by Scotty Smith
10 August, 2017
In December of 2016, Dr. Nipun Chopra of SocTakes.com reported that Memphis and Birmingham were the first two cities in line for 2019 USL expansion. He reinforced his prediction last week in his USL expansion article and on Twitter. He was soon proven to be at least partially correct, as Birmingham was announced by USL on August 8. But when Austin was announced a day later, there was some doubt as to whether or not Memphis really was the second city.
However, Dr. Chopra has no reason to fret – his prediction will still likely come to pass. Austin is not TECHNICALLY an expansion team. They played in the USL in 2015, but floods and finances derailed the club’s progress. Now that their investors have worked out a deal with the new FC Barcelona training facility at Circuit of the Americas, an announcement to the public was the next logical step. It does not mean Austin was the second expansion city.
So which city is next in line? Geoff Calkins, the head honcho among Memphis sports writers, believes it will be the Bluff City. Calkins also talked about it on his 92.9 show.
For Memphis-area soccer fans, it is incredibly strange to see the sport in the mainstream media. (There’s a soccer story in the Commercial Appeal; grab the devil a snow shovel and look out for flying pigs.) What on Earth could warrant such attention, and right here before the start of college football?
For starters, the USL is a newsworthy league. It is the second division of soccer in these United States, and their growth and organization skills have been on display across the nation for the last seven years. In fact, they have been far more stable and successful than the NASL, a group of clubs who split from USL in 2011. Cities like Louisville and Cincinnati, who were old Memphis rivals in days of basketball yore, have enjoyed incredible success in USL. Nashville, Birmingham, and St. Louis will all surely be rivals for the new USL team. Those teams should form the geographic core of the new Central Division, which is rumored for 2019. Local sports fans are sure to get fired up about beating those teams, just because of past feelings developed on the hardwood.
In addition, the Redbirds are the rumored owners. Anyone who is paying attention knows that the Redbirds are being run the right way. The team is 77-40, and are 21.5 games ahead of second-place Nashville (booooo!) in the PCL American South. By all accounts locally, this organization is being run in the most fantastic of ways. They are constantly looking to improve an already incredible ballpark, which thrillest and Baseball America rank among the tops in minor league baseball.
So what would a Redbirds-run professional soccer team mean for downtown Memphis? Well, it is theoretically possible that Auto Zone Park would host a game every single Saturday from March to October. The citizens of Metro-Memphis could conceivably go downtown every single weekend and catch a sporting event. So your friends are coming in from out of town? Cool. Take them down to the Rendezvous or B.B. King’s or Jerry the King’s place or wherever they want a t-shirt and a take home cup. After that, mosey on over to Auto Zone Park. When you arrive, they will sell you tickets for a baseball game or a soccer match. Who cares? Either way, it will be a great night out at the ol’ ball game.
Memphis-area sports fans have grown accustomed to going downtown for sporting events. The proximity to Beale St. will surely help the potential club; it makes for a great night out after the match. And the potential for awesomeness BEFORE the match is outstanding. The Brass Door, an incredible Irish restaurant on Madison, recently built a soccer pub. A march to the match from that location would be amazing. The supporters could simply walk out of The Brass Door, (carefully) cross the street, march down Maggie H. Isabell to Monroe, and enter the back door of the stadium on the third base side. It’s too easy, and it would create scenes that are tailor-made for YouTube.
So, is this real life? Is this happening? Well, where there is smoke, there is soccer. All signs point to yes. In fact, based on some conversations I have had around the city as of late, I am 99.99% sure that Memphis will field a team in USL in 2019. As for that remaining 0.01%…I think it will soon be eliminated. But it must remain for now, because things have fallen through before. But if you have harbored dreams of pro soccer since the Rogues left in 1981, go ahead and get excited. At this point, it certainly seems like you will not be disappointed.