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FC Cincinnati granted MLS expansion franchise to start play in 2019

Cincinnati has jumped the line. They’ll enter the league before Nashville and Miami.

Crystal Palace FC v FC Cincinnati Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

One of America’s best soccer crowds is going to get to cheer on an MLS team as early as next season. On Tuesday, the league announced that Cincinnati had been granted an expansion franchise.

FC Cincinnati is the 26th team to be admitted to MLS, but they’ll be the 24th team in the league. As SI’s Brian Straus reported last week, FC Cincinnati will join MLS for the 2019 season. Nashville will join the league in 2020, while Miami will enter the league at a time still yet to be determined.

While Cincinnati will have to make a slew of roster moves to be competitive in a higher division, their on-field success is likely a contributing factor to the team making an immediate step up. Cincinnati defeated the Columbus Crew and Chicago Fire in U.S. Open Cup last season, and they currently sit second in the USL’s Eastern Conference. They have multiple players with MLS and European experience who will be given a chance to make their MLS roster.

Cincinnati will be one of the smallest markets to get an MLS team — it’s the 36th-ranked media market by Nielson. But thanks to regular crowds of over 30,000 fans and their locally-based billionaire owner, Cincinnati was a favorite to win a team during this round of MLS expansion.

Despite the excellent crowds at the University of Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium, the league wanted FCC to secure a deal for its own ground before granting them a spot in the league, and they reached a deal with local government in April. FC Cincinnati will build their stadium in the West End neighborhood on the site of an existing high school stadium and will build a replacement school facility nearby. The team is expected to play at Nippert Stadium for their first two MLS seasons, then move into their permanent home in 2021.