NewsApr 05, 2019

Coming Home: Nick Hagglund

There are few things in life as familiar and nostalgic as a hometown. This is especially true for Nick Hagglund, whose birthplace of Cincinnati, Ohio provided the foundation for the life he has built. It’s where he went through grade school, high school and eventually college. It’s where he met his wife and where he fell in love with the game of soccer. Now, it’s where he gets to pull on a jersey and ply his trade as a professional soccer player. 

After attending Lakota West High School just north of the city, Hagglund went on to play college soccer at Xavier University. He made 81 appearances and earned a Big East Defender of the Year title during his time with the Musketeers, who play just three miles down the road from FC Cincinnati’s current home at Nippert Stadium.

While Hagglund dreamed of playing soccer for a living growing up, he never thought it would be possible to do so in his city. “People ask me if this was the dream, but if I could have dreamed this, that would have been unbelievable. It wasn’t even possible to dream of Cincinnati having a team,” he explained. So, Hagglund found himself traveling away from the city to get exposure to a professional environment. During the summer between his freshman and sophomore years, he drove to Columbus to train with the Crew’s U19 and U20 teams.

This dedication paid off and Hagglund was selected 10th overall in the 2014 SuperDraft by Toronto FC. He made his professional debut that April and became an integral part of the Reds’ playoff run in 2016 and MLS Cup victory in 2017.

Meanwhile, back in Ohio, soccer was making its mark on Hagglund’s hometown. FC Cincinnati joined the USL in 2016 and quickly started breaking attendance records. With matches bringing in more than 30,000 fans, the club made moves towards an MLS expansion bid. “I watched FC Cincinnati in the USL and there was a part of me that was left feeling like professional soccer was starting there and I wasn’t a part of it,” he recalled. In May of 2018, MLS made it official that the club would be joining the league the following year.

Following the 2018 season, Hagglund found himself feeling ready for a change and facing the uncertainty that such change would bring to the life of a professional athlete. “I was in Toronto for five years, we won an MLS Cup and it was a great city and organization. But, I felt like I wanted to see something else, see another team,” he explained. While a move to Cincinnati was ideal, Hagglund remained realistic as he and the club explored his options. “Obviously it doesn’t always work out the way you want. A lot of the time there’s different teams or someone else puts more money out there for you.”

When Hagglund received the trade call from Toronto’s GM in January, the news was beyond what he could have dreamed. He was headed home to play in FC Cincinnati’s inaugural season. “To be here and for this to be real, it’s unbelievable. There are no words to explain how fun it’s going to be to be able to play in front of friends and family week in and week out,” Hagglund said of how he felt when the news sunk in. “I was excited to be a part of something new and to be able to play at home.”

This club was built off the people of Cincinnati showing up and making the MLS say ‘We can’t ignore you.’”

The move initially brought Hagglund and his wife back to the street they grew up on, where their families still live across from each other today. Hagglund explained that having a familiar home base and family support made the sweeping life changes that come with a trade easier to handle. “It was awesome because moves are difficult, but in this case, my wife had a lot of help with the baby. It was nice to know that everything was perfect and taken care of. For my wife and family it’s unbelievable because they all still live here, so my daughter is going to be hanging out with her grandparents and aunts and uncles, and we’re really excited about that aspect.”

When the first home game rolled around, the Cincinnati fans who fought hard for their team to join MLS, and the friends and family Hagglund dreamt of playing for, showed up in full force. “Right from the beginning, as we were coming out for warm-ups, the stadium was already filled,” Hagglund said of the energy inside Nippert Stadium. “Usually you go to warm up and there are some stragglers coming in, but people were already there and excited.”

With the home crowd behind them for the first time, and what Hagglund estimated to be around 200 of his friends, family and acquaintances, Cincinnati put up a decisive 3-0 victory over the Portland Timbers. “The fans were so into every play, every tackle. You could feel the energy, it was electric. From minute one to minute 90 they were in it,” said Hagglund.

For the team, the win was about more than just making a statement at home, it was about giving the fans what the players felt they deserved. “The team wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for these fans,” said Hagglund. “This club was built off the people of Cincinnati showing up and making the MLS say ‘We can’t ignore you.’”

The effort put in by the people of Cincinnati is something that sticks with players up and down the team’s roster, not just a hometown figure like Hagglund. “For the players, we’re all excited because this is a fan-built team. We get to represent them. So, there’s an extra sense of pride when we step on the field because this club wouldn’t exist without these people,” he said explaining the club’s appreciation for their supporters. “When we’re at home it’s a really special moment and we know that the fans are gonna be excited and our job is to go out and put on the good performance that they deserve.”

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