NASHVILLE, Tenn. – When MLS2Nashville Chairman Will Alexander visited the Major League Soccer offices on Dec. 6, he mentioned that part of the city's pitch was that it would close a geographic hole in the MLS map, instantly providing the closest league club for 13 million fans across nine states.
And former Tennessee Titans running back Eddie George, one of the honorary co-chairs for MLS2Nashville along with fashion model and philanthropist Lily Aldridge, believes a natural rivalry will develop with Atlanta United.
"Geographically speaking, they're closest to us," George acknowledged. "The city's excited for it. I think it's going to be an awesome time in a city that can definitely support it."
ESPN analyst Taylor Twellman, a former MLS player, cautioned that any efforts cannot be forced, that the game on the field must dictate that development.
"You can't tell the fans what the rivalry is," Twellman said. "For all we know, it could be LAFC, or Sporting Kansas City - that's not too far away, either. And if [fellow expansion candidate] Cincinnati is the second team [selected] … there's a lot there. But the potential, because Atlanta and Orlando have done such a good job coming in, is massive for those rivalries."
For lead investor John Ingram, a rivalry with Atlanta seems likely, but comes laden with a debt of gratitude.
"First of all, I want to thank Mr. Blank and the whole Atlanta United organization," Ingram said. "I think they showed that MLS soccer could be wildly popular in the South, and I think that materially helped us.
"I just have to pinch myself to think that I have Arthur Blank as a colleague, and at game time, a competitor. I have so much admiration for what he's done outside soccer and inside it. Everyone wants to win at game time, but otherwise, we're all in this together.
Mark Wilf, representing his family's interest in the ownership group, speaks from experience as Minnesota Vikings co-owner, with the NFC North's frosty, feisty match-ups.
"Rivalries are the pulse of sports, " Wilf said. "What Atlanta has shown in this league is an incredible, dynamic fanbase. You hear it with Nashville here. It's going to be a great rivalry."
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