FC Cincinnati won on the pitch Saturday, giving itself home-field advantage through the Eastern Conference playoffs. That was near-inevitable but certainly worth celebrating. The club also won off the pitch, welcoming an out-of-town supporter into a team photo after the match — a moment he’ll remember well after the playoffs are finished.
Paul Thiergartner, an FC Cincinnati fan from Philadelphia, reached out to Emmanuel Ledesma and Dekel Keinan in a Twitter video on Wednesday. Thiergartner, who is deaf, stated through sign language subtitled in the video that he’d be in attendance Saturday in Harrisburg — about 100 miles from Philadelphia — and wanted Ledesma and Keinan to autograph a picture of them.
Thiergartner has family in Cincinnati and comes to visit every summer, he wrote via e-mail on Sunday. He was in attendance for last year’s international friendly against Valencia.
“I had a great time but I wasn’t satisfied,” Thiergartner wrote. “I wanted more so I went the game (on July 14 against Tampa Bay).”
After the match that night, Thiergartner met some of the players behind the FCC bench, he wrote, and Ledesma took a selfie with him using Thiergartner’s phone.
The picture Thiergartner wanted signed on Saturday was of Keinan and Ledesma celebrating after Keinan scored on a free kick from Ledesma in the 80th minute against Pittsburgh on Sept. 1. Thiergartner watched the match from home.
When Keinan scored, “I screamed really loud (which scared my dog),” Thiergartner wrote. “That’s why I printed a photo of them because that was the moment I knew they are my favorite.”
Both Ledesma and Keinan accepted Thiergartner’s request for Saturday, with Ledesma adding he’d try to score a goal for Thiergartner. Ledesma came through in the 68th minute, sending home a rebound off an Emery Welshman shot to level the match at 1-1.
“I promised a special fan,” said Ledesma after the match according to an FC Cincinnati news release. “He told me on Twitter he was coming and he wanted a signature on a picture — it was an amazing picture of me and Dekel — I said, ‘Yes, of course.’ I said, ‘If I score a goal, it’s for you,’ and that’s why I pointed to him. I couldn’t go to him (in the stands) because it was a tie and we wanted to win the game. I got the ball and went to the middle (to continue play), but this goal is just for him.”
Afterward, Ledesma and Keinan delivered on their promise, taking the photo to be signed and inviting Thiergartner down to the pitch. Thiergartner climbed down the wall and exchanged hugs with a few players.
“That part was hilarious when Emmanuel came to me and told me to get down,” Thiergartner wrote. “I asked him how, and his response was ‘I don’t know but I want you to be here.’ Then Dekel told me to come down and my mind was like, ‘Did Dekel and Emmanuel just tell me to jump over the fence? Well, why not. I’m not going to miss that opportunity.’ After I got on the field and Emmanuel told all FCC players to come over, I was shocked because I thought they were still celebrating being Eastern Conference Champions.”
Then the club gave Thiergartner more than he requested. Ledesma summoned the team over for an impromptu group photo with Thiergartner in the middle.
Thiergartner wrote he hopes to make it to a playoff game in October but isn’t sure how his class schedule at Penn State will work out.
“Any fans who are not rooting for FCC, they are missing out,” Thiergartner wrote. “I’m being serious, FCC players are AMAZING. Don’t forget about the fans too! When I posted a video on Twitter for Emmanuel and Dekel, the FCC fans helped me get their attentions.”