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What Do We Know About the Two MLS Expansion Teams?

| February 9, 2020 6:00 am PDT
MLS Miami and Nashville Expansions

When Major League Soccer started in 1996, there were just ten teams involved. Over the years, there have been many more expansion teams added, with varying degrees of success.

There is still further expansion planned for the next few years, but one year after the debut of FC Cincinnati, MLS fans will get the chance to watch two brand-new teams this season. Inter Miami and Nashville SC will be playing their first MLS games at the end of February and looking to emulate the debut campaigns of Atlanta United and LAFC, who both burst onto the scene with dramatic effect.

But what do we know about the two new MLS expansion sides? With the 2020 MLS season only weeks away, I’m going to take a look at both Inter Miami and Nashville and see exactly what they bring to the table.

Nashville SC

The Nashville SC that we will see in MLS this season is very different from the soccer club that started back in 2013 as Nashville FC. Back then, some local fans set about starting a club that would be fan-owned, citing FC United of Manchester as inspiration. This was a popular move with the grassroots level of soccer in the US, and the team had an impressive following. But a few controversial decisions concerning ownership later, we now have a revamped Nashville SC, looking forward to playing its first MLS game against Atlanta United on February 29.

There will not be many in what promises to be a huge crowd at the Nissan Stadium that are too bothered about how this new team has come about, however. Nashville is hoping that the type of frenzied support that its NHL team, the Predators, attracts will be in force for its soccer team too.

Nashville Players and Staff

Although Nashville is not expected to be a contender for the MLS Cup in its first season, the organization has made some very impressive moves to ensure that this team will at least compete this year.

Gary Smith was brought in as head coach two years ago when the team played in the USL, and it is his winning experience that could play a major part in how successful Nashville’s inaugural MLS campaign is. He won the MLS Cup in 2010 with the Colorado Rapids. Although the Rapids finished fifth in the Western Conference that year, they excelled in the playoffs, knocking out Columbus and San Jose before beating Dallas in the final.

Keeping faith with a head coach who knows the organization could be a very positive move as Nashville moves up to MLS.

The biggest news on the playing front has been the acquisition of Dax McCarty. The veteran midfielder has enjoyed 15 years in MLS with a variety of teams, most recently the Chicago Fire. The experience and knowledge that he will bring to the team could be invaluable as a starting eleven who have only played together in a few friendlies begin to take on some more established teams.

The defensive side of things will be all-important, and Gary Smith does have a reputation of coaching teams that are very strong at the back. But Nashville has gone for a more attacking player as its DP (designated player). Hany Mukhtar has been signed from Danish club Brondby, where he has developed over the last three seasons.

Nominally a midfielder, Mukhtar has improved his attacking abilities while playing in Denmark but has obviously learned from moving around a number of top clubs in Europe. It remains to be seen how he will adapt to the nature of the game in the US, but he will be ably backed up by players with a lot of experience in MLS. David Accam, Anibal Godoy, and Eric Miller have all signed on with Nashville, so it will be interesting to see how quickly they gel together.

Facing Atlanta, Portland, and Toronto in the first three games, with those last two on the road, is not the easiest start to the schedule that Nashville might have hoped for. But if Gary Smith’s team can pick up a few wins in the first month or so of the season, it should give this squad the confidence to do quite well.

Inter Miami

Ever since David Beckham was playing in MLS for the LA Galaxy, we knew that he would one day be returning as an owner; we just didn’t think it would take this long. Inter Miami (or Club Internacional de Futbol Miami) is the culmination of a project that has taken years to come to fruition.

Florida always seemed to be the most likely location for Beckham’s team, but there have been a number of hurdles along the way before getting to this point.

Even though downtown Miami was the preferred location for the stadium, Inter Miami will actually be playing in Fort Lauderdale, about 30 miles north of the city. Beckham had exercised his option to own a team back in 2013 but has been trying to turn that dream into reality ever since, even using the working title of “Miami Vice” at one point.

The franchise was finally awarded in 2018 for a team to be playing this year, and Inter Miami is the result of that prolonged discussion.

Inter Miami Players and Staff

With David Beckham running the show, there has been a lot of excitement among new Inter Miami fans and MLS followers in general about the caliber of players he would be able to attract. There was a feeling that the January transfer window would bring some very big names to the organization. Edinson Cavani and Luka Modric were just two of the galactico rumors circulating last month, but the reality has been much different.

Inter Miami has filled one of its DP spots with Argentinian youngster Matias Pellegrini, who has come in from Estudiantes. The winger is only 19, so something of an unknown, although he has been a part of his country’s U20 squad. There are a few more familiar names to look out for as the season gets underway, though.

USMNT member Wil Trapp has joined from Columbus. He may not have the same star quality and box office pizzazz as Cavani or Modric, but he is a solid midfielder and could easily become a real leader in a team that has never really played together before.

Other players that will be well known to MLS fans include Lee Nguyen, who has played for New England Revolution and LAFC, and Victor Ulloa, who started at FC Dallas but played for last year’s expansion team, FC Cincinnati, most recently.

All the players will be under the managerial eye of Diego Alonso, a Uruguayan former player who has been coaching some of the best clubs in Mexico for the past few years. How quickly he can get his new team playing in the way he wants will be crucial to how successful Inter Miami is in this first season in MLS.

How Will the Two Teams Get On?

At this point, there really is no way of knowing how well the two expansion sides will do. Although David Beckham has been wanting to own an MLS team for years now, it is slightly worrying how close to the beginning of the season we got before more was known about the playing staff. Miami has not always been an amazingly soccer-crazy city compared to other places in Florida, but maybe Beckham’s involvement will make the difference.

Nashville would seem to have more chance of being a success in terms of fan numbers. There have been reports of huge ticket sales for the first home game against Atlanta, and there are a number of other MLS teams fairly nearby that could generate some interesting local(ish) rivalries.

As for performances on the pitch, both head coaches will be happy if they can avoid repeating FC Cincinnati’s record in its first season last year. The most recent expansion team finished dead last with just six wins from 34 games. It also conceded 75 goals, a new league record. That being said, there was huge interest in the side, and there was never fewer than 25,000 inside the stadium for a home match, a crowd that some of the more established MLS teams could only dream about.

Unless Inter Miami does bring in one of the stars of world soccer as another of its DPs, I can’t see it playing like LAFC has been for the past two seasons. Reaching the playoffs is probably asking too much of Nashville as well.

But we will only know just how well these two sides get on after the season kicks off at the end of February. Look out for my MLS Cup 2020 betting preview to give you an idea who might win the trophy this season, as well as the return of my weekly MLS predictions article when the season starts.

And if you’re eager to get your wagers going as soon as the odds pop up, take a look at our recommended soccer betting sites.

Dan Roberts

Dan Roberts is an experienced freelance writer specialising in sports and sports betting. He is particularly knowledgeable about world soccer, but also writes about football, basketball and cricket.

As a fan of Nottingham Forest, New York Knicks, Minnesota Vikings and New York Mets, Dan has not had much to celebrate recently.

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