Though several unanswered questions remain in its MLS expansion push, Nashville is looking to make some significant strides.
As one of 12 contenders in the mix for four MLS expansion slots, Nashville is gearing up for some significant developments. In the more immediate future, the city is anticipating the arrival of its USL franchise that is to begin play in 2018.
For many in Nashville, the move to the USL felt closer after Nashville SC played its final regular season home game in the Premier Development League on Saturday. With the club set to make the move to the professional USL next year, players–including defender and Nashville native Brad Ross–believe that the city’s soccer scene is on the rise. More from The Tennessean:
Nashville SC’s U-23 team has played a huge role providing an outlet for fans to show support for a sport that’s become more prominent throughout the state in recent years. The 2017 roster features 13 Tennesseans, including Ross, a Nashville native who’s seen firsthand just how rapidly soccer fever has grown in his hometown.
“We really didn’t have many opportunities to support soccer back then,” Ross said, recalling how the soccer presence has changed since he was younger. “Then the U.S. Men’s National team would come into town once every five years and it would get kind of crazy. We had the right idea, but now that Nashville SC is bringing it around, you can definitely feel the soccer vibe growing in Nashville.”
As it relates to its expansion bid, Nashville is anticipating what could turn out to be a solid showcase over the weekend. On Saturday, Nissan Stadium–the home of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans–will host two CONCACAF Gold Cup matches. Backers of the expansion bid have made it a priority to ensure a high turnout on Saturday, and are looking to break the previous Tennessee soccer attendance record of 44,835 that was set during a U.S.-Guatemala friendly in 2015.
Among those expected to be in attendance on Saturday is MLS commissioner Don Garber, who is slated be on hand for the USA-Panama Gold Match game. Of course, boosting Nashville’s expansion odds will require more than drawing a big crowd on Saturday, as expansion backers still need work with local officials to develop a stadium plan and funding model.
Area officials acknowledge that factors beyond Saturday’s attendance figure will be a major component of Nashville’s expansion case, but still believe a strong turnout would reflect well on the city’s enthusiasm for the sport. More from The Tennessean:
“I don’t think (the Gold Cup) pushes us over the edge or disqualifies us unto itself, but it certainly is a factor in changing the perception of whether Nashville can support a team,” said Butch Spyridon, president and CEO of the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp. “What’s the fan base like? How do we perform as an MLS city? So they’re looking at us and looking at ticket sales.
“I think it’s more than a little important, but it’s probably not a deal-killer. But I think it’s incumbent upon Nashville to make a really good showing.”
Nashville’s expansion bid is being led by John Ingram, who purchased the majority stake in Nashville SC earlier this year.
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