By Alex Norman

It’s the beginning of July. Hockey and basketball are done. Baseball is in the middle of their annual brutal march to late October. Football camps don’t open for a few more weeks.

Thank goodness for soccer.

The other day I was trying to find a way to pass the time when I got an alert on my phone that the US Men’s National Team was playing in the Gold Cup semifinals in Nashville and that tickets were still available.

Their game against Jamaica was to be played on July 3rd. Knowing that I had the next day off for the holiday, and that I had a full tank of gas, I figured… why not?

In a way, this is the beauty of America as we celebrated Independence Day. The freedom to pick up, hit the open road and go. No one was going to stop by and ask for papers in Cookeville! So off I went.

I honestly have trouble remembering that there was a time that really isn’t that long ago when you had to purchase tickets to an event at the proper box office. Instead, I kept my eyes glued to Ticketmaster and Stubhub throughout the day. Prices fluctuated but eventually I secured a ticket for around $43. I was playing poker with the prices and lost when StubHub cut off ticket sales an hour before kickoff, much to my dismay. I had to buy them from Ticketmaster, which always angers me. A $32 ticket turned into a $43 ticket because of service fees and other absurd add-ons.

This is the kind of thing that keeps people from experiencing sporting events in person. Why pay these prices when you can sit at home, not deal with traffic or parking, and have a fridge filled with the appropriate beverages and just watch the game of choice on television?

The scene in Nashville was a fun one, with soccer fans dressed in red, white and blue up and down Broadway. Nashville has grown so much in the last 10 years it is barely recognizable anymore. They simply can’t build apartments, condos and hotels fast enough. This growth certainly brings with it serious issues, but overall it has put Nashville on the map nationally as a must see destination. I can remember covering the Lady Vols at an SEC tournament in Nashville a little over a decade ago. Times have changed.

In the late 2000s Nashville and Birmingham were extremely similar in size and climate. Today, Nashville has left Birmingham in the dust. From sporting events to concerts to conventions to businesses moving to the area, Nashville is the “it” city these days nationally. No wonder all those bachelorette parties happen in Nashville!

This all said, I’m not sure I could live in Nashville. It’s getting too expensive and too packed. It’s a memorable place to spend a weekend, but that’s about it for me. Knoxville is much more my speed.

But I digress…

Wait, I was supposed to be writing about soccer!

The US Men’s National Team has played in Nashville a bunch of times over the years, but didn’t break 30,000 in attendance for this game, which caused some hand ringing among the soccer community. Well, fans didn’t even know the US was playing in the semifinals a few days before. It was a late 8:30 (CT) kickoff. And it was a holiday week too. The idea that this will hurt Nashville’s chances to host a World Cup game when the US, Canada and Mexico host the 2026 event is high comedy. You want to show the world a good time? Put a couple of games in our capital city.

The game was fun to watch, even with a lightning delay that lasted about an hour. The USA got two second half goals from wonderboy Christian Pulisic on the way to a 3-1 victory, earning them a spot in the Gold Cup finals against rival Mexico. Pulisic is only 20 years old, and will play for Chelsea in the English Premier League next season. Pulisic is the future of American soccer. Hopefully some of the other youngsters that are starting to get their chances will propel the USA to success in the future.

After the game I made the drive back to Knoxville. Nashville was fun. But it was good to be home.