Nashville could be knocking on MLS’s door
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.