Several months ago, I was in Portland for two nights. On the first, I watched the Timbers along with a substantial sold out crowd. The next night, I sat in the same stadium with perhaps a thousand others to watch T2, the Timbers’ USL team. Very different experiences, to be sure, but there is something special about each.
As Nashville SC reaches the end of its second (and final) season in the United Soccer League, I’ve already started pre-mourning our departure. While I hope they make a deep run in the playoffs and win the damned thing (can you imagine what an exit that would be), we can only delay the inevitable for so long.
Yeah, I know: I probably sound like a loon. Nashville is about to enter Major League Soccer in a matter of months (the big time!), and here I sit moaning about leaving the USL. What the hell is wrong with me? Ultimately, I’m a romantic who always finds some way to miss what I no longer have, even if I have moved on to something better. Also, as I noted in an earlier column, these are the days in which traditions are built, and so it is fitting that we look back on them with a certain brand of nostalgia.
Here a few aspects of playing in the minor league of USL soccer that I’m going to miss:
1) The very real sense of intimacy that “small” can bring. As successful as we’ve been, there are numerous ways in which all of this feels very insider, very community oriented. If you attended the meet-and-greet with the team at First Tennessee Park, you know what I’m talking about. Not only did I feel as if I knew at least half of the fans there in some fashion, but we have all, as fans (not as ‘media’), been granted so much familiarity with the players, that I was able to re-greet several of them. I’ve met fans and players at trivia nights, at bars, and at a number of other events. These relationships with fans, players, and folks in the front office are not the norm when you have 30,000 fans all screaming for attention We’ll certainly have some level of this intimacy even as the club grows (that seems to be part of their focus), it’s also going to be different, more removed, more “professional.”
2) While I adore the experiences of huge crowds at places like Portland, LAFC, and Atlanta, I have to admit that I love playing at First Tennessee Park. Yeah, I know I’ll get over it and likely laugh about it in the future, but right now, I love, again, the “intimacy” of our current home. I know the folks around me, it’s easy to stroll over at halftime and see all the weirdos in The Backline. It’s just feels right. I did not look forward to playing in a baseball park; now, I adore it.
3) As a member of a podcast team, I’m going to miss the relations we have with the podcasts for other USL clubs. Rather than having to go through layers of conversation to speak to “media” for other teams, we are basically just asking another set of soccer nerds to chat with us. It’s easy, and there is a feeling of all being in it together. There are kinships I do not imagine feeling again.
4) I am going to miss the league itself. The USL seems like an ambitious and forward thinking group. Their establishment of four tiers of soccer and the suggestion that this might lead to promotion/relegation in the future is real evidence of a group that is ambitiously trying to reshape the meaning of soccer in the United States. Indeed, compared to all of the weird byzantine rules of the MLS and their only seeming ambition being to keep adding teams without a future visualized, the USL seems not only sane but thoughtful.
5) While I confess that I haven’t traveled as much as I would like, I’m going to miss the physical closeness of most of the venues and teams we play, as well as an in-state rivalry. I almost wish Memphis was moving up with us because I wanted to learn to hate them a little more.
Yes, the play in MLS is going to be better; yes, the crowds will be bigger; yes, the television work (and the quality of cameras, as my colleague Andy points out) will be improved; and yes, I’m certain that all of the growth we are about to experience is going to overshadow any of the aspects that I’m going to miss.
Nonetheless, someday, you and I are going to be talking about the good ole days of USL football, and we’ll be yammering on about the games at First Tennessee, the ways we seemed to know everyone who came, and some kid is going to be sitting there, in a crowd of 30k, at our own stadium, rolling his eyes at us.
You are going to miss some of this. Just you wait and see.
This article is an opinion piece and expresses solely the views of the author, not necessarily the views of Speedway Soccer as a whole.