NASHVILLE – Plaza Mariachi sits just outside of downtown Nashville, tucked away in its own corner of a booming city. The venue offers visitors a cultural experience that blends art, music, entertainment and great food all into one. It’s a place meant to be enjoyed by diverse ages and backgrounds, and last night, soccer fans came to the plaza from all over the world to watch two international matches: Brazil vs. Argentina in the Copa América Semifinal and Mexico vs. Haiti in the CONCACAF Gold Cup Semifinal.
In a place like Plaza Mariachi, and especially in a city like Nashville, you can now find passionate soccer fans who would otherwise never meet coming together to watch the sport they all love. Sitting just a seat apart from each other at the bar during the Copa América Semifinal were Sheilla S. and Emil V. – two fans from opposite ends of the globe who each moved to Nashville years ago for a new start. Their stories make it clear that the rhythm of soccer in Nashville isn’t just local; it’s global.
“I grew up in Brazil, so it’s in our blood,” said Sheilla. “ My heart is in soccer.”
Sheilla grew up watching soccer with her family. When she came to the United States, she wanted to find a community that shared her excitement and passion for the game. At first, that environment was tough to find, but when she moved to Nashville, she finally discovered what she had been searching for.
“I lived in Memphis for 20 years, and we didn’t have this over there,” she continued. “If we didn’t make our own watch party, we didn’t have that opportunity, so I love [Nashville]. We were in Atlanta when Atlanta won, and it was so cool. Next year, maybe we can be as excited as we were when we were down there.”
Two seats down from Sheilla, above the cheers and music, Emil expressed that he wanted to share his soccer story, too. He came to the United States several years ago from Europe and chose to move to Nashville because of the economic growth the city was experiencing. Like Sheilla, he’s been a soccer fan since childhood.
“It’s more of a special construct where I’m from in Bosnia,” said Emil. “It was the number one sport. I grew up with it.”
Emil came to the city in 2002 to get away from war in his native Bosnia. He and his family decided to make Nashville their new home, and he is thrilled that MLS has chosen the city as home to an expansion franchise, too.
“There are a lot of American-born Nashvillians who are starting to like soccer a lot more. It’s going to make the city more hot,” he said. “It’s the biggest sport in the world, so people of all races, all ethnicities, all religions, all different kinds of backgrounds love it and can enjoy it.”
Across the room from Sheilla and Emil sat New York native Aaron S. sporting a light blue and white Argentina jersey. Aaron grew up like to Sheilla and Emil; his father is Argentinian, and soccer was on in his home every weekend. He moved south to Nashville for work and noticed the strong soccer presence immediately.
“It’s definitely growing,” Aaron said. “There’s a professional team here now. The stadium is getting built. You see it in the community. There are certain parts of Nashville like the one that we’re in right now that it’s huge.”
Although Aaron’s Argentina was unable to find any equalizers or go-ahead goals in a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Brazil, he pointed out that the fan support of soccer in general in Nashville was second to none.
“It’s a receptive market. You have the community here that supports it,” he said. “It’s the world’s sport. Whatever language anyone is speaking, the game is played the same way. You can see here and I’m sure if you hang out for a couple of hours when Mexico plays, it’s going to be bananas.”
And bananas it was. Mexico’s 1-0 victory over Haiti in the Gold Cup Semifinal match had the watch party crowd on the edge of their seats. In between games and in between halves, the plaza DJ played familiar vibrant music that brought fans to their feet.
Soccer has an undeniable beat felt around the world and a rhythm that brings visitors and locals together as a global community. If Nashville’s love for the game wasn’t apparent in the more than 50,000 attendance at recent international matches at Nissan Stadium, it was clear last night that the passion for soccer is now in the city’s blood. The world knows that Nashville has got the whole Music City thing down. And now more than ever, it looks like it has this Soccer City thing down, too.