FC Cincinnati didn't just invite fans back to watch the club play a competitive match for the first time since the 2019 season.
The invitation the club extended to a fortunate few season ticket holders was to watch FCC play before a reduced-capacity crowd in its glittering, $250 million home.
The fans obliged, chanting and banging drums from the Bailey supporters section. The chants and claps were amplified by TQL Stadium's canopy roof.
Before kickoff, the familiar sight of pyrotechnic smoke devices filled the stadium, too.
Inaugural match at TQL Stadium:FC Cincinnati fans chants fill OTR, West End
"That's been beautiful," FCC head coach Jaap Stam said of the fan support. "Everybody's looking forward to the first home game, again, in the new stadium, so the atmosphere was fantastic. I think the fans were great as well... They keep on cheering. They keep on making noise. They keep on helping the team and I think that's a very important thing to do because it helps the players. They feel more comfortable. They feel the excitement from the fans as well that they're pushing them forward. You can see that today."
The atmosphere only dimmed slightly when Brek Shea installed a 1-0 lead for Inter Miami CF in the seventh minute. The goal was the first in TQL Stadium history.
Miami's Gonzalo Higuain scored for 2-0 in the 38th minute and the atmosphere still remained strong inside the venue, but it was Higuain's second goal late in the contest that cost FC Cincinnati a 3-2 loss and finally put a damper on the raucous home support.
Alvaro Barreal notched the first FCC goal in TQL Stadium history with about 30 minutes to play and Greater Cincinnati native Nick Hagglund tied the match with less than 10 minutes remaining on a headed goal off a corner kick.
Higuain scored three minutes after Hagglund's equalizer, though, which condemned FCC to an 0-3-1 record in 2021.
A new-look FC Cincinnati starting lineup that featured debuts by goalkeeper Kenneth Vermeer and center backs Geoff Cameron and Gustavo Vallecilla – all recent acquisition – presented questions about how FC Cincinnati would play, and if they could maintain a high-pressing, attacking style.
The pursuit of that style prevailed, and eventually bared fruit.
Playing in his first match since the April 17 season opener, Luciano Acosta lifted FCC to a higher level of play. He picked out Allan Cruz on a long diagonal pass that nearly resulted in a goal for 1-1, but for Cruz's shot trickling wide.
Acosta nearly leveled the score himself when he forced a diving save from Miami goalkeeper John McCarthy in the 30th minute.
Barreal forced another McCarthy save in the 37th minute.
Gonzalo Higuain's goal, which came off a heel-flick assist from his brother, Federico Higuain, landed FCC in familiar territory – trailing and with all their chances amounting to nothing on the scoreboard.
But for fans that hadn’t seen FC Cincinnati play in-person since a Sept. 29, 2019 match and endured a four-win season in during the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign, Barreal provided a long-awaited moment of joy.
Barreal chipped McCarthy for 2-1 with about 30 minutes to play, making for an enticing finish and a historic moment.
"Yes, I'm happy to score my first goal here with FC Cincinnati, especially to do it in front fans, something that I have not been able to do before," Barreal said afterward through a team interpreter.
Hagglund, who came on as a substitute, elevated Barreal’s moment of joy to delirium when he headed home off a corner kick to even the score at 2-2 in the 83rd minute.
"Amazing, to be honest," Hagglund said of his goal. "I've been hurt all week. Basically got in one training and I knew that both (center backs) had, maybe didn't have 90 minutes in them, so I had to be ready. To come on and score a goal in the home opener, Cincinnati kid's dream to christen the stadium. With a kid from Cincinnati scoring the goal, hopefully helping other kids dream big like that as well."
Just moments later, though, FC Cincinnati handed the lead back to Miami off a turnover in its own half. Gonzalo Higuain got on the end of a centering feed on the counter attack for his second score of the match.
That goal proved decisive.
FC Cincinnati next plays Saturday against CF Montreal, which is temporarily playing in Inter Miami’s DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.