Jeff Ruby Culinary Entertainment

Opticare Vision/Express Mobile Transport

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

FC Cincinnati vs. Louisville City FC

FTM file. 
It's tough to call the fourth game of any season a statement game, let alone in FC Cincinnati's inaugural season, but Saturday's derby game against Louisville City FC may just be that. With 27 games still to go on their schedule, both FC Cincinnati and Louisville City FC sport identical records at 2-1-0 and six points on the table.

Louisville City FC had a successful first season in the USL's Eastern Conference, finishing second last year.

An online contest to name the trophy for the winner of the season head-to-head contest garnered about 1,000 votes and had some wondering whether or not a rivalry could be declared with no history between between the two clubs.

FC Cincinnati Head Coach John Harkes doesn't believe the rivalry between the teams is manufactured.

"When you have a close proximity and a group that's already been in the league and the playoffs last year, they are a hundred miles away. That's a rival. It's the first game between us as clubs, but over a period of time that's going to grow," he said. "The fan bases are actually the ones that create the rivalry. You already see the heckling coming in and the tweets and that's good. It creates a little bit more bragging rights in this area and that's good for the game."

Harkes said from a game perspective, they are approaching it like any other game. After the Saturday game, they got back to training and film on Tuesday.

FC Cincinnati midfielder, Eric Stevenson, has a little more to play for on Saturday. Stevenson, who is working back into form from an injury and Louisville City midfielder, Aodhan Quinn, played college soccer together at Akron. He said they text occasionally, but the tone of their conversations this week has changed a little.

"I've been joking with him, telling him I'm going to tackle him hard when I get a chance. It's fun but at the same time, it's an import game and they are a good team, but I really want to beat them," he said. "Every team has to have their rival team and the game will just be a little more amped up. This game will probably be a little chippy too. Manufactured or not, it's still a rival."
FTM file. 

Goalkeeper Mitch Hildebrandt said he lost his voice in the first half last week because he was trying to yell over a raucous crowd and is looking forward to good weather, which should break the league-high attendance mark of 14,658 set last week at Nippert Stadium.

"With their fans coming and our fans it's going to be great. We're building something really special here and all of us can feel it. It's cliche, but our 12th man is The Bailey, and hopefully they keep coming out," he said.

In an interview with The Cincinnati Business Courier, FC Cincinnati president and general manager, Jeff Berding compared his team and Louisville City's new series to Cardinals or Cubs fans at a Reds game or Steelers fans at a Bengals game. The locals want to drown out the opposition’s fans.

“We’ve long known Cincinnati is a great baseball town, great football town and a strong supporter of college basketball. We now know that Cincinnati is a big-league soccer town. We found that if you present things in a top-level, professional manner, people will support us.”

Rivalry aside, the match should be pretty even. The Lions are currently ranked #8 in the USL Power Rankings, with Louisville coming in at #10 in the 29-team league. The team is staffing up concession and merchandise staff in preparation for bigger crowds.

Midfielder, Corben Bone, has been playing with confidence since scoring a long-range volley against KR Reykjavic in the preseason. He said he's believes the excitement from last week will carry over and that the team is feeling good about the way they are coming together.

"Louisville came into the league last year and had a pretty good team and fan base. Then our fans come out and set a record on our home opener in our first game ever. (Louisville) sees that and are probably thinking they need to step it up a bit more, but I think our fans showed them up a little bit and that's got to boost our rivalry," he said.

For Harkes, it's clear he's happy with his team's progression and is overjoyed with the atmosphere the fans have provided.

"A lot of our guys haven't been in that type of environment that we had against Charlotte, but I was very proud of how quickly they matured throughout the game and used that a positive energy. The crowd absolutely gave us a lift. Their passion and knowledge of the game. During the 18th minute of the game I looked at my assistant coach and asked him, 'where are we?' 

It felt like a Bundesliga game."