When FC Cincinnati took to the stage in the USL Championship in 2016, they immediately had big ambitions.
In just three seasons of unprecedented and impressive attendance for a second division soccer franchise, West Ohio’s professional soccer team would be promoted to Major League Soccer.
Today (1:30 p.m. kickoff from Cincinnati, OH) the Pittsburgh Riverhounds will see them again. The clubs will face each other in a pre-season friendly game for both sides, which is just a chance for both clubs to get to know the players who are fighting for the season and preparing for their respective season.
For a very short period of time, Cincinnati FC provided pretty good foil for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC.
After all, everything was contrary to what they did in building their franchise, as opposed to how the Riverhounds evolved.
Cincinnati’s group of owners, led by Carl Linder, CEO of American Financial Group, had ambitious plans and invested heavily in the interest and fans to support the team. They invested heavily in local media buying and advertising. They were ready to offer higher salaries to free agents in order to build a club that would do well at the USL championship level but always aspired to become a Major League Soccer franchise. More than 20,000 people flocked to games at Nippert Stadium on the University of Cincinnati campus. With the plan to build a new, football-specific facility, they would eventually secure a spot in Major League Soccer for the 2019 season.
Pittsburgh is a city similar in size to Cincinnati, but the histories of its professional football clubs are very different. Working without the same ambitions and deep pockets, the Hounds have managed to survive and persevere in the pro scene in the second and third division for more than 20 years.
When the teams first met on the field in 2016, the Hounds fell apart after a disastrous start to the season that resulted in USL Hall of Fame coach Mark Steffens being fired and replaced by Dave Brandt. They failed to beat the newly promoted Cincinnati in three games this season, losing twice but struck a highly competitive goalless draw at Highmark Stadium towards the end of the season when future Manchester City and USMNT goalkeeper Zach Steffen made some great ones Performed saves to get a clean sheet.
Zack Steffen = brick wall. The beauty of a parade keeps the match goalless. #PGHvCIN pic.twitter.com/LjtVOHlrJ9
– Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (@RiverhoundsSC) September 15, 2016
In 2017, Brandt’s first (and only) full campaign as the Hounds head coach, Pittsburgh would also face the FCC three times.
After the first game in Pittsburgh this season, a 1-0 FCC win, we created this YouTube video titled “A Soccer Rivalry In The Work”.
Those games were much more competitive in 2017, including a memorable showdown in early September at Nippert in front of more than 22,000 fans, in which the Hounds had some chance of winning but still played admirably in the battle for a 1-1 draw. By this point, the Hounds had built up some momentum, had a record of .500, and were within the playoff line.
Dogs hold out, fighting FCC with a 1-1 draw
It turns out that the draw marked the beginning of the end of the short-lived Dave Brandt era in Piittsburgh, as the Hounds wouldn’t win a match for the remainder of the playoffs and find a possible rematch against FCC this season.
After Bob Lilley was hired by the Hounds head coach in 2018, Pittsburgh became an instant playoff team, but one team they couldn’t pass was Cincinnati FC, which began adding MLS-level talent to their roster. The FCC sprinted in a record-breaking campaign that season well ahead of the rest of the USL Eastern Conference field.
The Hounds gave them some tough games this season.
In April, the teams played an exciting 2-2 draw at Nippert in an intermittent open game when the Hounds surrendered their first goals of the season after an impressive series of shutouts that spanned the first five games.
“That was an exciting football game” Alan KochThe then head coach of FC Cincinnati said in his post-game interview: “It was a tactical game of chess. You have adapted. We have adapted. You have adapted. We have adapted. I am very proud of the way we have responded to our group. “
CINvPGH analysis & player marks: The exciting chess game at Nippert ends in a draw
The Hounds were undefeated for the first month of this season.
The FCC came to Highmark for an Open Cup game in May, which showed they were the lower club. With the midweek game that forced both clubs to use numerous non-starters, the FCC shot past Pittsburgh and scored an impressive 3-1 win in Pittsburgh to advance the tournament.
It really looked like the Hounds and the FCC were fighting for the wire, and many were thinking of the postseason this year.
The next time they met, they met again on the early Labor Day weekend in Nippert in front of more than 25,000 fans. This time the Hounds made it to the FCC again and took the lead. They held onto a 1-0 lead for the last 10 minutes before the bottom fell out.
The FCC scored two goals in the final leg of the game to beat the Hounds 2-1 and keep their impressive winning streak alive.
Front-running FC Cincy rallies with two late goals to Top Hounds, 2-1
The frustration after that match from the Hounds, and in this case, this interview with Joe Greenspan, was evident. If the Hounds had a chance to catch the FCC, winning that night would have helped.
“I think what this week (2-2 draw at Indy Eleven and 1-2 loss at FCC) showed was that we can play with anyone, at home or away,” added Lilley. “We’re not going to hang our heads on these. We have reported well about ourselves. It’s certainly not a moral win, but it’s nothing to deal with other than playing it again in the regular season. There’s a good chance we’ll meet them in the playoffs somewhere and we don’t have to be afraid to play them. “
The teams would meet again in Pittsburgh at the end of the season for an anti-climactic, goalless tie, as the game had no impact as the FCC had already secured the top spot in the USL’s Eastern Conference and the Hounds were slotted in third place .
FINAL: Riverhounds SC 0, FC Cincinnati 0
There would be no rematch in the playoffs.
Perhaps it was appropriate that they didn’t meet this postseason and that the clubs ended up going their separate ways.
In the end, it was a rivalry that had no chance from the start.
John Krysinsky has covered football and other sports for many years for various publications and media. He is also the author of ‘Miracle on the Mon’ – a book about the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC that chronicles the club, particularly the early years of Highmark Stadium, the narrative leading to and centering on a remarkable game that sparked triggered for the franchise. John has reported sports for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, DK Pittsburgh Sports, and Pittsburgh Sports Report, was the color commentator on Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC broadcasts, and worked with OPTA Stats and broadcast teams for US Open Cup and International Champions Cup games in the United States together . Krysinsky was also the head coach for men’s soccer at his alma mater, Point Park University, where he led the pioneers to the first winning seasons and playoff berths (1996-98). Head Coach of the North Catholic Boys (2007-08), Deputy Head Coach of the Boys of the Shady Side Academy (2009-2014).