Nashville could be knock­ing on MLS’s door

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - STEVEN GOFF NASHVILLE —

While the U.S. men’s na­tional soc­cer team set­tled for a draw Satur­day at Nis­san Sta­dium, this host city scored a small vic­tory in an off-the-field com­pe­ti­tion that will play out over months and per­haps years across the coun­try: Ma­jor League Soc­cer ex­pan­sion.

At­ten­dance alone for a one-off in­ter­na­tional match will not se­cure a fran­chise in the first-divi­sion pro league. Fi­nances and sta­dium plans will ul­ti­mately play larger roles in de­ter­min­ing four new teams from 12 can­di­dates.

But with lo­cal and re­gional fans com­pris­ing the bulk of the 47,622 on hand for the U.S. squad’s Gold Cup opener against Panama, Nashville strength­ened its port­fo­lio and proved that, in a non-tra­di­tional soc­cer mar­ket, there is a hunger for the sport. Satur­day’s au­di­ence in­cluded MLS com­mis­sioner Don Gar­ber, who, dur­ing a two-day stay, met with Ten­nessee Gov. Bill Haslam, Van­der­bilt Uni­ver­sity of­fi­cials, rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the Na­tional Foot­ball League’s Ten­nessee Ti­tans and Na­tional Hockey League’s Nashville Preda­tors, as well as bid ex­ec­u­tives.

“Over the last six months,” Gar­ber said Fri­day, “Nashville has re­ally risen pretty high on the list.”

As MLS has blos­somed over 22 sea­sons, the league has dis­cov­ered suc­cess in sec­ondary pro sports mar­kets, such as Port­land, Ore.; Or­lando, Fla.; Kansas City, Mo.; and Salt Lake City. Among those cities, only Port­land had a rich soc­cer his­tory be­fore MLS ar­rived.

Sacra­mento, a long­time con­tender, is the front-run­ner in the next round of MLS ex­pan­sion, and Cincin­nati is mak­ing a strong case with record-set­ting at­ten­dance for its sec­ond-year, sec­ond-divi­sion team.

In ad­di­tion to pend­ing ad­di­tions in Los An­ge­les in Miami, MLS plans to se­lect two cities in De­cem­ber and two more in 2018 or ’19, rais­ing mem­ber­ship to 28. It cur­rently fea­tures 22 teams, with a sec­ond Los An­ge­les out­fit (LAFC) de­but­ing next spring and David Beck­ham’s drawn-out ef­forts in Miami inch­ing closer to fruition. (As part of his play­ing con­tract with MLS, the for­mer English su­per­star was given the op­tion to own a team.) Aside from Nashville, Sacra­mento and Cincin­nati, the other ex­pan­sion hope­fuls are San Diego, Phoenix, San An­to­nio, St. Louis, Detroit, Tampa, Charlotte, Raleigh/Durham, N.C., and In­di­anapo­lis.

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