MLS tour of expansion candidate cities continues through Southeast

Nissan Stadium

This week, MLS Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott will visit two more expansion cities (Charlotte and Raleigh), but last week Nashville was in the spotlight with the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup coming to town and the city setting a Tennessee soccer-record with 47,622 attending for the July 7 doubleheader.

Ahead of the  United States’ tournament opener, Commissioner Garber visited Nashville, a relatively late arrival to the field of cities bidding for one of four Major League Soccer expansion franchises. Garber said he sees parallels between the city’s ethos and that of the league.

"Nashville is very much like Major League Soccer. It’s a city on the rise,” Garber said. “There’s an incredible energy here. And there’s an empowerment of the millennial market. And there’s a creative community [along with] the strength of the entertainment and music business.”

Garber said the ownership group built by businessmen John Ingram and Bill Hagerty has provided a solid foundation for the expansion bid.

“We have one of the great formulas that drives the success of pro sports in America, not just MLS,” Garber said. “And that’s a very committed, locally based ownership group that’s fabric of the community.”

Garber acknowledged no team will enter the league without a stadium, and the group toured the Fairgrounds Nashville.

Success at the gate for Saturday’s Gold Cup doubleheader, Garber said, was just the latest in the string of international matches to evidence Nashville's passion for the sport.

Advance ticket sales for the Group B doubleheader had “exceeded expectations,” he said, as did the more than 25,000 for the US women’s national team in the 2016 She Believes Cup.

“I do believe that soccer can succeed in any city in North America today,” Garber said.

MLS Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott will visit Charlotte on Tuesday, and then Raleigh on Wednesday. The league announced in 2015 that it plans to grow to 28 teams. Of the 12 teams that submitted bids by the January 31, 2017 deadline for the latest round of expansion, MLS will select a total of four teams, with two slated to be confirmed by the end of 2017.