We’ll see a Huntsville MLS NEXT Pro team in 2023, as MLS’s Nashville SC will launch and run the team playing at a renovated Joe Davis Stadium, former home to pro baseball in the Alabama city.
Huntsville officials announced in November 2019 that the former home of the Huntsville Stars (Class AA; Southern League), most unused after the departure of the Stars to Biloxi, would undergo an $8 million renovation into a multiuser facility and expanded to accommodate soccer. The end goal at the time was pro soccer, and this week it was announced the city did indeed land a soccer tenant in the form of a Nashville SC-operated MLS Next Pro team.
It’s been a relatively quiet debut season for the Division III 21-team MLS NEXT Pro circuit, which launched this season as a mix of new MLS-team-owned operations and teams shifting from USL, along with one independent team. The emphasis is on player development as a the league is positioned as a stop between youth squads and academy teams to MLS parents. Venues are all over the place, ranging from training fields and complexes to college fields to MiLB ballparks to MLS stadiums. MNUFC2, for examples, has played home matches both at Allianz Field and National Sports Center Stadium, home to Minnesota United during its USL Championship days.
The one thing in common within the MLS-owned MLS NEXT Pro teams: they all play within the MLS parent markets. Huntsville will be the first to play outside a parent market (though there have been other attempts to launch teams outside the parent market, but in the case of Spokane, the ability of USL to offer both men’s and women’s Division III led city officials to deny a NEXT Pro team a lease for a new stadium), and presumably if it goes well, more MLS teams will look at similar arrangements: placing what is essentially a minor-league soccer team into a adjacent, smaller market. Not every team will consider this, of course; it depends on how the MLS exec view the purpose of the MLS NEXT Pro team: primarily as a development squad or as an asset that can generate revenue while also serving development needs.
“When we started building our MLS team in Nashville we talked a lot about the key ingredients that made Nashville a perfect soccer city: great energy, strong business community and a real civic pride,” said Nashville SC CEO Ian Ayre via press release. “It’s quite obvious in spending time in Huntsville that the same raw ingredients exist here. We could not be more excited about bringing our MLS NEXT Pro team to Huntsville and the amazing stadium project. There will be a lot of heavy lifting to make it all happen, but with lots of experience and a strong local partnership we are in the best possible position to make this project a huge success.”
“When we launched MLS NEXT Pro, our goal was to bring soccer to new communities and fanbases, and we are thrilled to do that in Huntsville,” said Charles Altchek, President of MLS NEXT Pro, via press release. “Having spent time in the city with Mayor Battle and his team, I have seen first-hand the energy and innovation that is driving the city forward. Looking ahead to 2023, we are excited to partner with the City of Huntsville and Nashville Soccer Club to deliver professional soccer to North Alabama and its fans.”
Rendering courtesy city of Huntsville.