FC Cincinnati hosted an international friendly against Crystal Palace FC at Nippert Stadium on Saturday evening in front of a sold out stadium. The 35,061 fans, who made up the largest crowd to ever attend a soccer game in Ohio, witnessed the home side fall 0-2 to the visitors from across the pond. In a match for which the final score was meaningless, the result could be enduring.
“The atmosphere was phenomenal,” said Crystal Palace manager Alan Pardew. “It’s not often you get an atmosphere like that in a preseason game, nor actually in a league game, in some of our league games in the Premiership.”
It was the atmosphere, the total experience, that was important tonight. Yes, FC Cincinnati has been drawing well and breaking USL attendance records since the beginning of the regular season. The friendly against Crystal Palace, though, exposed thousands of fans to FC Cincinnati soccer for the first time. After Saturday night, many of them will undoubtedly return.
“What a great day that was,” smiled FC Cincinnati head coach John Harkes after the match. “Just a fantastic occasion, really.”
On the pitch, Crystal Palace demonstrated the quality of a Premier League team and FA Cup runner-up. Their touches were cleaner, their passes were crisper, and their shots found the net on either side of intermission.
Crystal Palace opened the scoring in the eighth minute. Jordan Mutch found himself all alone with a clear line of sight at 30 yards away from goal. Mutch blasted a cannonball by FC Cincinnati goalkeeper Mitch Hildebrant to give the visitors a lead they would not relinquish.
It was not until the second half that Palace would double its lead. Wilfred Zaha put a move on Omar Mohammed that gave him just enough space to rip a shot from a difficult left of the goal. Dallas Jaye, who subbed on for Hildebrandt at the half, could not reach the ball as it flew inside the far post.
Cincinnati, though, was not totally over-matched. The hometown boys created a number of chances, but couldn’t quite find the mark. This was true even when a squadron of substitutes took to the pitch in the second half.
“From the big picture you always want to get players to develop. I thought our boys played really well. They created chances,” said Harkes. “Overall, big picture, the guys played really well. It was a great occasion for everyone, the city, the club, everyone.”
Surely, a third-tier club from America should not have been expected to beat a side from the English Premier League. That was never the purpose of this match. For FC Cincinnati, this was always about proving that it is a top notch club in every aspect. Viewed from that perspective, FC Cincinnati scored a golazo despite being shut out.
Pardew indicated, based on his experiences in the Queen City and with its soccer club, that he would not have guessed that FC Cincinnati was below the top tier of American football had he not already known better.
“I know this division is trying to grow, and the way that soccer is growing in the United States, this is going to be a very, very strong division,” said Pardew.
The Crystal Palace head man went on to say that FC Cincinnati could be a great club without changing divisions.
“They’ve already proven that,” he said.
Hopefully, Cincinnati soccer fans will latch onto this sentiment if the jump to MLS does not come to fruition quickly enough.