Major League Soccer has awarded Nashville its latest expansion franchise, marking the 24th team to enter the league through the bidding process.
Nashville beat Cincinnati, Detroit and Sacramento, California, to the finish line for one of the two finalist spots for the league’s latest expansion teams. A decision on the second winner is expected to be announced within a few weeks.
Atlanta United and Minnesota United joined this year and Los Angeles FC starts in March, giving the league 23 teams.
“This is a town that really surprised us with 46,000 at the Gold Cup US-Panama match and over 50,000 for the Man City game just a few weeks later,” MLS commissioner Don Garber said. “So soccer-involved, great ownership and a great stadium plan, it just seemed like the perfect, perfect match.”
Garber added that Nashville will unlikely debut in the MLS in 2019, but 2020 was a strong possibility.
“We are making a lot of progress in Miami,” Garber said of David Beckham’s long-pending team. “We’re hopeful we’ll be able to bring that team over the finish line.”
The Tennessee team will play in a new, 27,500-seat soccer stadium at The Fairgrounds Nashville after last month the Metro Council voted 31-6 in favour of moving forward with the project that would construct the team’s home.
Metro Sports Authority last month also gave the green light to the project, which would see the football-specific stadium built at a cost of $275m (€237m/£209m).
The initiative also includes a funding package of $225m in revenue bonds, which has the backing of city Mayor Megan Barry.
“We will have a team that everyone can be proud of, and we will take a leadership role in enhancing the growth of the sport in a region that already has a passionate soccer culture,” John Ingram, head of the group that will own the team, said. “Nashville is going to be a very worthy addition to MLS.”
Garber added that Ingram and the Nashville owners will have the decision of whether the expansion franchise wants a new name or keeps the Nashville SC identify used for the team starting in the second-tier United Soccer League next season.
Garber said Sacramento, seen as the other favourite, is ready for MLS.
“They have some things to finalise with their ownership that I think would make them optimum,” Garber said. “We’ve said for many years there’s a great level of support for the game in Sacramento and I think there’s great interest in joining Major League Soccer.”