FC Cincinnati and Crystal Palace are playing a friendly match on July 16, 2016 at Nippert Stadium. Yes, you read that right: the first year,third tier, American team FC Cincinnati is playing F.A. Cup finalists and European side Crystal Palace. This gives Crystal Palace three games in North America, along with MLS clubs Philadelphia Union on July 13 and the Vancouver Whitecaps on July 19.
For FC Cincinnati, this is a huge coup beacuase it is their first season, and they set the league attendance record in their second home game and broke it again in their fourth home game. FC Cincinnati is exceeding expectations in every category from attendance, to on the field play, where they are currently fourth in the Eastern Conference. Their first goal was even on ESPN Sportscenter’s Top 10. They have also gotten international attention from the Guardian.com.
The MLS has to be taking notice of FC Cincinnati’s success and this is where getting Crystal Palace is even more important. FC Cincinnati is the only USL club to host a Premier League team and one of two teams outside the MLS (the second tier NASL Carolina Railhawks are hosting West Ham United.) Their home game attendance average is 17,462 over their first four home games and they have 20% of the total USL attendance. They are also averaging more fans than six MLS teams.
While getting into the MLS is still a long shot, it is better than when I last discussed it here. The MLS is expanding from their current 20 teams to 23 by 2018 with teams in Atlanta, Minnesota, and Los Angeles, with a team pending a stadium deal in Miami to take them to 24.
Some of the same problems persis: they don’t have their own stadium, they play on artificial turf and there are a lot of cities that are vying for the next round of expansion. One big plus on the stadium front is that FC Cincinnati is paying for renovations being made to the first few rows in the horseshoe to make for a longer playing surface.
While many fans are getting excited for the Crystal Palace to come play in Cincinnati, it could just be a step in getting the MLS in Cincinnati. With the MLS expanding to 28 teams in the future, by 2022 or 2024, this could be the stepping-stone needed.