Sports journalist builds soccer news site by serving her readers

By Cassie Pietruszka

The tension rose between starting forward Brenner Souza da Silva and the FC Cincinnati soccer organization and no one on the outside knew why.

Souza da Silva was one of FCC’s best offensive players and rumors swirled among fans about why he might be unhappy playing for Cincinnati. Many fans believed that Souza da Silva pushed for a transfer outside of Cincinnati in an apparent disrespectful manner.

Where did this bad attitude come from? Why did he want to leave the organization? Was it a personal issue within him, or did the FCC organization wrong him? After approximately a year and a half of media attention, FCC officially transferred Souza da Silva to the Italian Serie A club Udinese.

Fan theories circled the media, and Laurel Pfahler, founder and owner of the three-year-old Queen City Press blog, was the only reporter to insert herself in the middle of it in search of gaining closure for her readers. Pfahler’s reporting beat the more established news outlets in Cincinnati and boosted her business.

The truth was Souza da Silva had a rough first season in 2021, trying to adjust to a new team in a new country and didn’t think the club was helpful in the transition. So he requested a transfer in the winter of 2021, but FCC had just gotten a new general manager, Chris Albright, and coach, Pat Noonan.

Souza da Silva had a great season in 2022 but did not have a positive relationship with Albright. When offers to play in Europe came in, Souza da Silva thought Albright was holding him back. As April came around, Souza da Silva forced a transfer. Pfahler was the reporter to pursue this story and give the fans the answers they desperately craved.

Souza da Silva’s transfer was a historical moment in the FC Cincinnati organization and Major League Soccer (MLS). Cincinnati received a club record of $10 million excluding add-ons and a sell-on percentage. This marked the highest-paid transfer for FCC and is in the top 10 most expensive transfers in MLS history.

A variety of well-known sports sites, such as the MLS official site and ESPN, covered the facts of the transfer yet no other reporter cared to talk to Souza da Silva about his personal thoughts on the events that took place between him and FCC. Pfahler, however, tirelessly worked to arrange a virtual interview with Souza da Silva through his manager so she could get the answers her readers so badly longed for.

When the interview was set, Pfahler reached out to FCC to let them know that the interview was happening. She asked for an interview with Albright. This interview would graciously give Albright a way to respond to any possible negative comments Souza da Silva could say about the FC Cincinnati organization.

Cincinnati did not respond well, however. Rather, they were confused as to why Pfahler was trying to keep the story going when Souza da Silva was no longer in the country let alone on the team. It appeared FCC was ready to let the situation go and move on, but Pfahler was determined to get answers.

“The fans want to know more and that’s what my job is, to give the readers what they want,” Pfahler said. 

As word spread that the interview with Souza da Silva was posted to the Queen City Press, Pfahler’s paid subscriptions increased with fans desperate to know what happened, and Queen City Press was the only media outlet with the answers they were looking for.

Although an increase of subscribers was a strong advantage of posting the story, Pfahler clarified that was not her main intention for publishing the story. Instead, her intention was to remain loyal to the truth and to her readers, and the subscribers happened to be an added benefit.

Recently her 700-plus paying subscribers showed their dedicated support for Pfahler when FCC revoked her credential privileges for two weeks because of an undisclosed conflict. After Pfahler posted a statement revealing why she would not be covering games live for the next two weeks, many subscribers commented they would be filing complaints with the front office. One fan even made and sold T-shirts with the phrase “Support Laurel” on the front. Pfahler has since returned to covering the games live and has thanked her fans for their unwavering support.

Sports have always been a passion of Pfahler’s from a young age.

“I grew up in a house with two brothers and my dad, and they were all involved in sports and I was the middle child, so I kind of just naturally wanted to do what my older brother was doing,” Pfahler said. “So I got into sports and I was pretty athletic, so it came naturally and then my mom was an English teacher, so I got into writing and she was a really good writing instructor.”

Continuing to pursue this passion, Pfahler joined a journalism program and the student magazine through her high school and knew sports journalism was going to be her future career. She went on to study journalism at Ohio University and work as a freelance journalist for professional media outlets such as ESPN, The Athletic, Dayton Daily News, and WCPO 9.

Before the Covid pandemic in 2020, Pfahler remained a freelance writer for The Athletic website and WCPO 9 in Cincinnati. However, when the pandemic closed down sports, her freelancing gigs froze. As she waited to hear about when she could get to work, she explored the idea of creating her own blog. Then, in 2021, those thoughts became reality as Pfahler launched Queen City Press covering all things FC Cincinnati.

Pfahler had made a well-respected name for herself through her writing for other media outlets, so when it came time to start her own site, she promoted it on her social media and immediately had subscribers.

“I think working for The Athletic specifically established credibility among the FC Cincinnati fan base,” Pfahler said. “A lot of them enjoyed my coverage with it and when they knew I wasn’t writing for them anymore, they still wanted to follow me and subscribed to the Queen City Press.”

The Queen City Press website includes a variety of media including written articles, photo galleries from games and team-related events, and a podcast. Queen City Press is organized in a tiered style of subscription prices. The photo galleries are offered to viewers for free, articles can be accessed for $3 per month, and the podcast will play for $6 per month.

Pfahler had multiple fans of her site reach out about wanting to support at a higher level than simply the paid subscription because they loved her sports coverage. Due to this interest in a higher level of support, she developed and started offering different sponsorship tiers, including the opportunity for a paid advertisement.

Patreon, the business tool that provides web analytics, shows the Queen City Press now has over 700 paying subscribers and consistently receives over 1,000 page visits weekly. The longer Pfahler covers FC Cincinnati on Queen City Press, the higher her subscribers and page views get.

As Pfahler works tirelessly to provide quality content for her subscribers, she also sets time aside for her husband and children.

“Yeah, balancing work and personal life is hard. I mean I have to, and since I’m pretty much a one-man, one-person show there isn’t really anyone else I can ask to cover a story if news breaks,” Pfahler said.

However, she found a balance that she feels comfortable working with. When sports news drops, Pfahler can decide to take what was supposed to be personal time to write about it and get it posted, or she can wait and accept she will be posting the story later than other news outlets.

While running her own site covering sports is time consuming, Pfahler has found a balance that has allowed her to provide quality content for her fans as well as actively participate in her family’s lives.

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