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USL announces Nashville FC as newest expansion side, to begin play in 2018

When a couple of soccer fans drew up plans for a supporter-owned club just over three years ago, their short-term aims were to place that club in the National Premier Soccer league and build a strong community following.

The long-term goal was to see Nashville FC in the fully professional United Soccer League by the end of the decade.

Consider all of those goals accomplished, well before the deadline.

Nashville FC – the brand now sold to ownership group DMD Soccer, with the original supporters' group still holding a 1 percent equity stake in the expansion side – was announced as the third-tier USL's newest franchise on Friday, with play to begin in 2018.

"We couldn't be more excited about the enthusiasm and momentum we are witnessing here in Nashville," Alec Papadakis, the league's chief executive officer, said during the announcement ceremony in downtown Nashville. "We are proud to officially welcome Nashville FC to the USL and even prouder of the commitment we have seen from the ownership group, Mayor (Megan) Barry, the Nashville City Council and the area's many soccer supporters."

The DMD Soccer ownership group is made up of LifePoint Health President and Chief Operating Officer David Dill, Provider Trust co-founder Chris Redhage, and Marcus Whitney, the founder and president of Jumpstart Foundry.

The group approached Nashville FC about purchasing the brand after being awarded a USL franchise in May. The NPSL club's members will have a voting seat on the USL side's board of directors.

Friday's announcement continues a trend of rapid soccer growth in Nashville, which has also hosted US senior and youth international teams in recent years – and the new USL club comes with ready-made rivals in St. Louis, Louisville, Charlotte and Cincinnati.

"The Metro Council just passed a budget that includes $6 million for new recreational soccer fields, and now we have a professional soccer team that will bear Nashville's name," Barry said during Friday's ceremony. "Soccer's growth in Nashville reflects our growth as a city and the diverse, vibrant communities that will make us a premier city for soccer in the Southeast."

The USL, which added six new teams for the 2016 season, currently has 29 teams in 19 states and three Canadian provinces, making it the largest single soccer league in North America. Another side, Reno 1868 FC, is set to join the league in 2017.