Lakota West Graduate Matt Bahner (’08) is coming home.
After four years of playing professional soccer outside of the state of Ohio, Bahner has signed a contract to play with FC Cincinnati for the 2017 season.
“Ever since a franchise was started in Cincinnati, I had always hoped that someday I would be able to play for them. I think every athlete regardless of sport always dreams about playing for the hometown team and for the city and fans that you grew up in and I am truly humbled to be able to have that chance. I was contacted by FC Cincinnati sometime around the middle of December when I became a free agent. I stayed in contact with the coaching staff and we shared quite a bit of communication with one another. Certainly I did my due diligence as an athlete, but when it came down to it, nothing could compare to the chance that I had with FC Cincinnati and the ability to come home!” said Bahner.
The 6’0″ 175 lb defender was a three year all Greater Miami Conference selectee at Lakota West and was the GMC player of the year in 2007. He was also named 1st team All-State leading a Firebird squad that finished 14-3-3, 2nd in the GMC and OHSAA district champions his senior season. To this day, he still owns the Lakota West “assists in a single game” record with four. He went on to play for the University of Cincinnati (class of 2013). While a Bearcat he was named All Ohio 1st team by the Ohio Soccer Coaches Association and also to the all-Big East 2nd team. He graduated with a Chemical Engineering degree. Bahner then signed a professional contract with the Harrisburg City Islanders in the USA pro third division (USL) in 2013. In 2015 he advanced to play for the Jacksonville Armada FC in the USA pro second division (NASL).
Despite playing soccer at University of Cincinnati, Bahner can’t recall a time he ever played soccer in Nippert Stadium, the home of FC Cincinnati. “I played an intramural softball game once, but that is to the extent of playing any sports in Nippert. Besides all the conditioning I did going up and down the steps,” said Bahner. As far as the record breaking crowds FC Cincinnati saw last season, Bahner commented “It is amazing to see how much of a following Cincy has gained in such a short amount of time, and that is a credit to all the excitement and buildup that the organization created for the team, along with the success of the club. Very exciting atmosphere when you have that many fans watching, and I am very excited to have the chance to do that in Nippert in front of the FC Cincinnati fans.” Bahner recalls playing in front of 23,000 fans in a Harrisburg opener against Sacramento in 2014, but he’s never consistently played in front of crowds over 20,000. Jacksonville averaged 3,558 fans during the 2016 season compared to FC Cincinnati’s average of 17,296 fans in their inaugural season.
Bahner will have his work cut out for him. The FC Cincy squad currently has six defenders on the roster with roster room for four more players. According to the FC Cincinnati press release, “We are excited to welcome Matt home to Cincinnati. It is something special to be able to play in front of your hometown fans and we know Matt is looking forward to embracing this experience. We feel he can come in and compete to start for our team immediately. He is an experienced, versatile defender who can be utilized in any position across our back four,” said FC Cincy Head Coach John Harkes.
“As far as my role on the team, certainly I hope to help out defensively given my position, but i am not expecting anything and know I have to earn my spot on the field just like everyone else. The team has a lot of good players returning from last year, which adds a lot of healthy competition. I am just looking to come in and help the team as best I can and perform whatever role the coaches ask me to do,” said Bahner.
Fortunately, there will be some familiar faces on the team for Bahner. Austin Berry, FC defender, played on the same club team (Cincinnati United Premier) in their youth, but one age group older. Bahner played several games against Midfielder Eric Stevenson while growing up because they often met in the State Cup each year while Stevenson played for Ohio FC. “They always found a way to beat us until 2008 when we finally broke the curse,” said Bahner. He also played against Kenny Walker several times in college during the UConn vs. UC rivalry. During his time at Harrisburg and Jacksonville, Bahner also played with or against Omar Cummings, Daryl Fordyce, Jimmy McLaughlin, Antoine Hoppenot and Kadeem Dacres. “So I know quite a bit of the guys through soccer and or personally and I hope that can help with my transition into the team,” said Bahner.
Bahner is currently living in Jacksonville, but hopes to be back in Cincinnati within the next week. His mom, Debbie, and his father, Paul, still live in the same house located in West Chester Township where they raised Matt and his brother, Daniel.