A lot of talk has recently centered around the emergence of Nashville as a soccer town in the United States.
Over the last several years, games in Nashville have drawn very well. In 2015, the USMNT drew over 44,000 for a friendly against Guatemala. In 2017, they drew over 47,000 for their Gold Cup opener against Panama. That same summer over 56,000 people showed up for a friendly between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur. The sudden explosion of soccer popularity in Nashville led to an expansion berth, first in the USL and then in MLS. They don’t begin play in MLS until next year but in their first season in the USL in 2018, they averaged over 13,000 fans a game, including drawing over 19,000 for their season opener (played at Nissan Stadium instead of their regular home of First Tennessee Park). That’s all very good. But Nashville has also shown-up in large numbers for the USWNT when they’ve appeared in the city. With their recent appearance at the SheBelieves Cup in the rear-view mirror, it’s safe to say that Nashville is not just a soccer hotbed but a solid supporter of women’s soccer.
The USWNT is no stranger to Nashville, having played here a total of four times, dating back to 2004. However, their first appearance was not a smashing success as they only drew a crowd of 9,110 against Canada, which was one of only three home games that year to draw under 10,000 fans (out of 17 total home games). On the bright side, attendance really had nowhere to go but up. And the next time the US was in Nashville, that’s exactly what happened.
After a nearly decade-long gap between games, the USWNT returned to Nashville in 2013 to play Scotland (funnily enough the home country of the US coach at the time, Tom Sermanni). But this time around, the crowd was better than it had ever been. Despite being on a weeknight, the game set the record for the largest crowd for a women’s soccer game in the state of Tennessee, drawing 14,224 (the previous record being 13,081 against Sweden in Chattanooga back in 1997). That record didn’t stand for long though as on their next visit in 2016 they greatly surpassed that.
As part of the inaugural SheBelieves Cup, Nashville played host to a double header with the US playing against France and then Germany playing England. An attendance figure for the second game is not available, but the US game drew a crowd of 25,363, which was the largest home crowd of the year for the USWNT. Quite remarkable that on back to back visits by the WNT, Nashville broke its own record for the largest crowd for a women’s soccer game in Tennessee.
This year, the USWNT returned to Nashville for the SheBelieves Cup but there was a new cast of characters involved. The US was still there and so was England but France and Germany were gone, replaced with Brazil and Japan (who had played in the Tournament of Nations in both 2017 and 2018). Those two got the day underway as Japan beat Brazil 3-1 in front of a crowd of 12,586, making it the largest crowd for a non-US game in the four year history of the SheBelieves Cup (though it was not the largest crowd on US soil for Japan/Brazil as the two drew 13,027 at the Tournament of Nations in Hartford last year).
Today, the US then took the field against England, and the crowd was bigger and more boisterous than it was for the first game. The crowd was announced at 22,125 but it felt like more than that. Most of the lower bowl looked full and they certainly brought the noise. It certainly helped that the game was very entertaining with the US going up 1-0 on a rocket-of-a-shot by Megan Rapinoe, England equalizing with a deadly free kick from Steph Houghton, England taking a 2-1 through Nikita Parris, and then the US equalizing at 2-2 with Tobin Heath poking it in after a crazy scramble on the goal line. It was an exciting game for sure, but it was the second straight draw in the tournament, putting the US in a position where they need a win on the final day of the SheBelieves Cup.
Every time the USWNT has gone to Nashville, the crowd and the atmosphere have gotten bigger and better. At this point, it’s safe to say that, just like the USMNT, the USWNT should be coming to Nashville more often. They have drawn every bit as well in Nashville as they have in the traditional spots like Kansas City and Portland. And if they keep coming back and continue to draw as well as they have, one has to wonder if the NWSL might be interested in putting a team in middle Tennessee.
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