The USL smashed its single-week attendance record on Sunday night, with a total of 74,627 fans attending USL games over the past seven days as fans flocked to be part of the action in the fastest-growing soccer league in the world. The cumulative attendance was more than 9,000 fans greater than the previous number, set in Week 24 of the 2015 USL season.
Led by FC Cincinnati’s USL single-game record attendance of 23,375 on Saturday night, one of six sellout crowds across the week’s action, the USL’s fans provided a brilliant backdrop to some outstanding action on the field across the United States and Canada.
“I couldn’t be happier for each and every one of our 29 teams,” said Jake Edwards, President of the USL. “The effort put forth by everyone in the League is paying off with our teams averaging a better than 20% attendance increase from the same point last season. Our goal was to build a national professional soccer league with strong local ownership and a schedule based on regional rivalries. Soccer fans across the country have responded.”
With the exception of the Charleston Battery’s sellout crowd of 5,481 at MUSC Health Stadium, each of the remaining five sellouts came at clubs which have joined the league in the past three seasons. That fact serves as testament to the USL’s commitment to strong local ownership, outstanding stadium plans and local passion for the sport of soccer that have been the three pillars required by the USL when considering expansion markets.
Each of the league’s expansion clubs since the start of the 2014 season have brought a heightened level of professionalism and competitiveness to the league, with one of the most recent additions in FC Cincinnati a shining example. The club’s remarkable success at the box office has seen it eclipse even the highest expectations the club had when it was unveiled last year, with an average attendance of 17,462 fans through its first four home games at the newly-renovated Nippert Stadium. The club's progress has delighted of all those associated with the team.
Photo courtesy FC Cincinnati
“We want to thank all of our fans and the Greater Cincinnati community overall for embracing FC Cincinnati in such an extraordinary manner,” said Owner Carl Lindner III, the former owner of the Cincinnati Reds, on Saturday. “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.”
The standard-bearer in the USL’s new era of strong local ownership since being awarded a franchise in 2012, Sacramento Republic FC continued its remarkable 34-game USL sellout streak on Saturday night as 11,569 fans packed into Bonney Field for a 2-0 win against Seattle Sounders FC 2. The addition four years ago of Sacramento and OKC Energy FC could easily be looked at as a major off-the-field turning point in the USL’s young history, with Sacramento players and staff thrilled for the energy and passion their fans bring every matchday.
“It’s amazing,” said goalkeeper Dominik Jakubek after Saturday’s game. “It’s so cool. The city supports us, and is behind us 130,000 percent. Words can’t explain what it means to play in front of these people.”
Photo courtesy Sacramento Republic FC
2015 expansion side Louisville City FC also continued to bring big crowds to Slugger Field, with a season-high attendance of 7,859 on hand for the first meeting between the hosts and Saint Louis FC for the King’s Cup on Saturday night. Colorado Springs Switchback FC, meanwhile, set a new all-time high for attendance at Switchbacks Stadium on Friday night as it took a 1-0 victory against the Portland Timbers 2 in the USL Game of the Week on ESPN3.
“Last night was the best crowd and energy we've seen yet here in Colorado Springs,” said Switchbacks President Nick Ragain on Saturday. “We are nearing a critical mass of support that I believe will begin showing Colorado Springs that we are a soccer town to be reckoned with.”
The biggest headline of the weekend went to Cincinnati, though, as it drew plaudits from soccer pundits across the United States in leading a remarkable week for the USL. As the league continues to push higher both in quality of play on the field, quality of ownership groups joining the league, and levels of fan support in the stands, the USL appears set on the right path to a bright future.
“It’s great for the country and for football,” said Jakubek. “The players are better, the teams are better, it’s quality football out there, you know? I’m not surprised, I expect it to keep growing. It’s awesome that Cincinnati is doing that, I hope they keep doing it, and I hope other teams catch a wave and do it too, because this sport’s amazing.”