Major League Soccer announced Tuesday that FC Cincinnati would be ready to take the pitch for the 2019 season, making them the 26th MLS team.

FC Cincinnati MLS expansion
FC Cincinnati forward Jimmy McLaughlin celebrates after a win over Chicago Fire in the 2017 US Open Cup. FC Cincinnati will be joining MLS as an expansion franchise in 2019. (Image: The Enquirer/Kareem Elgazzar)

FC Cincinnati already exists as a professional soccer franchise. The team currently competes in the United Soccer League (USL), which is considered to be on the second tier of the sport in the United States.

Major League Upgrade

MLS currently consists of 23 teams. FC Cincinnati is the third expansion team to be approved by the league, following Miami and Nashville. However, those other two teams are expected to join the league in 2020 rather than next season.

Cincinnati will begin their MLS journey by playing in the University of Cincinnatis Nippert Stadium, which they have used since 2016. A new 21,000-seat venue is expected to be ready for use by the team in 2021.

The new stadium made Cincinnati attractive to MLS officials. Located in the trendy West End of the city, owner Carl Linder III and city officials agreed on a deal that will see him and his partners finance the stadium, while the city contributes $34 million towards infrastructure.

The league may also have been impressed by FC Cincinnatis enormous fan base. Though they play in the USL, the club has drawn an average of more than 24,000 fans to their games this season, with some high-profile matches drawing more than 30,000 supporters. (The USL’s average attendance in 2017 is 4,301 per game.)

The rise of Cincinnati as a passionate soccer market in recent years, coinciding with the citys growing economy and reputation as a top destination for young professionals makes it an ideal city for our growing league, MLS commissioner Don Garber said at a ceremony on Tuesday. We congratulate Carl Lindner and his partners, and also the soccer fans of Cincinnati, who have passionately supported FC Cincinnati in the USL.

Rapid Expansion Pressures

The biggest challenge for the Cincinnati franchise may be the short time they have to turn their club into an MLS team. Theres only eight months before next years preseason camps open, and plenty of issues to deal with in the meantime.

Theyve got to build out their organization, Garber said after the ceremony. Theyve got to expand their employee base, theyve got to think about how theyre going to approach differently or not their technical side.

Other issues include having to build an academy for youth players, as well as putting together a roster that conforms to MLS salary rules. Theres likely to be nervousness among players currently on the squad: while head coach Alan Koch has said that everyone on the current roster will get a close look, its certain that some replacements will be made to bring the on-field product up to the level of other MLS sides.

If Cincinnati wants to compete right away, there is a recent expansion franchise for them to emulate. Atlanta United FC only joined MLS in 2017, but made the playoffs in their very first campaign. They now sit atop the Eastern Conference standings, and are the betting favorites to win this years MLS Cup. Bet365 lists Atlanta United at 6/1 to win a title this season, ahead of New York City FC (7/1), the Portland Timbers (9/1) and Sporting Kansas City (9/1).

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