The sport is growing by leaps and bounds at the youth level. College programs are flourishing. Nashville’s professional soccer team, Nashville SC, will take the field in 2018 as an expansion team in the United Soccer League.
Nashville is also very much in the hunt for a Major League Soccer expansion team – the top of the U.S. Soccer professional pyramid. That is a possibility that would have a major impact on the game at every level in our state.
Soccer is already one of the biggest sports in Tennessee. Middle Tennessee alone has an estimated 40,000 youth players already, and that number grows every year. In July, more than 100,000 people attended two professional matches in Nashville at Nissan Stadium. Both matches set attendance records for a soccer match in Tennessee.
The effect on youth soccer of having a Major League Soccer team in the state would be immensely positive. It would allow young players here to regularly experience the game played at the highest level in the U.S. An MLS team would increase the sport’s already significant profile, and work to encourage greater youth participation.
In addition, MLS teams tend to create their own youth academy systems to foster a base of homegrown players. That would only serve to elevate the level of coaching and opportunities for local youth players.
Soccer fans in our state only have to look back at the tremendous growth of youth hockey in the last two decades since the National Hockey League’s Nashville Predators came to town. Predators officials speculate the Ford Ice Center in Antioch might be one of the busiest facilities of its kind in the nation. A second Nashville ice center is currently under construction in Bellevue. Youth hockey leaders in Middle Tennessee said that interest in travel teams reached unprecedented levels during the Predators championship run.
Soccer is the sport of the future for the U.S. It has consistently ranked as the most popular sport with millennials, and it has significant appeal from a participation standpoint with both genders. In a world where it is a growing challenge to get young people to commit to exercise and extra-curricular activities, soccer is a sport that tests the heart and mind. It is a game where young people learn teamwork, creativity and life lessons.
A Major League Soccer team in Nashville would be a major boost for soccer at every level in Tennessee. Soccer fans across our state should be pulling for Nashville’s success.
Hans Hobson is the executive director of the Tennessee State Soccer Association, the sanctioning body for youth soccer in the state under U.S. Soccer. He is also a founding member of MLS2Nashville, a group of civic, business and sports leaders advocating for a Major League Soccer team in Nashville. To learn more about Nashville’s Major League Soccer effort, visit mls2nashville.com.