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The potential promise of Jacksonville soccer

Fans came out in droves to the USMNT game in Jacksonville. Can the city become the southeast's soccer capital?

(Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)
(Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

Expansion in sports is one of the most interesting discussion topics among sports fans. The diehards in Jacksonville are no different.

With only an NFL team, there have been discussions that the largest city in Florida is a logical landing spot for a new franchise in another sport.

Adding fuel to that fire was Saturday’s pre-World Cup friendly between the U.S. and Nigeria. Jacksonville turned out in force, and provided a boisterous environment for the home team. The 52,033 fans is a new southeast record for a USMNT event, beating the previous record of 44,438 from a few years back in a friendly against Scotland, which was also held in Jacksonville.

While the energy and excitement in the stadium was, as star forward Jozy Altidore described it, “unbelievable,” soccer enthusiasts who say this is a sign the MLS needs to enter Jacksonville may need to temper their enthusiasm. For starters, a USA soccer match can not be considered a good barometer for the success of a future MLS team in Jacksonville. One could argue the USA logo, not the sport, drew out the fans on Saturday.

The MLS has tried previously in Florida. The Tampa Bay Mutiny and Miami Fusion were a part of the first ten teams in the MLS but both were unanimously voted out in 2002 by the MLS board of governors, and not just because they had arguably the worst two team names in sports. The year prior to being voted out the Fusion actually had the best record in the league . . . and the worst attendance.

Professional sports franchises often times live by the motto “win and they will come.” That is true to an extent, but does not hold up if an area is genuinely uninterested in the sport.

As it stands now Jacksonville is opening up their own team in the second-tier NASL. The expansion hungry MLS did not feel that Jacksonville was ready for their own team just yet. Unfortunately for Jacksonville, this past weekend’s showing might not be a harbinger of more soccer to come.

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