Cincinnati's newest professional sports team made its inaugural debut Saturday night. FC Cincinnati defeated Charlotte Independence 2-1 before a crowd of 14,658 at Nippert Stadium.
Despite the chilly weather, the crowd was loud and on its feet for the majority of the match. Fans in the official supporter section known as "The Bailey" waved flags, chanted, and set off blue and orange smoke flares.
Forward Sean Okoli scored the team's first ever home goal in the fifth minute. He called it a special moment especially with how loud the crowd was. "Sometimes it was so loud you couldn't even hear yourself think," he said. Defender Austin Berry notched the second goal in the 52nd minute. Charlotte's lone goal came from midfielder David Estrada. FC Cincinnati's record is now 2-1-0 after three games.
Jeff Heyob of Taylor Mill, Ky brought his son to the game and said they were enjoying the lively atmosphere. "We're avid soccer fans so this is part of our family culture.
"I was a (Columbus) Crew SC season ticket holder and I stopped being that and I'm a season ticket holder for FC Cincinnati now, so I'm hoping that we're going to build a fan base here that we can have an MLS (Major League Soccer) team," said Heyob.
Head Coach John Harkes praised the fans afterward saying the atmosphere was electric and not manufactured. He called the crowd knowledgeable and said its enthusiasm was proof that the city is excited about soccer.
General Manager Jeff Berding agreed. "We were pretty confident that if we built a great organization... we really thought that people would respond and we're incredibly grateful for everyone who came out tonight and created such a great environment."
The next goal is to sustain the attendance numbers and enthusiasm. He says ticket sales are doing well for next week's game and season ticket sales are somewhere around 5,000. "There's some things we'll look to do a little better in advance of the Louisville game. We'll probably have some more points of sale for merchandise, maybe a few more ticket selling staff. You never know what you're going to have until you have the first game."
FC Cincinnati plays in the USL (United Soccer League), the third division of U.S. Soccer. The club joined the league this year after being announced in August 2015. Majority owner Carl Lindner III said he wanted to bring a soccer franchise to Cincinnati because it's a "sport that has tremendous growth."
Lindner and the team have their sights set on moving up to MLS. Berding has said the plan is to be in MLS within five year.
The team next plays Louisville City FC April 16 at Nippert Stadium at 7 p.m.