A historic night in Huntsville

As two season ticket holders of Nashville SC for a multitude of years who have spent the vast majority of our time sitting together watching the ‘Yotes and discussing the matches in real time, the idea of getting the opportunity to see Nashville SC’s MLS Next team in its home opener seemed like a no-brainer, considering the proximity of the location and the chance to see some of the club’s exciting prospects.

On Friday night, the two of us (John Sloop and Andy Simmons) took the drive down to Huntsville for the inaugural Huntsville City FC game of Joe W. Davis Stadium (known to locals, we were to discover with great approval, as “The Joe”). 

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The experience was, simply put, a blast. We would encourage every NSC fan to make the trip down sometime to see our MLS Next Pro team and to groove on the atmosphere of an excited crowd at a newly refurbished stadium. Here are a few thoughts:

Positives

  1. The $29 million dollar upgrade of the old baseball stadium was well spent.  The entire pitch is now surrounded by seating of different sorts and all of the facilities have been updated. This is a sparkling new 6,000 seat stadium for what amounts to a second division soccer team. 

    In this country.

    That’s a great sign of the investment being made by the city of Huntsville, and it’s a sign of just how much people are willing to be on the future of the sport. 
  1. Relatedly, while we’ve seen wonderful new stadiums built for USL Championship teams (see, for example, Louisville’s Lyn Family Stadium that hosts both Louisville City FC and the NWSL’s Racing Louisville FC), it’s been rare for MLS Next Pro teams to play away from their parent’s stadium.  Dallas, one of the exceptions, has a team in nearby Arlington. 

    We have to think that this model, if it continues to be successful, will be of interest to other MLS teams. It simply has to be better to have your players out in front of crowds rather than in front of the small audiences that show up for a lot of other NextPro teams. 

    Were this team located in Nashville, the attendance would not be 6,000 screaming fans, wearing the jerseys of that team. It would more likely be maybe a hundred at best, and those would be wearing their NSC gear.  This is something different, something that helps develop players and grow the game.
  2. While the Joe, unlike the Geo, has plentiful parking, that comes at the cost of locating the stadium in a “non-downtown” area. That said, we were quite pleased with—and give our endorsement to—nearby Fractal Brewing as a place to pregame and post game.

    Indeed, when we first arrived we witnessed Jeremy Devito and members of FUBAR getting a march to the stadium started from Fractal.  (As an aside, the YellowHammer beer garden inside the Joe is not slouchy either).

Room for improvements

  1. The Supporter’s Group:  Yeah, yeah, we realize this is gonna be a predictable yarn, but we can’t help ourselves because the experience was so mixed. On the one hand, it’s awesome that their version of the Backline was crowded and already had three different SGs carrying flags out to the field. 

    We have huge respect for that and absolutely adore how lit and loud they are.  On the other hand—and we realize this gets said all the time—the fact that all the chants seem to be the same (we had to force ourselves to sub “Huntsville” for Nashville in the appropriate places) has begun to… what… dissipate the power of SGs.  When the chants are the same at every stadium, it becomes more like aural wallpaper than intimidate. 

    (As a side note, while we waited on hearing some version of Rocket Man through the game, we were rewarded with the song after the game concluded. Also, big props to the jersey put out by the Soccernauts256 group. That thing is tasty, and we were looking to buy one).
  2. Again, while marveling at the stadium and support there, we’ve grown accustomed to watching lots of replays on stadium screens, and we simply weren’t given a lot of that. The screens had wonderful graphics and nice detail but it would be nice to get to rewatch a few goals or difficult to understand referee decisions.

    Then again, maybe we are just spoiled.
  3. The concession lines: While it’s a wonderful sign that so many people were filling the concourses and buying food and jerseys, it also took a long time to get through those lines. Hopefully some of this was simply “first night” issues that will get ironed out.  (We are also perfectly willing to concede that we’ve gotten lazy by sitting in Club seats at Geodis).

Ultimately, the experience was a solid 9.5 out of 10. And while we can always find something to quibble about (it’s what we do), we are going to be heading back down I-65 to do this again. 

Huntsville has something wonderful going there, and every Nashville SC fan should experience it sometime. 

Author: John Sloopgrew up in Asheville, NC, and after forays to Georgia and Iowa, found his way to Nashville over 25 years ago. On a trip to Portland, Oregon, 15 years ago, he watched the (then) USL Portland Timbers youth squad play one afternoon and fell completely and totally in love with soccer, to the detriment of his love of all other sports. In addition to thinking, writing, watching, and talking about soccer, Sloop teaches media and rhetoric at Vanderbilt. He is currently serving as the Chair of the Board of the Belcourt Theater and is part of the team that runs Tenx9 Nashville, a monthly story telling event.

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