Pitch Points is annoyed that #stadium_stuff is back in the news

Rounding up the latest across the internet in links that are interesting and relevant to soccer in Nashville, the US National setups, and beyond. If there’s anything you’d like me to share in a future post, you can always let me know on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram – and hit those socials with a follow while you’re there – or drop anything in the comments.

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how dare you disrupt this post-industrial wasteland with nice new buildings! Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country

#stadium_stuff. Save Our Fairgrounds has inexplicably been allowed to continue their frivolous lawsuit against Metro trying to stop construction on the MLS stadium. If you had any questions about whether they’re actually concerned for Nashville, or just want their way or the highway, with the citizens of Davidson County on the hook for the legal costs… well, you shouldn’t have needed more evidence, but now you have it. (As an aside, maybe they should link up with their spiritual companions in the NASL leadership? Spitballin’ here).

Meanwhile, Nashville’s NPR affiliate has a (very very brief) story on the Community Benefits Agreement, with a throwaway quote from the author of Field of Schemes saying “yeah well this is just another way to get people on your side,” which, yeah? That’s the, uh, point?

Elsewhere in #stadium_stuff, this is actually old news (Mortenson-Messer awarded construction bid), but pending the outcome of SOF’s frivolous lawsuit, we have a timeline:

According to city documents, final plans should be submitted to the MLS by Feb. 25, 2019, with construction starting the following June. The stadium is scheduled to open Feb. 19, 2021.

I would assume we get public release of the final-final plan within a week or so of submission to MLS, and the stadium is scheduled to open in plenty of time for the second season in the big leagues.

MLS to Copa Libertadores? This would be interesting, essentially a combination of the current Copa Libertadores (the South American club championship) and Concacaf Champions League (North American version of same). It’d be similar to Copa America Centenario on the national team side of things: cooperation between the two confederations.

The travel might be… interesting… but there are certainly ways around that. I’ve advocated for some time that the continental North and South American nations band together to form a new confederation (while the Caribbean teams band together to form their own, which would feature a lot fewer 10-0 scorelines against the USAs and Mexicos of the world – each group finds its level with a new confederation, essentially), and any cooperation is a symbolic step toward that, if not an actual one.

TFCII piece. The Athletic also covers life in the USL($), though (and this is not the fault of the author, their TFC beat reporter), I’d wager that MLS B-sides have a pretty different experience from independent teams at both ends of the spectrum. It also frames life in USL in a way that I don’t much care for – though I don’t think it was the intention of the author to slam the league – it’s just been interpreted that way.

It’s one thing for college players to have crappy life on the road where they’re not paid and coaches (more in revenue sports, but college soccer coaches are well-compensated, too). Somebody – the labor! – is getting the raw end of the deal there. In a minor league sport where the players are making about as much as possible while the team is barely surviving (or in many cases, unable to do so)… I have more of a problem acting like somebody is being wronged, except inasmuch as everyone is being wronged by the market’s lack of making soccer profitable. Obviously, I would love for there to be a world in which guys can making a living playing second-division soccer in the United States (and teams should obviously thrive to do as much for them as they can). But the reason we *don’t* have that isn’t some greedy-owner situation, either.

MLS2 sides and independent USL clubs also have very different organizational goals and finances from each other… perhaps it could be considered an indictment of Toronto FC from top-to-bottom ($28 mil in salary among MLSPA members) more so than the USL system.

NPSL Pro. The long-rumored/planned/whatever professional division of NPSL will launch in 2019. The teams:

New York Cosmos, Detroit City FC, Milwaukee, Chattanooga FC, Miami United FC, Miami FC, San Diego Albion, Cal United, Cal FC, FC Arizona and Oakland Roots.

At least two of those are extremely expected (Detroit and Chattanooga), while there’s a notable exception in Jacksonville, though there’s a note at the bottom of the story that they’re still exploring the professional opportunity while keeping one foot in a commitment to the amateur variety of NPSL.

My thought? Cool! More opportunities for soccer – and particularly professional soccer – in our country is always a good thing. Much like I’ve said the anti-NCAA (the college soccer pathway, not the objectively evil organization) zealots are wrong: the more pathways, the more opportunities for the sport to become profitable and the more opportunities for development. That’s good!

I do question the viability long-term, especially in markets with at least one MLS team (New York, Miami) and the smaller markets with USL competition (Chattanooga, Cal FC), but I hope they’re successful. Not sure how I’d feel about every non-MLS/USL-affiliated professional league failing over time. It would say bad things about our soccer culture. (No problem watching the fake NASL fail over and over again, though. Screw those guys, even if two of them are involved in this project).

fh. Good stuff on Dos a Cero (and its death?) from The Athletic($). … The basics of the Dortmund bus bombing story aren’t exactly new. That doesn’t make the story any less wild. … World Cup tactics and the return of the counter-attack. … Louisville City helped energize the area’s soccer community. We’re seeing that in Nashville as well, though perhaps starting from further behind. … Memphis’s USL team announces first signings. … USMNT losing prospects to Mexico as players head to the land of their heritage for opportunities. … This agent-fee story is probably way more interesting to a Europe-focus audience. … Nissan will host a Gold Cup semi next Summer. Holy cow I’m out here clearing oooooold links. … USYNT’s Konrad de la Fuente one of the 60 best 2001-born players in the world.

As always, thanks for reading. Like what you see? Share FCAC with a friend!

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Music City is indeed Soccer City

The title is a play on one of the early posts I made on this site, but it’s more true now than ever – and that reputation will only continue to increase.

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We back, baby. Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country (but like, way before I started the site).

Certainly, fans of FC Cincinnati – home to a USL franchise two entire years before Nashville SC’s USL side debuted – will continue to crow about a lack of history, Louisville City fans will cry about something as it relates to being sellouts, but there’s no denying that Nashville’s beginning to build plenty of buzz.

Yes, there’s the news that they’ll be hosting an MLS team in the fourth round of the US Open Cup (and the small fact that it happens to be the most-beatable MLS team of 2018 certainly doesn’t hurt that buzz). That’s not it, though. Nashville SC also hired a bigtime General Manager for when the MLS days begin in 2020, and that’s something that has generated attention well beyond the Metro area – indeed, it’s made major waves overseas as well. And it says Nashville means business.

So too does hosting FC Cincinnati July 7 in Nissan Stadium. The Boys from Queen City like to brag incessantly about their ability to fill a venue (in between complaints about Nashville’s lack of soccer history, of course), and it’s time to help put their money where their mouth is. The venue’s soccer record of 56.232 fans – set last Summer for a friendly between Manchester City and Tottenham hotspur – should be in serious danger. With the right marketing push, it should absolutely fall. Given that Cincinnati will be a fellow future MLS team by then makes it all the more exciting.

The club isn’t directly involved, but that Nissan Stadium will also host an international friendly in September is exciting. That it’s far and away the No. 1 rivalry game in Concacaf is even better. Nashville soccer fans turn out for the Men’s national team, and they’ll definitely turn out for a contest against the hated El Trí.

As if that’s not enough, the combination of all the above factors has led to another major move. European clubs are reaching out to the Boys in Gold about a friendly this Summer, knowing that they’ll be able to play in front of tons of relatively new (and plenty of existing) soccer fans:

There’s a buzz about town, and it’s up to not only Nashville SC – which currently sits tenth in the USL (though with two games in-hand on more than half the teams ahead of them) – but also Inter Nashville FC – playing tonight at International Indoor Soccer in Antioch – and fans, players, and supporters of the beautiful game to make it all stick.

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Courtesy Nashville SC

It doesn’t start with any one particular factor in play. Only through the combination of multiple avenues coming together to grow the game, grow the support, and grow the local clubs, can greatness be achieved. Then, Music City may just be supplanted as the nickname of choice.

Gold Cup coming to Nashville in 2019

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Nashville SC owner John Ingram (center) welcomes Gold Cup officials. Courtesy Tennessee Titans.

Concacaf’s Gold Cup is one of the depressingly few meaningful tournaments the United States Men’s National Team will be participating in for the foreseeable future (no World Cup this Summer). A small consolation prize for fans in Nashville is that they’ll likely have the opportunity to see the team up-close and personal in Nissan Stadium.

Nashville will be one of the host cities for the tournament (as it was in 2017, as well).

“We’re thrilled to welcome the Gold Cup back to Nashville next year,” Nashville Mayor David Briley said. “Soccer is growing and thriving here, and Concacaf and its teams and fans will get the same warm welcome all our visitors receive – plus a lot of loud cheers and chants ringing through Nissan Stadium. The Gold Cup will be another great showcase for ‘the beautiful game’ in our beautiful city.”

There’s no guarantee that the United States will be in Music City – there are 15 host cities around the country, and with 16 teams from the Confederation participating, the United States won’t be in all of them – but the right to host games in an international tournament is an honor nonetheless. It’s also one soccer fans in Nashville should embrace, proving that the honor of having been granted an MLS franchise is one that is well-deserved, despite having checks notes one year less time as a club than “we have proven ourselves”-trumpeters FC Cincinnati (whose MLS announcement should be coming soon, by most accounts).

Nissan Stadium welcomed 47,622 fans last Summer for a Gold Cup Group B game between the USMNT and Panama (the game ended in a 1-1 draw) July 8, and its record attendance was shattered by the end of the month when a friendly match between English Premier League sides Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur drew 56,232 July 29.

The high attendance for a home team was 18,922 back on March 24 of this year, when NSC tied Pittsburgh Riverhounds 0-0 in the second game of the USL season. It’s possible (though perhaps not likely, barring a major marketing push) that the record attendance in Nissan is challenged July 7, when Nsshville SC welcomes FC Cincinnati to town.

International soccer is expected to be in Nashville even sooner, of course, with a reported USA-Mexico friendly match likely to be announced for Nissan Stadium over Labor Day weekend.

Boys in Gold don’t eclipse one record, but can NSC set more?

Player ratings and game breakdown coming tomorrow – it’s some college hockey to watch today. Don’t forget to follow FCAC on Twitter and at the new Facebook page.

Saturday, Nashville SC didn’t quite break an attendance record for second-division soccer in the United States – despite the expectation. 18,922 fans saw the Boys in Gold drew the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in a scoreless outing.

That was slightly fewer than the previous record for a debut (and fewer than the 20,000-plus tickets that were sold) of 20,231 by the 2014 Sacramento Republic – that was a full house for the Republic, so fortunately NSC had the opportunity to beat that record by moving its debut into a larger venue in Nissan Stadium, but the weather conspired to prevent records from falling.

Despite that, the fans who made the trip were appreciated by the club.

“This was what we like to see as professionals playing a professional sport,” said goalkeeper Matt Pickens. “You want to see people come to the game that are into the game, that come to see us put on a performance. In a way, we feel like we let them down a little bit not getting three points, or not giving them a goal that they really wanted. They were really lively today: every time we got forward, every time we got a corner you could hear them going. Even at the final whistle, you could almost hear them, go [sigh], because they wanted more. That’s great to see. You want to play for people that care. I think they showed that today for us.”

“If I could just add to that, I thought the support was terrific,” said Gary Smith. I’ve said all along there needs to be a relationship that’s built between players and the fans. Today went a long way towards that. I think the players felt – as Matt said – the feelings that were i the crowd, they got behind us when we got on top, they tried desperately to raise the group, which was fabulous. When Matt was keeping the ball out of the other end, the got behind it – there was a great reaction. They really tried to help us out in some difficult times. That relationship hopefully as we move forward, will create a bond as we go back to First Tennessee Park that can make a real difference, and create an environment that we can be more successful in.”

FC Cincinnati’s record for a home opener (not in a club’s debut game) of 23,144, and NSC will have to wait until next season for an opportunity to crack that one.

What are some other relevant records the club can strive to reach? The regular-season USL record is 30,417, another FC Cincinnati mark, which they established Sept. 16 against New York Red Bulls II. The overall record for a USL side (not just in a league game) came in a US Open Cup match against the parent club, with the MLS Red Bulls helping draw 33,250 to Nippert Stadium.

While we’re at it, the record for a soccer game in Nashville is 56,232 set at last Summer’s International Champions Cup friendly between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur. That broke a record set less than a month earlier of 47,622 during a Gold Cup match between the United States and Panama. Both of those marks are out of the realm of possibility, if we’re being realistic here. The previous record of 29,059 – for a 2011 friendly between the United States and Paraguay – is a stretch, but possible.

If NSC had seen 22-23,000 through the gates yesterday (as expected), it’d be much more realistic to expect some of those records to fall.

What will it take? There’s only one more game this season scheduled for Nissan Stadium. That’s against US Open Cup (and USL attendance) darlings FC Cincinnati July 7. That FCC has been a successful squad certainly adds an incentive to make it out to the game… that Cincy’s fans are notorious poor travelers doesn’t help.

First of all, a nicer display of soccer Saturday would have helped. That’s not to say the team was poor (though Smith, Pickens, and Lebo Moloto might say they let the fans down), but the casual fan likes to see goals. There were a lot of first-timers in Nissan Stadium. Enjoying themselves and seeing excitement helps draw them back for future contests, and the extra-casual fan would have been happier with scoring.

More importantly, though, the club needs to continue seeing success. They currently sit 11th in the table. FCC sits sixth. There are 13 NSC games (Cincinnati has 16) between now and July 7. If both teams are able to move toward – and then stay at – the top of the table, this becomes a far more important match in the USL East with a palpable buzz involved.

That the game takes place shortly after the conclusion of NHL season (for reference, the final game last year was June 11, which you may recall as the same day the US Men’s National Team earned a result in Azteca (what happened over the rest of qualifying? For some reason I can’t remember)) is a boost as well. We’ll be in just the sweet spot when fans are looking for a local team to support.

Fans have a chance to help Nashville SC make history Saturday

You can still get tickets to this match. Buy them on Ticketmaster or from your Supporters Group of choice today.

When Nashville SC takes the pitch against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds tomorrow evening, there’s a decent chance that we see a new USL record established. The club has already sold more than 17,000 tickets for the game – around 4,000 off the high mark for a home debutante in the league.

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Nissan Stadium is an impressive sight for soccer in the United States

Back in February, the club announced a move from their typical home venue, First Tennessee Park, to the home of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans, Nissan Stadium. Going from a maximum capacity around 10,000 to the expectation of doubling that number in a different venue says impressive things about the growth of the club in its early stages as a professional outfit.

“It should have a wonderful turnout from the city,” said head coach Gary Smith. “I believe over 17,000 tickets sold at this point. So fingers crossed it will be a pretty decent day weather-wise, and we could see this lower bowl more than three-quarters full, maybe even full if we’re fortunate.

“It’s a wonderful occasion to get probably 20,000 or more people in this stadium to get behind us and to really show them where we’re at. We’ve got a really positive mindset.”

The lower bowl at Nissan Stadium holds about 27,500 fans (with the club sections and upper decks adding enough to get to the full capacity of over 69,000 for an NFL game). While the threat of rainy weather tomorrow may reduce the likelihood of the Boys in Gold packing that out, ticket sales in the final day before the match – and walk-up purchases day-of – should see them come close.

The stadium itself is a sight to behold. While even a full Nissan Stadium can’t accommodate the 81,000 fans of Real Madrid’s home venue in Spain – and NSC won’t attract even the 69,000 fans Saturday – the visuals are reminiscent of some of the biggest and most famous grounds in all of sport.

“It’s beautiful,” defender Taylor Washington said. “You look at it and you see the massive stands and think of the Bernabeu or one of those major European stadiums. Of course the atmosphere will play a huge factor for us: we’ll have 17,000 fans, which is amazing.”

The team is well aware that it has a responsibility to put on a good show for the crowd tomorrow. There’s only so much value to be gained from loading 20,000-plus into Nissan if they don’t feel the entertainment value. Turning casuals into diehard fans is one goal of moving to the larger capacity venue.

Fortunately, NSC does indeed play an exciting, attacking style of soccer. Fans will like what they see – and hopefully want to return.

“We want to play our brand of soccer, which we believe is attractive, and it’s going to be exciting for the fans,” Washington said. “When we play that way, we do believe that wins will come out of it.”

There are still plenty of tickets available for tomorrow’s match. If you want to be a part of history and don’t have your ticket yet, head to Ticketmaster and get in the door to witness USL – and Nashville – history.

Nissan Stadium game a huge opportunity for Nashville SC

You can do your part in helping the club set records. Buy tickets here today.

When the lights come up on Nissan Stadium Saturday, will they be shining on a USL-record crowd? There’s a distinct possibility. While Nashville SC won’t likely be snapping FC Cincinnati’s overall single-game record (save that for July 7 when FCC itself comes to town), the inaugural home-game record of 20,497 – also held by FCC – is at risk.

The club has announced sales of over 16,000 tickets to date, and with a few more days and a nice walk-up crowd expected, 21k isn’t out of the question. For the on-field members of the club, though, it’s the support – rather than an arbitrary number – that makes the most difference.

“For us, it’s going be in front of what we hope is a big crowd,” head coach Gary Smith said. “[It’s the] opening home fixture, a wonderful venue and an opportunity to really get ourselves back on track.”

Fan support may be able to help will the team to victory – NSC is looking for a bounceback after their 2-0 loss to Louisville City FC Saturday.

The support from the community has been a major part of the early stages of Nashville SC’s days as a professional club. Moving this game to Nissan Stadium is indicative of that: their regular venue, First Tennessee Park with a 9,000-seat capacity, simply couldn’t meet the demand of the first competitive professional match held in Music City.

“It’s a tremendous commitment,” Smith said. “We had a great support system over the weekend and it was wonderful to see so many supporters there getting behind the group. I believe we have sold 16,000 tickets, so there is already a wonderful foundational level set for tickets sold.

“There’s a fabulous chance we will not only have a great crowd but we will be close to that number of breaking an opening season and game record- and even if it doesn’t, we will still have tremendous support- and for a team that is playing their first game at home, we are going to need that. We’re very much excited to have such a great base of supporters and it’s their opportunity to make this a great opening and historical game in Nashville.”

Of course, records in the stands are secondary to the record in the league table for the Boys in Gold. The Pittsburgh Riverhounds head down Saturday afternoon for their season opener after a USL bye (their reserves lost a friendly to Villanova University) last Saturday. They – like NSC – should be jockeying for a playoff spot this year.

You can do your part. Soccer in the city can only grow with a fanbase behind it. Buy tickets or risk missing out on history.

Play ball!

Nashville SC will play in a baseball stadium Saturday, but it’s an experience they’ll acclimate to very quickly: their lone home game to date (and the vast majority of home games this season) will be played at First Tennessee Park, home to the AAA Nashville Sounds.

Of course, the regular-season home opener and the July 7 Cincinnati game will be in Nissan Stadium (Buy your tickets for the opener!), so we won’t experience the friendly confines again until April 7 against Charlotte Independence. However, with Louisville Slugger Stadium coming up, what are the things to know about soccer in a baseball stadium.

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Sketchy turf

Anyone who watched Nashville SC’s opening friendly against Atlanta United knows that the temporary turf placed over the infield in baseball stadia can be risky. Especially when there are adverse weather conditions, turf that is meant to be removed at game’s end can play differently.

A backpass that stops dead in a puddle is something we’ve already seen (leading to an Atlanta United goal). We haven’t seen players tripping over seams in the sod, balls taking a funny bounce on those seams, or the full range of different properties that can have.

We’ll see them by the end of the Summer, though.

Sightlines

Fortunately, the viewing angles in First Tennessee Park appeared to be pretty good: no obstructed views, the farthest distance of any viewing area on the field is reserved for the away supporters, and there are some nice intimate-to-the-pitch seats. There aren’t a ton of negatives from the viewer’s perspective.

There is at least one though (as pointed out on Twitter by Ken Hirt): the netting to prevent foul balls from hitting fans during baseball games was left up for soccer, unnecessarily putting a bit of a visual barrier (in both a literal and symbolic sense) between fans in sections 111-115 (and maybe others – I didn’t even notice since it didn’t affect me). Hopefully, that oversight is corrected for future home games.

A highly positive part of the seating arrangement? The primary supporters’ groups, The Roadies and The Assembly, are right off the field, right behind one of the goals. They’ll have a good opportunity to set the tone for the atmosphere during games.

Unplanned architecture

One aspect that didn’t come to light against Atlanta was the dynamic of stands that are designed to watch an entirely sport. There may have been one corner kick in the near-right position (where the right field foul pole would be for baseball) during that game, but I can’t recall.

did notice that there’s not a lot of clearance there. Watching the USL Championship Game in November, there’s even less at Louisville Slugger Stadium. There won’t be the opportunity to run-up to corner kicks with the flag touching the outfield wall in the event of a breeze.

For second-division teams (both of whom have stadium plans in the works to varying degrees, NSC’s obviously contingent on the MLS move), it’s not ideal, but not that enormous a worry.

 

Attendance

Nashville SC won’t be setting any attendance records in First Tennessee Park. A sellout crowd of fewer than 10,000 took in the Atlanta game. The reality of playing in a minor league baseball stadium necessarily inhibits the ability to draw enormous crowds.

That’s a big part of the reason two games have been moved to Nissan Stadium. The club will be able to compete for “debut game” attendance records against Pittsburgh in just over a week, and the USL record for attendance (30,187) against FC Cincinnati – current holders of that record, and happy to pass it off, if only temporarily – July 7.

Overall

As a temporary solution, there’s not much wrong with First Tennessee Park. Its size will limit fans’ exposure for the next couple years (with the tradeoff of potentially making NSC a hot ticket), and playing on a baseball field has its own drawbacks.

With a new stadium and new league in the future, though, it’s full speed ahead. Against Louisville City this weekend… at least the Boys in Gold will be a little more familiar with the ups and downs before the game kicks off.