Nashville is a sports city on the rise. Going back to the Predators’ Stanley Cup run in 2017 and the 2019 NFL Draft, Music City has begun to garner national attention as a city that puts on sporting events like no other.
Nashville SC came onto the Major League Soccer scene in 2020. The Boys in Gold brought a crowd of nearly 60,000 to their first match and are set to open the largest soccer-specific stadium in North America next year. All this has made the city an attractive option for international soccer events. The Mexican national team played a friendly at Nissan Stadium in June. The United States kick off their final round of World Cup qualifying in Nashville. And the city is on the shortlist of potential host cities for the 2026 World Cup.
“The reason we’re here is Nashville’s a great sports venue,” USMNT general manager Brian McBride told Broadway Sports and Speedway Soccer on Wednesday. “They have great fans. We’ve enjoyed our time in the past being here. Now the fact that Nashville SC is here and you have a great club really rooted here is going to be another bonus.”
The U.S. will use Nashville as a base camp for their first three matches of the last round of World Cup qualifying. They’ll meet in Nashville and train for a couple days before heading to El Salvador on September 3, returning to Nashville to play Canada on September 5, and then playing in Honduras on September 9.
“A lot of people think [selecting a city] as easy as just saying ‘Hey, we like that city. We like that stadium. Let’s go!’,” said McBride. “There’s so much more to it, especially this go-round. Because we’ll have three matches in a matter of just over a week. Travel comes into it. Weather, stadiums, the training facilities, all of that comes into play when we’re making decisions on sites. It’s a very intricate and detailed decision, and we’re really happy that it worked out for Nashville to be able to host us, and especially host our first home qualifying game, which we all know is of huge importance.”
The three-game windows will be a big adjustment for every country in Concacaf, but especially teams like the United States, who have significant portions of their player pool based in Europe.
“The recovery aspect becomes hugely important,” McBride observed. “Usually you have players come in Sunday or Monday for a period of recovery for first two days or adaptation if they’re coming from Europe. All of that gets heightened. Instead of having a game on Saturday and a game on Tuesday, you have a game on Thursday as well. So when they arrive, whether it’s Sunday or Monday, possibly sometimes Tuesday, they might have one or two days of training together.”
The U.S. failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, a massive failure on multiple levels. ESPN analyst Taylor Twellman famously asked “what are we doing” immediately in the wake of the infamous loss in Trinidad.
Since then, US Soccer has reshaped their program. Earnie Stewart was brought in as sporting director, Gregg Berhalter was named head coach after a year-long search, and Brian McBride was hired as the general manager.
McBride, whose role focuses heavily on youth development and integrating promising players from clubs all over the world into the youth national team programs, is a large part of that change. In the last several years, players like Tyler Adams, Brendan Aaronson, and Gianluca Busio have been sold from MLS clubs to Europe. Additionally, players like Weston McKennie have opted not to sign MLS contracts, leaving their clubs academy setup to sign professionally in Europe.
“What you’re seeing is actually what we were doing, what US Soccer was doing during that time,” McBride says of Twellman’s question. “There’s still more work ahead of us. We have to make sure we have influence in younger ages, being able to provide them with better experience, whether that’s better coaches, and environment that’s very much oriented to preparing players for tougher competition.
“But as far as what we’re doing and what we were doing with regards to this group of players that are coming through, I think people get top really see what was happening in the infrastructure of youth development, and those players are coming through and contributing.”
The real task begins in just two weeks for the U.S., with a mouthwatering matchup against Canada on the horizon, who McBride called “the real deal”. While the United States are heavily favored to qualify for the World Cup, McBride isn’t taking anything for granted.
“We have to qualify for the World Cup. That is the expectation. We know it’s not an easy thing, and we’re not taking it for granted by any means, but we’ll start there and then build on the possibilities of what can happen at a World Cup. We definitely are aware of some difficulties and some pitfalls that may lie ahead, and we just have to be prepared for those situations.”
As far as Nashville’s role hosting the September 5 qualifier and their bid to host in the 2026 World Cup, McBride is optimistic.
“The fact that Nashville SC is here and you have a great club really rooted here is going to be another bonus when you look at it from people who are making the decisions,” he concluded. “Certainly a lot of positives as Nashville puts their bid in for 2026.”
You can listen to Speedway Soccer‘s full conversation with Brian McBride wherever you get your podcasts, or watch a video video version of the interview below.