The Decade’s 10 Biggest Moments in Nashville Soccer

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Since everyone else is leaning hard into decade-ending content these days, it only makes sense that the Nashville Soccer Archive should do the same. It probably goes without saying at this point, but the last 10 years served as the most consequential decade in Nashville’s soccer history, and as we prepare to turn the page to Nashville as a Major League Soccer city in 2020, perhaps it makes sense to look to the recent past and see how exactly we got here. With that in mind, here’s a look at 10 of the biggest soccer moments of the decade, presented in chronological order.

Nashville Metros meet their demise (Feb. 7, 2013)
After some last-ditch efforts in 2012 to revive the Metros branding and appearance, the two-plus decade reign of the Metros atop the Nashville soccer pyramid ended with a relative whimper in 2013. As is often the case with many high-level amateur and semipro teams in this country, there wasn’t a ton of information available online prior to the 2013 season, and many found out for the first time about the team’s folding when the Metros were not included in the Premier Development League schedule release. Two weeks later, the United Soccer Leagues confirmed with the Nashville Post that the team had left for good.

“The Nashville Metros were unable/unwilling to continue to comply with certain league standards/deadlines in order to participate in the 2013 season and as a result are no longer members of USL.”

It was a sad ending for a team that had managed, against all odds, to keep ticking. Launched in 1990, the Metros were the longest continuously operational organization in USL, having played under different names, ownership groups and in a variety of different stadiums. While ending as an amateur side, the Metros were the first professional team to taste some measure of success in the city, having played five seasons in the A-League, and while the team has now been gone for several years, the impact they had on Nashville soccer cannot be overstated.

Nashville Atlas FC and Nashville FC merge (Feb. 1, 2014)
In the aftermath of the Nashville Metros, two soccer teams emerged simultaneously but separately to claim the vacated throne. It would be Nashville Atlas FC that laid the first marker, as the club’s entry into the amateur National Premier Soccer League was announced in October 2013. Elsewhere in the city, Chris Jones had taken a leadership role in a group that was looking to a member ownership model to establish a new Nashville team. Jones was largely successful in his endeavors, finding a number of business partners while seeing founding memberships roll in at a higher than expected pace, but when informed of Atlas FC had already been accepted into the NPSL, he was caught in a bit of a pickle.

“It was contentious for about 60 days,” revealed Atlas FC co-founder Nolan Pittman to MLSSoccer.com. “[Atlas FC was] born out of a bunch of men’s teams we put together. We had a team on the ground and kept moving up the chain in terms of competition. [Nashville FC’s] idea was more fan-based to get a team back here after the demise of the Metros. Once we looked past that and saw an opportunity to get together and hammer out our differences, we realized our collective visions were the same.”

The merger was officially announced on Feb. 1, during a U.S. Men’s National Team watch party at the now-closed Jed’s Sports Bar & Grille near Vanderbilt.

U.S. Men’s National Team tops 40,000 for Guatemala (July 3, 2015)
Over the past decade, Nashville cemented its place as a regular host to both the men’s and women’s national teams, and it was a little difficult to decide what did and didn’t belong on this list as it pertains to that, but for me, the Guatemala match represented the biggest step forward in this city’s appetite for high-level soccer.

Earlier in the decade, the USMNT played in front of over 27,000 in a friendly with Paraguay, but many would certainly not have predicted topping 44,000 just four years later, including both U.S. Soccer and the Nissan Stadium staff. As a member of the media operations team for the former, the tremendous walk-up that day was a hot topic of conversation throughout the press box, and fortunately, the trend continued throughout the decade as Nashville went from hosting occasional friendlies to meaningful Gold Cup matches and an exceedingly rare Mexico match in Sept. 2018, the first such match held in the southeast in decades. The crowds continued filing in at Nissan Stadium as well, playing a big role in re-imagining the city’s future as a soccer market.

Nissan hosts inaugural SheBelieves Cup (March 6, 2016)
Following the impressive USMNT showing in 2015 and riding the wave of another World Cup championship, the women’s team made their trek to Nashville for the inaugural SheBelieves Cup, and Nissan Stadium was treated to a pair of nail-biters, beginning with an Alex Morgan 91st-minute winner over No. 3 France in the opener and closing with an 82nd-minute penalty as Germany beat England 2-1.

Over 25,000 were in attendance for the matches, setting the stage for the USWNT to return, including this past spring as the world champions drew 2-2 with England in the SheBelieves Cup.

Nashville FC USL announcement (July 1, 2016)
While the U.S. teams were enjoying their success at Nissan Stadium, momentum was picking up for Nashville’s third soirée into professional soccer. After a vote was held, the membership of Nashville FC overwhelmingly agreed to relinquish their majority stake in the club to set up a more traditional ownership model and take the club into the professional ranks in USL. It was to be the second go-round for a Nashville professional soccer club in the USL, but it wasn’t 1995 anymore, and there was reason to be excited. The ownership had significant political backing and a grand plan of a soccer-specific stadium for the city.

While USL had actually awarded the franchise in May of 2016, NFC supporters were joined by former Nashville mayor Megan Barry and USL commissioner Jake Edwards at Bridgestone Arena to formally announce that the team going up to the professional ranks will, in fact, be NFC. Due to some legal disputes in the months that would follow, NFC later rebranded as Nashville Soccer Club and competed for one season in the semipro Premier Development League, the same once inhabited by the deceased Metros, before officially joining USL in 2018.

John Ingram joins NSC ownership group (May 4, 2017)
If I were doing this as a ranked list, this would probably rank first by some measure in terms of importance. A billionaire local philanthropist and businessman, Ingram joining Nashville SC’s ownership group aligned the club with Ingram’s MLS Steering Committee and served to supercharge what was once considered a long-shot MLS bid at the time.

Ingram’s financial commitment within the USL helped secure a premier venue within the league at First Tennessee Park, which is believed to have included among the highest rental costs in the league. It also helped Nashville make MLS moves early, which has paid dividends not only in terms of early player signings but also in terms of making major moves behind the scenes, like the hiring of former Liverpool CEO Ian Ayre.

56,232 watch Tottenham play Manchester City (July 29, 2017)
If the U.S. Soccer matches opened eyes around the country about Nashville as a soccer city, the 2017 friendly between English powers Tottenham Hotspur FC and Manchester City FC opened eyes around the world. Spurred on by a national effort to turn the match into a Tottenham home match, Spurs fans from just about everywhere joined local soccer fans and their Man City counterparts to deliver the largest single-game soccer attendance in the history of the state of Tennessee.

Unfortunately for those Tottenham fans, they filed in to see John Stones, Raheem Sterling and Brahim Diaz all find the back of the net for the Sky Blues in a 3-0 victory.

Don Garber makes it official (Dec. 20, 2017)
This one kind of speaks for itself, doesn’t it? Taylor Twellman and Don Garber were joined on stage by John Ingram, former Nashville mayor Megan Barry, former governor Bill Haslam, and of course, Eddie George as MLS extended an official invitation to Nashville. It was the culmination of years of effort and saw Nashville go from being considered the longest shot of the 12 potential new MLS cities to the first one selected.

Nashville SC debut at Nissan (March 24, 2018)
After three years of amateur play as Nashville FC, an amateur season as Nashville SC U23, and a preseason home game with Atlanta United, Nashville played host to its first professional league match since 2001. Nearly 20,000 turned out in some ominous weather conditions, but unfortunately, the game didn’t quite live up to the occasion as it was a scoreless draw against the typically stingy Pittsburgh Riverhounds. The Boys in Gold returned to Nissan later in the 2018 season, but the result was the same as Nashville and Cincinnati shared the points, this time in front of just over 18,000.

Stadium gets final Metro Council approval (Sept. 4, 2018)
Few things get Nashville fans as frustrated as the stadium drama the team has incurred over the past three years. While new mayor John Cooper has turned into a force for indecisiveness in recent months, the bulk of the stadium fight took place in the late summer of 2018. After an initial okay from the Metro Council on a public/private partnership in late 2017 paved the way for the MLS invitation, the actual meat-and-potatoes of the deal was put in place in 2018. With rampant public bickering between the anti-stadium Save Our Fairgrounds group and soccer fans, the government side of things came down to a series of public meetings, which included four in the Metro Council chamber. Fortunately, the stadium funding arrangement ultimately passed in a convincing fashion.

While pending lawsuits, a tepid mayor’s office and a number of other factors have contributed to the delay of ground-breaking on the stadium site, it’s this writer’s opinion that everything will work out in time. In a decade that began with the slow decline of the Nashville Metros, perhaps its best to think about how far the sport has come in this city over the past 10 years than it is to worry too much about a political future largely out of our control.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Before signing off for the decade, here are a few moments that didn’t make the cut for me, but are among my favorites.

  • Nashville FC first match (May 10, 2014)
  • Inter Nashville launch (Nov. 18, 2016)
  • Nashville Rhythm FC takes over for FC Nashville Wolves (March 2017)
  • Nashville hosts Atlanta United FC (Feb. 10, 2018)
  • Ian Ayre named Nashville SC CEO (May 21, 2018)
  • NSC beats Colorado Rapids in Open Cup (June 6, 2018)
  • Lipscomb men advance to NCAA Sweet 16 (Nov. 19, 2018)
  • Nashville SC branding announcement (Feb. 20, 2019)
  • Nashville beats Charleston Battery in playoffs (Oct. 26, 2019)

One thought on “The Decade’s 10 Biggest Moments in Nashville Soccer

  1. Pingback: Pitch Points is too annoyed with Big Flu Shot’s institutional comfort to think of a witty title – For Club and Country

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