The Orange and Blue are the latest expansion team to become a success with fans. Major League Soccer appears to have done its research

Cincinnati

Before Atlanta United, expansion teams in Major League Soccer were given something of a free pass. Between 1997, when the Chicago Fire became the divisions first expansion franchise, and 2016, when The Five Stripes entered the fray, only one expansion side (Seattle Sounders) made the play-offs in their first season. It was outlandish to expect anything more than that from a team typically assembled from scratch in the of weeks. All that changed with Atlanta, though.

While some teams are still waiting to break their Cup duck (looking at you, New York Red Bulls), Atlanta United managed to win the title in just two seasons. Not only that, they did so having triggered a soccer awakening in the city, drawing record-breaking crowds. Now, all expansion teams will, fairly or unfairly, be measured by what Tata Martino, Miguel Almiron, Josef Martinez et al achieved.

FC Cincinnati, however, are so far measuring up rather well. They have lost jt two of their opening five fixtures, putting them in the playoff places in the Eastern Conference.

They dont have an Almiron or a Martinez, but coach Alan Koch and the front office have put together an exciting, dynamic group of players. Former Vancouver forward Kekuta Manneh has hit the ground running, international Kenny Saief, signed on loan from Anderlecht in the off-season, is in the form of his le, while in Nick Hagglund and Greg Garza the Orange and Blue have a defensive foundation steeped in recent MLS Cup success. Garza, of course, was a championship-winner with Atlanta jt last year.

But its more than jt s on-the-field results that have caught the eye. Jt as in Atlanta, a communitys passion for soccer has been roed, with a sell-out crowd of 32,250 fans recorded for s home opener. Footage bounced around social of the March To The Match which filled the streets around Nippert Stadium before kick off. The sight of thonds upon thonds of fans clad in orange and blue was so striking that some with tongues in cheek – questioned the authenticity of the images. This couldnt really be happening in Cincinnati, could it?

Perhaps we shouldnt be surprised. While Atlantas rise was somewhat unexpected, Cincinnati has long been hailed as a cradle of soccer in North . Some put that down to the citys German heritage. Others simply point to a well-run L outfit which harnessed the local soccer community, attracting huge crowds to Nippert Stadium, years before MLS entry. Whatever the reason, in Cincinnati feels right.

After this season, expansion teams may have another yardstick with which to measure themselves. Teams of more modest resources may talk about doing a Cincinnati rather than doing an Atlanta with the move to Ohio jt another indicator of s recent success in picking expansion locations. the 2014 introduction of New York City FC and Orlando City can be considered the start of Phase Three in the leagues development, barely a misstep has been made since then. Atlanta United, Minnesota United, Los Angeles FC, the two aforementioned teams and, of course, have all added something worthwhile to , contributing to the overall prosperity of North s fasting-growing league.

The process of picking an expansion location can be a fraught one. is an attractive proposition right now and so the league could, it wanted to, stretch into every market in North . Jt look at the competition for the final spot on the leagues current expansion timeline – interest has been registered, at one point or another, from groups in Charleston, Charlotte, Detroit, Las Vegas, Louisville, Oklahoma City, Sacramento, San Antonio, San Diego and St Louis. Not every market is right for , though, and so the league mt plot its route carefully.

The expansion of Inter Miami will be a real test of s strategy. South Florida was, of course, previoly home to an franchise, but the Miami Fion famoly failed to attract the local soccer community and folded amid financial dficulty after jt four seasons. Ownership issues might have been the primary cae of death for the Fion, but Miami is notorio for being an exceptionally challenging market. What will Inter Miami, who will also play in Fort Lauderdale at first, do that their predecessors didnt?

Success in Miami might ease the need for to be quite so forensic in its expansion plans. the league can make it there, it can make it anywhere, or at least that would be the argument. Until then, however, new teams and new cities mt be picked carefully. has got things right in recent years and the sight of , a well-constructed team playing in front of sell-out crowds, is jt another sign of that.

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