Photo courtesy FC Cincinnati
CINCINNATI – It was a day everyone who was on hand when FC Cincinnati was launched last year had expected to arrive. An evening that saw the club set a USL all-time single-game attendance record with an exceptional crowd of 23,375 fans at Nippert Stadium just four home games into the club’s history was one that had arrived maybe even sooner than Owner Carl Lindner III had anticipated.
“On this record-setting day, we want to thank all of our fans and the Greater Cincinnati community overall for embracing FC Cincinnati in such an extraordinary manner,” said Lindner after his side had earned a 1-0 win against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds on Saturday evening. “As a new professional team, we have been overwhelmed with your support which has only confirmed what we long believed, that Cincinnati is one of the top soccer cities in the nation, where civic pride as a major-league community has brought people together in support of our team.”
After setting a USL regular-season record on April 16 when 20,497 fans turned out to see the side begin its rivalry with Louisville City FC, the arrival of the Pittsburgh Riverhounds brought a storied rivalry between the two cities to Nippert Stadium. With six members of the Cincinnati Bengals on hand as honorary captains, FC Cincinnati’s players continued to be awed by the support the club had generated already this season.
“I think the whole community in Cincinnati is out here,” said goalkeeper Mitch Hildebrandt. “When you walk down Cincinnati and people are wearing our hats and clothing and people are talking about it, it’s exciting. We’ll keep getting better every game and fans will be excited about it.”
As the club broke the previous mark set by Orlando City SC of 20,886 fans at the 2013 USL Championship, a special night brought numerous special performances. Among them was Hildebrandt’s, as Cincinnati earned its first shutout in club history.
Of all of them, though, it was diminutive winger Jimmy McLaughlin who shone the brightest with a Man of the Match performance that was capped by his second goal in as many games.
A former Homegrown player for the Philadelphia Union, who while on loan helped the Harrisburg City Islanders reach the 2014 USL Championship, McLaughlin was a threat whenever he touched the ball on Saturday night, and was rewarded with the only goal of the game in the 27th minute. After drifting inside from the right, McLaughlin’s run was found by a good through-ball by Sean Okoli. While his initial shot was saved, McLaughlin tucked home the rebound to send the record crowd into celebration.
“It was a great ball from [Paul] Nicholson and [Sean] Okoli,” McLaughlin said. “I kind of jumped over the initial pass and snuck through and lucky for me it popped back out and I could put it through.”
McLaughlin, who became the fourth Cincinnati player to record multiple goals this season in the win, has become as big a weapon in the attacking third as Okoli and Andrew Wiedeman for Cincinnati. His goal moved the side at least temporarily into a tie for first place in the Eastern Conference ahead of Louisville’s game later in the day as the side continues to progress in its inaugural season.
“Every day I go out and try to become a better player,” McLaughlin said. “If I’m scoring goals it’s great. If someone else is, that’s great. The best part about it is there is a lot of room for us to improve. We’re not content with where we are but we’ll keep pushing through.”
Another goal certainly would have helped calm the nerves of Cincinnati Coach John Harkes and the massive crowd in the stands, but a great performance on his debut for the Riverhounds by goalkeeper Mauricio Vargas denied them that opportunity. The Riverhounds fought gamely late on as they looked to steal a point on the road, only for Cincinnati to draw from the crowd to withstand them.
With a run of four home games coming up after next week’s trip to Charlotte, though, Cincinnati will be able to call on a powerful force behind them for the rest of the season as they look to continue what has already been a remarkable introduction to the USL.
“As a group we talked about how there would be an amazing crowd this weekend,” said Harkes. “They showed up and it was up to us to match their energy.”