Keeping Score: Soccer Gains Momentum in Middle Tennessee

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By: Harrison Cheatham

The atmosphere at a soccer game is second to none. Games last exactly two hours and are usually watched by fans that stand, chant and cheer for the entirety of the match. The game clock does not stop, there are no timeouts and there are no breaks, besides halftime. Soccer is two forty-five minute halves of continuous action.

Soccer, or “football” as it is known in every other country, is the world’s biggest and most popular game. It has taken quite some time for soccer to build a solid foundation in the United States and to expand to what its current state is today. However, in the last few years soccer has become the country’s fastest growing sport; including rapid growth of professional teams, drastically improved attendance at games and an overall growth of knowledge and interest from the fans.

I have been playing soccer since I was a young child. In 1991, I was a four-year-old that liked to run around with my friends and play tag, chase butterfly’s, and share snacks. I also need to mention that all of these activities occurred every Saturday morning in Franklin at the Williamson County Soccer Association. This was how I was introduced to soccer at an early age. Soccer, at this time, was more of a two-hour relief for parents to let their kids run around and get tired. Once I reached high school I had to decide on a single sport to focus on. Among all the sports I had played growing up, it was a no brainer soccer would be the one I chose.

After high school, I played for several colleges, each at different levels from junior college, NCAA Division II, NCAA Division I, and several summers playing for an amateur team called the Nashville Metros, which at the time was part of the highest level of soccer in Tennessee under the PDL (Premier Development League).

Soccer was not a sport that many people in the middle Tennessee area followed. Most of the youth coaches were fathers of a player on the team and would carry around a soccer manual to try and learn the game as it was being played in front of them. This was the beginning of soccer in middle Tennessee and no one ever thought it would be anything more than some foreign sport that gave their kids good exercise. Fast forward twenty-six years later, and soccer is one of the most talked about sports among kids, teens and adults altogether. Soccer is here and thriving in the United States and Nashville is in the hunt for a piece of that pie.

It is no secret that soccer has been growing at an extremely fast pace for the last handful of years in this country. There are many contributing factors to this rapid growth in the states and for the growth in the middle Tennessee area as well. One major factor is the influx of people moving to the city. Nashville has become a melting pot of people moving from different states and different countries. With this huge influx comes other cultures where soccer is the main sport which has helped create an even bigger soccer audience. Another factor is the major TV deals that are being made for leagues around the world. Companies such as NBC Sports, ESPN, Fox Sports and BEin Sports have all signed huge TV deals to make the top leagues around the world much more easily accessible here in the states. ESPN has also signed a major deal to televise more Major League Soccer (MLS) games nationwide, which will bring more viewers to our domestic league. This has brought viewers to the sport and allowed them to become more knowledgeable at the same time.

This summer has taken Nashville from a mid-table contender to a frontline contender for an MLS expansion team. The ownership group is pushing for a bid to take this team to the highest level to compete in the MLS by the year 2020. There are twelve cities currently fighting for four expansion spots. However, there are several reasons why Nashville has become a very strong contender in this twelve horse race. One reason is the strong ownership group that is backing this huge push for a team. The ownership group includes, but not limited to, the majority owner John Ingram of Ingram Industries and the Wilf family who are owners of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings as well. Another reason why Nashville is becoming a favorite is because of the progress on finding a location to build a soccer specific stadium. The owners have a vision to build this team from the ground up, and to do it right the first time. Nashville currently has a team that will play in the second tier of professional soccer in the United States, The United Soccer League (USL), next year at the Sounds’ First Tennessee Park. This will allow the community to have a first-class venue to see the team play for the first year while a permanent stadium is being built at the fairgrounds.
One of the most important factors involved in a new team is whether or not the city will support it. If the last few months are any indication, Nashville has nothing to worry about. This summer, Nashville saw more than 100,000 people attend soccer events. In early July, the United States National Team played in front of more than 47,000 people and over 56,000 attended the Manchester City vs. Tottenham game later in the month. These numbers were more than impressive not only for the city, but for the ownership group and the MLS as well. Soccer has fully arrived in middle Tennessee and I believe it is here to stay.

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