More than 35,000 fans packed Nippert Stadium Saturday night to watch FC Cincinnati face Crystal Palace FC in an exhibition match. That's right, a sellout crowd watching a soccer game that essentially meant nothing. And while they weren't playing for a trophy or a championship, the feeling was electric.
The announced attendance was 35,061.
Mark Krieg of Cincinnati's West Side says the atmosphere was amazing despite the home team being, "way outmatched, talent-wise. But to see this many fans and this many people at a soccer game in Cincinnati is awesome." He adds, "It means how many people are in this city that really enjoy soccer, and it means that we have a chance of this club becoming a big team in soccer, at least in America."
Did it matter if FC Cincinnati won or lost this match? "No, it doesn't matter if they don't win," says Krieg. "I fully expect them to lose five to zero."
In the end, FC Cincinnati did lose, though not as badly as Krieg predicted. The final score was 2-nil with Jordan Mutch and Wilfred Zaha scoring goals for Crystal Palace in the 8th and 63rd minutes.
Crystal Palace FC Head Coach Alan Pardew said the crowd's enthusiasm for its club is phenomenal.
"If we can help push this club up a division, then so be it," said Pardew. "But where it is right now, they've got the city where they want 'em and they just got to keep it there now by playing good football."
"It's been a special time (in Cincinnati), certainly I've never experienced the reaction we've had, this football club, anywhere else, even when I was at Newcastle."
FC Cincinnati Head Coach John Harkes also praised the crowd and his players. "Wow, what a great day that was… just a fantastic occasion."
Harkes says it wasn't about winning but giving everyone a chance to play. "You always want to get players to develop. The only way to develop and create opportunities for them is for them to get games and get minutes like this. And when you get a chance to challenge some of the better players at the highest level of the Premier League, I thought the boys responded extremely well."
Harkes says he was impressed by the chances his players created against what he called two of the tougher center backs in the Premier League. "From my perspective," he says, "we were unlucky not to score."
Forward Omar Cummings says the team will use this experience to improve and will take what they learned as they head into a tough league match against the New York Red Bulls II. He too was impressed with the loud crowd.
"From the start of the game, to get that roar, that atmosphere from the fans, it was amazing. To see that in Cincinnati, it was absolutely great."
USL Division Standing
United Soccer League (USL) President Jake Edwards was in Cincinnati for Saturday's friendly. He says the league knew FC Cincinnati would do well, but the team has exceeded expectations massively.
FC Cincinnati's ownership has made no secret that it would like to eventually move the club up to the top flight of American soccer, Major League Soccer (MLS). Edwards says, "If that happens here one day in the future, that's because they've done it correctly for a number of years, they've built a really good club. If that happens, we're very proud that they've done that in our league."
The USL is currently the third division of U.S. soccer, though it is petitioning to be moved up to second division standing. Edwards says a decision is expected by the end of summer. "We're hoping to hear in the next few weeks," he says. "They're wrapping up their due diligence. They're sending folks out to our teams now; they're inspecting some of our clubs. They're spending time with our owners. They've got a few more weeks of due diligence to go and then we're hoping to hear in the next month or so."
See More Pictures From The FC Cincinnati vs Crystal Palace Game: