MLS announced FC Cincinnati as the league’s 24th team to play on May 29, 2018. The Orange and Blue kicked off their first league match just 277 days later, on March 2. It was the shortest runway for an expansion team in MLS history.
Compare that to Los Angeles FC, which had 1,221 days — well over three years — to prepare for MLS play as a new team last year. The 10 expansion teams entering before FC Cincinnati had an average of 749.5 days, or more than two years.
Even with such a short time frame for FC Cincinnati to convert from a USL club to MLS, commissioner Don Garber expressed no doubt the Orange and Blue would be ready on and off the pitch for that first game in Seattle.
“We would not have had them come into the league on that short runway if we didn’t think they were capable of pulling it off,” Garber told Cincinnati reporters during halftime of Sunday’s home opener at Nippert Stadium. He discussed expansion, FC Cincinnati’s new stadium and other matters.
“They had the USL team operating on a very high level,” he said. “They had an organization that was operating at a higher level than the league that they were in.”
FC Cincinnati president and general manager Jeff Berding has been on record in the past as saying it was always his goal to play in MLS in the club’s fourth year.
Garber said he walked the new stadium site Sunday in the West End and ate lunch in Over-the-Rhine, an area that is “really very exciting.”
FC Cincinnati’s soccer-specific stadium opens in 2021. Compare that to New York City FC, which entered MLS in 2015 and is still searching for a stadium location. Garber said projects such as these “always get done. It just is never easy.”
Sunday was a celebration of a historic day. Garber helped with the festivities but said the club needs a long vision to keep the momentum rolling and be successful in his league.
“I’ve got a lot of faith in Jeff Berding,” Garber said. “He’s a seasoned sports executive. They’ve built this team very quickly and put all the pieces together. I’ve reminded them that this isn’t easy. That sometimes you’ve got to not really get too excited about how well things are going but think about what’s going to happen six months from now, a year from now, five years from now, 10 years from now. And I know they’re very focused on that. The Lindner family’s very successful business people and have been around the block. I’m confident that they’ll figure it out.”
Garber conceded that it took his trip to Nippert Stadium to watch the U.S. Open Cup semifinal match against the New York Red Bulls on Aug. 15, 2017, to understand what was happening in Cincinnati.
In fact, the magnitude and speed of Cincinnati’s rise are leading Garber to change the way he thinks about future expansion teams.
Nashville SC and Inter Miami CF enter next season, with Austin FC following in 2021. But in the future, expansion could happen in any U.S. market, Garber said, if that market had the right plan.
“When we started this process, we were thinking about markets that had soccer history as one of the key drivers as to whether the team would be successful,” he said. “I’m convinced now that soccer can be successful in any market in this country at the MLS level. And if you think about what’s going on with the USL, they’re launching lots of teams and they’re having success at the lower levels. It’s part of this soccer movement that’s happening in the U.S. and Canada — people growing up with the game and seeing the success of our clubs that are really passionately driving a lot of emotion in communities. I am 100 percent sure that there isn’t a market that MLS wouldn’t succeed in if we had the right owner and the right stadium plan.”