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The evolution of the Dirty River Derby

On Saturday Louisville City will host arch-rival FC Cincinnati at Slugger Field. In the 15 months since LCFC and FCC inaugurated their rivalry (a 3-2 City victory), this rivalry has blossomed into the best in the USL, and one of the best at any level of American soccer.

The source of any rivalry is complex and multifaceted. While many sports rivalries seem contrived and without any substantive passion, the LouCity/FCC disdain appears to be genuine. That’s pretty remarkable given that the teams have only met in competitive play five times.

Before proceeding any further, let’s take a moment to recognize our friends upriver for the positive elements of their club and fan base. We must give credit where credit is due:

  • FC Cincinnati has incredible fan support.

  • Nippert Stadium is a great venue for soccer.

  • FC Cincinnati has made a fantastic run in the US Open Cup this season, including victories against Columbus Crew and Chicago Fire, which was aired on ESPN and made for amazing optics for “lower division” American soccer.

  • In my limited interactions with FCC fans, 95% of them have been polite, friendly, and good sports.

Now, for sake of comparison, let’s have a look at the reasons why we should perhaps pump the brakes on the FCC love fest:

Chapter I: The Awkward Beginning

Every new club has missteps in the beginning. To be fair, even our beloved Louisville City began with the world’s ugliest crest:

But FC Cincinnati took it to a whole other level right out of the gate. Let’s just let these promo videos speak for themselves:


And this:

Chapter II: The MLS Courtship

Before FCC had even played a game, their ownership group made it very clear that they viewed USL as a mere stepping-stone to MLS. While there is nothing wrong with aspiring to play at the highest level, throwing your new league under the bus before ever kicking a ball is tacky and in bad form.

The massive crowds attending FCC games only ratcheted up the MLS hype. It was a mere seven months after their first game when they threw a city-wide pep rally for MLS Commissioner Don Garber. The good people of Cincinnati knelt prostrate at the feet of Garber, as he was paraded through town on an orange and blue throne carried by, ironically, The Pride.

Dudes on the right put the MLS logo ON THEIR DRUMS. Shirtless guy painted it ON HIS CHEST.

After gazing down upon the Queen City, King Garber decreed “You have a fine city. Many good people like the game of soccer in this city. Now pay us $150 million and build a brand new stadium, and MLS shall be yours!”[Ed. Note: not an actual quote. That we know of.] He then boarded his private jet and flew back to New York.

Chapter III: The Off-Season Player Raid Fail

After their inaugural season which ended with a first round playoff exit, FCC swept in and signed two of Louisville City’s more prominent players, Kadeem Dacres and Aodhan Quinn. While neither player can be blamed for improving their financial situation, the signings stung because it appeared FCC was trying to bleed our roster dry by snatching up some of our top players.

Meanwhile, FCC unceremoniously released one of their hometown players, Luke Spencer, who was quietly picked up by Louisville City. In a delicious twist of fate, Spencer has blossomed as a valuable and productive player for LC, while Quinn and Dacres have languished on a mediocre FCC team.

Don’t believe me? Check out following stats:

Quinn and Dacres (combined): 1,833 minutes played. 2 goals (1 penalty), 0 assists.

Luke Spencer: 580 minutes played. 3 goals, 1 assist.

Yes, I realize that stats don’t tell the whole story in soccer, they do make a strong argument regarding who made the better deal in that exchange.

Chapter IV: Bitegate

Near the end of the Louisville City/FCC game in April, FCC striker Djiby Fall bit Niall McCabe in the face. That’s right, a grown man bit another grown man in the face. On a soccer pitch, in front of the referee, TV cameras, and thousands of fans, he did something that we teach 3-year old children not to do.

How do we know Djiby bit McCabe? Well, there are at least three available witnesses, there is video, and this picture of McCabe’s face with a bite mark:

Inline image 1

There is also the report the referee submitted after the game. USL was so convinced it was a bite, they suspended Djiby Fall for six games for the infraction, and were crystal clear about why they did it:

FC Cincinnati’s Djiby Fall has received a six-game suspension and undisclosed fine. It consists of a one-game suspension and fine for the red card for serious foul play, and an additional five-game suspension and fine for major game misconduct during last week’s match against Louisville City FC. Fall’s suspension runs through June 3, pending any schedule changes.

[UPDATE] – The USL has provided further clarification to its disciplinary report for Week 5. Djiby Fall’s five-game suspension and undisclosed fine for Major Game Misconduct is for biting an opponent during the match on April 22, 2017.

Despite all that, FCC General Manager Jeff Berding claimed that James O’Connor was lying about the incident. Photos of the incident were denounced as “photoshopped” by many of the FCC fanbase. The post-truth, Fake News era had truly arrived in Cincinnati.

Chapter V: The Stadium Extortion/FC Newport Saga

Despite the fact that FCC play in a perfectly awesome stadium that already exists, Generalissimo Garber has decreed that a team seeking entry into MLS must build a newer, better, shinier stadium in order to join their cartel. Cincinnati has been repeatedly screwed by bad stadium deals for the Bengals and Reds over the years. Both were authored by Jeff Berding. Residents are understandably wary of subsidizing yet another sports stadium for an owner who is worth over two billion dollars.

So what does the FCC ownership group do? They publicly call for a bidding war between the City of Cincinnati and northern Kentucky. Whoever comes up with the most public money to pay for a private stadium for billionaire owners gets the spoils. What a deal! Louisville City ownership would be wise to observe the FCC stadium negotiation tactics as a lesson in what NOT to do if public perception is something they care about.

It’s at this point of the story where we actually must feel a little bad for the average FCC supporter. Louisville City fans did not react kindly when the idea of locating our stadium in Indiana was floated, so I can understand the frustration. FC Newport, however, seems like a real possibility at this point. If the Commonwealth of Kentucky ends up allocating funds to an FCC stadium in northern Kentucky, and somehow that effects possible state funding for a soccer stadium in Louisville, I expect the rivalry would reach DEFCON 1 levels of animosity.

Post Script

As you can see, we LouCity fans have a lot of ammunition we can lob at FCC. The jokes write themselves, and to a humorist or lover of irony, their existence is almost too good to be true. However, I want to issue a call to all Louisville City FC supporters, and it is a simple one:

Please, keep the high ground.

What does this mean?

It means keeping on the banter on the friendly side.

It means greeting all traveling FCC supporters as guests, and thanking them for coming to visit our great city. I understand a number of traveling LouCity supporters have experienced some verbal abuse when traveling to Cincinnati for games. We should return the favor by treating their traveling supporters with the utmost respect and hospitality. “Kill ‘em with kindness”, as they say.

They are tourists, after all, and should be treated as we are renowned for treating visitors. Buy them a bourbon or beer, trade scarves, shake their hand, tell them “thanks for coming”. Please don’t be the one jerk who sullies the name of the rest of us. Like The Heretics say: “We are Delights!”  Let’s wear that as a badge of honor.

This means understanding that FCC are on a different path than we are. It’s a fruitless exercise comparing ourselves to them. They want nothing to do with the USL or “lower division” American soccer (look at their league record). MLS is their be-all-end-all, and that is OK. For them. Louisville City is taking a different road. It might take a while longer to reach the promised land (whatever that may be), but the view is going to be fantastic, and we will certainly win more games along the way.

Selfishly, I want FC Cincinnati to stay in USL for as long as possible just for the entertainment value they provide. Billionaire owners, Toyota John, pompous supporters, entitled attitude, Don Garber boot licking, attendance obsession, player stealing, BITING, lying about biting, biting deniers, character assassination of our honorable coach, stadium extortion, MOVING THEIR CLUB INTO OUR STATE!

We love you FC Cincinnati! Having an arch-rival who is so easy to dislike is just plain fun!