The scene FC Cincinnati president and general manager Jeff Berding envisioned two months ago crystallized Saturday night as a sellout crowd of 35,061 – the largest to ever watch a soccer game in Ohio – packed Nippert Stadium to watch a soccer game that didn’t count but meant plenty.
“We certainly were hopeful that the first time the English Premier League came to Cincinnati we would sell it out,” Berding said just before kickoff of the team’s international friendly against Crystal Palace.
“There’s been an enormous buzz around town, and I think it just shows the interest in soccer,” Berding added. “Soccer is the world’s sport, and Crystal Palace is bringing the world to Cincinnati.”
Palace, which is in the middle of a three-match North American exhibition tour ahead of next month’s opening of EPL play, won the match 2-0.
Midfielder Jordan Mutch rocketed a blast from 25 yards out in the eighth minute, and midfielder Wilfred Zaha doubled the advantage in the 63rd minute.
“Wow, what a great day that was,” FCC manager John Harkes said. “Just a fantastic occasion. I remember last night, (CP manager) Alan Pardew saying to me before he went up on the podium, ‘John, I just hope it’s loud tomorrow.’ I said ‘I don’t think you have anything to worry about it.’ We’re a very proud city, we get behind our club, and the fans stood up and applauded everybody, both teams. I thought it was excellent.”
In its inaugural season, FCC already was leading the United Soccer League in attendance at 16,442, including a USL record 25,375 on May 14, five days before the Crystal Palace match was announced.
Saturday’s sellout crowd was a mixture of the rowdy, vocal supporters the team has been attracting all season, along with some hardcore international fans interested in seeing some of the best players in the world, about 150 Palace supporters and a large number of newcomers getting their first taste of FCC action.
West Chester resident Karen Reynolds, who along her husband Steve and two sons were decked out in FCC blue and orange, said the publicity surrounding the game is what led them to buy tickets earlier in the week.
“We’re not huge soccer fans, but we came down to see what the buzz was about,” she said. “The atmosphere is great, and it’s exciting to be part of something like this. We’ll definitely be back.”
While it was a record crowd, it was not the first time Cincinnati was part of a soccer attendance milestone. In 2004 the U.S. Women’s National Team drew a crowd of 18,806 to Paul Brown Stadium on an NFL Sunday afternoon in October.
It was the largest crowd the national team played before in 2004, which was one year after America hosted the women’s World Cup.
Anticipating the crush of fans, FCC opened the gates 90 minutes before kickoff instead of the customary 60, and people wasted no time pouring in and getting loud.
“The crowd tonight and the atmosphere was phenomenal,” Pardew said. “It’s not often you get an atmosphere like that in a preseason game, not actually in some of our league games in the Premiership. Hats off to everybody who turned out tonight.”
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