NASHVILLE, Tenn. – It was their party, FC Cincinnati fans, so cry if you want to. You may still get yours.
FC Cincinnati fans watching on the web had to be jealous as the Music City stole their party and their Major League Soccer franchise Wednesday. But MLS Commissioner Don Garber gave FC Cincinnati fans reasons for optimism that the next one would be theirs.
Garber told WCPO's Jake Ryle that FC Cincinnati had "an unbelievable pitch. They did a wonderful job. I’m confident they’re in a good spot.”
MLS Commissioner @thesoccerdon: “@fccincinnati has an unbelievable pitch. They did a wonderful job," he added, "I’m confident they’re in a good spot.” @WCPO
Garber even gave thought to what a "Welcome to MLS" party in Cincinnati would be like.
"If that’s Cincinnati, they’ll have as good of an event, maybe make it bigger. And have things more complete than perhaps what they are today," Garber said. "Nobody should interpret or misinterpret of Nashville’s announcement having a negative impact on Cincinnati whatsoever.”
Garber said MLS would have more details Thursday about where the selection process goes from here. He said MLS hopes to announce another expansion team by the time the 2018 season opens in March.
MLS Commissioner: “We hoped to be able to finalize both teams at the same time before the holidays. We were unable to do that. We’re confident we can finalize the 2nd team shortly. We’ll give timing on that shortly." he added, "announced before MLS season in March." @WCPO
Nashville soccer fans and business and political leaders led by Mayor Megan Barry and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam celebrated at the Country Music Hall of Fame as Garber awarded them the league's 24th franchise - the one Cincinnati was hoping to get.
The announcement wasn't clear about this, but it seemed to indicate that Nashville would jump the line over Miami and enter the league in 2019 - one year sooner than expected. If so, MLS could end up taking two new teams to fill the expansion slots in 2020 - perhaps FC Cincinnati and Sacramento.
The other possibility is MLS is pushing David Beckham's Miami group back to 2020. Beckham's group was promised a team three years ago but can't get its financial act together.
Garber said all the bids were "MLS ready" but added, "We’re not final with any of the other markets.”
More quotes from Garber:
WHAT'S THE PROBLEM?: “There really isn’t a hitch or impasse in anyway. We want to have finalized agreements before we announced teams."
FC CINCINNATI IMPRESSIONS: "We have great respect for Carl Lindner and his family, Scott Farmer and his partner. We’re totally intrigued and impressed with what’s going on with FC Cincinnati. I visited the city and attended a great U.S. Open match.”
FC CINCINNATI COMPARED TO OTHER CITIES: “We still like all three sites. It’s premature for me to talk about what the issues are. They made a fantastic presentation- one that was impressive and complete. I can’t say enough about what a good job Carl and his group have done.”
SO WHY NASHVILLE?: “They came to the finish line first. They had their ownership group, their stadium, every element of their plan was there faster than everybody else. We’ve been very impressed. I think you can feel it here. We were able to finalize an agreement with them."
ON NASHVILLE'S STADIUM SITE: “It’s the reimagined plan for the Fairgrounds - the 10 acres of mixed-use entertainment, retail and residential that will be around that stadium, that will give it a feeling similar to the Gulch here. It was a very rundown part of this city that the Turner family, one of the owners of this team, redeveloped. If you want to walk around there, it’s a remarkable urban redevelopment.
"They had access to the site. Got public funding for the site. There’s a really cool master plan we think will be good for the city and good for the team, to have all sorts of opportunities that will make it successful.”
SOCIAL MEDIA ANGST FROM FANS: “I’ve been seeing and feeling some of that on social media. I think that’s social media talking."
Nashville doesn't have a pro soccer team and was considered a longshot when 12 cities entered bids 12 months ago, Garber said. But the Music City elbowed its way to the top with an enticing stadium plan, strong billionaire ownership and crowds of 56,000 and 48,000 at two international friendlies last summer.
Video that just ran, "Music City is a Soccer City". Governor says there won't be a day MLS regrets to name Nashville a franchise city. @WCPOpic.twitter.com/Vgzv0CQPYD
“Nashville is a rising city with a passionate soccer fan base, a dedicated ownership group and civic leaders that truly believe in this sport,” Garber said in a statement. “Nashville continues its ascent as one of America’s most dynamic communities, with its incredible energy and creativity. For us, that makes it a perfect place for MLS expansion.”
Garber calls Nashville a "city on the rise," also Jeff Berding's favorite phrase to describe Cincinnati.
Garber didn't mention that a local group had sued to block the stadium out of fears that it would kill the state fair, monthly flea markets and other traditional events at the Fairgrounds. But a judge dismissed it this week.
Garber applauded Berry and Haslam and the city's other major-league sports franchises, the Titans and Predators, for working together on the bid.
"It was amazing to see (all the teams) come together," Garber said.
Berry touted the public-private partnership that made it possible. The Metro government will issue $250 million in bonds to build the 27,500-seat stadium. Nashville SC puts $25 million down and pays $12 million a year for 30 years to retire the debt.
Restaurants, bars, retail and residential will fill 10 acres around the stadium.
Haslam implored the fans in the crowd and around state to make Nashville SC "Tennessee's team."
MLS had announced Nashville, Cincinnati, Sacramento and Detroit as four finalists for two expansion spots in 2020. Nashville joins Cincinnati and Sacramento in the United Soccer League next year.