you forward, which is, of course, very positive for the players and that helps them."

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine on Wednesday announced most COVID-19 health orders will end June 2. That includes face covering requirements, social distancing guidelines and capacity restrictions on events. It was unclear, however, how or when sports teams might make changes.

FC Cincinnati and the Cincinnati Reds both currently have capacity restrictions - the Reds are only filling Great American Ball Park to 40% capacity. An FC Cincinnati spokesperson indicated it could be up to a week before the team has clearer guidance on when it can or will increase attendance.

The Reds Friday afternoon announced Great American Ball Park will return to full capacity June 2. The team says masks are recommended but not mandated. They'll continue offering a $10 vaccination ticket through the end of the regular season to encourage people to get the shot.

Getting A Feel For The New Stadium

The soccer team has practiced twice in its new home, with a third practice scheduled for Friday. Stam says the natural grass playing surface is ready for the debut.

"The pitch feels good," he says. "You're always curious for the first sessions when you're out there on the pitch as to how does it feel: Is it firm or is it soft? Is the grass short enough and what we're looking for? These are questions that are always being raised. After the first session I think everybody felt good."

FC Cincinnati face Inter Miami CF, another team new to Major League Soccer. Stam was asked to comment on whether there's a desire to make a statement during the opening match in the new stadium.

"I think every time you play you want to make a statement. It's difficult to say 'OK, in this particular game we're going to set the the standards for how it's always going to be. Of course, every game you want to do very well and that's what we're aiming for."

Sunday's match is at 4 p.m. It will be broadcast on Fox.

This story was updated to reflect the Cincinnati Reds announcement about returning to full capacity at Great American Ball Park.

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.