By: Dana Malone-Kennedy
World Cup watchers don’t have to wait until Sunday afternoon for a phenomenal match for the glory.
That’s right: Nashville FC—the United States’ only supporter-owned football club— takes on Chattanooga FC at 7:00 pm CDT Friday night in the Southeastern Conference playoffs of the National Premier Soccer League, the fourth tier (semi-pro) in the Major Soccer League. Fans can enjoy the game in one of three ways—via live stream on YouTube, at Hurry Back on Elliston Place, or on the road with an eclectic mix of fans traveling down and back by charter bus (for $40.00) this afternoon.
According to Chris Jones, Nashville FC president, reaching the playoffs and attracting crowds of up to 1,800 fans per home game at Vanderbilt’s soccer stadium speaks to the growing interest in the game throughout Middle Tennessee.
“Around the league, coast to coast, very few teams can claim they have 1,000+ per game. We could do all sorts of things, but if the people in this area weren’t passionate about soccer it would be pointless. It’s a real testament to how strong soccer is in this area,” Jones said.
“We don’t have a single owner that’s going to get tired of us, tired of the league and pack up and move on. It’s not just call it ‘Nashville.’ It truly is ‘Nashville’s team.’ “
Although disappointed that his native Brazilians fell short of the World Cup, midfielder Roberto Pimentel looks forward to what he and his teammates bring to the concept Nashville FC: “Our Club, Our Town.”
“I think this [plan] with the members is beautiful planning to have for the future, for the next couple of years hopefully to get into a professional setting to bring all of these people out of their homes to watch soccer, a growing sport in the United States. As you can see, we’re doing a great job,” said Pimentel.
Nashville FC is a 501(c)7 nonprofit social club. Members pay annual dues of $40.00 on an August 1-July 31 cycle. Each member gets to vote on every issue affecting team operations. (Nashville FC offered a “founding-member” period, which ended May 10, where supporters could pay a higher $75.00 fee initially.) To date, Nashville FC has more than 700 members.
“We’ve got over 700 people who’ve put their names and their dollars to invest in this, so when it’s Saturday night and there’s 4,000 other things to do in Nashville, they say, ‘You know what, I’ve put my money on the line there, I’m part of that,’” said Nashville FC head coach Bryan Johnson, a fixture in the Nashville soccer community for 30 years.
Coach Johnson also would be the first to bring aboard the newest of fans.
“Well, I think our town thrives on a success story. You know when Vanderbilt basketball is going great, they make it to the Sweet 16, I love jumping on the bandwagon. I’m a Vanderbilt basketball fan.
“I think some people get real, real proud of their bandwagon; they don’t want anybody else to be on it. Soccer people sometimes, in the past, have felt a little bit like that: ‘This is our game, this is special, this is for us. I don’t want bandwagon jumpers.’
“I want everyone here who has a good time to say, ‘You know what? I’ve got a friend who’s a MMA guy, but I think he’d enjoy this kind of atmosphere of being in front of 2,000 or 3,000 people who are excited about what’s going on. You really might fall in love.”
“It was Jones’s jump from the gridiron to the FIFA video bandwagon that started the Nashville FC movement in large part.”
“Someone like me who wasn’t even interested in soccer got interested in FIFA,” said Jones, a former Middle Tennessee Blue Raider. “Now I’m part of this big organization. Who’s to say if we get a kid in there playing a FIFA tournament and next thing you know, you’ve got a Lionel Messi coming out of Nashville?”
The world will be waiting to see if Messi hoists the cup for Argentina Sunday. Let’s hope Nashville FC wins its first playoff game this evening. If so, they will play in the championship match Saturday, and Nashville FC will be offering a chartered bus package to that game. See nashvillefc.net for details.
Here is the link to the live stream of the Nashville FC v Chattanooga FC match (~7:00 CDT): https://www.youtube.com/user/theChattahooligans