Major League Soccer made it official on Wednesday: Nashville is getting an expansion team.
The first of four promised MLS expansion teams was announced and awarded to Nashville. Commissioner Don Garber was among the speakers at Wednesday's press conference that made the news, which been reported a couple days prior, official.
"Nashville was not on our radar screen (initially), but one of the things that we take pride in is being open to any discussion to will lead to growing the game in North America," Garber said.
While calling Nashville a city in the Midwest is a stretch, the Tennessee team will become the third-closest team to the Fire. The two closer cities come with asterisks. Minnesota is in the Western Conference, meaning the Fire play the Loons just once a year, and Columbus, the Fire's biggest rival, is in danger of being relocated to Austin, Texas.
It wasn't announced when Nashville will begin play in MLS, although a USL expansion team will kick start things in 2018 before the team moves to MLS. When Nashville begins play in MLS, it will join the Eastern Conference and could restore balance to the two conferences. Los Angeles FC's entry in 2018 has brought the league to an odd number, 23 teams.
An additional expansion team is expected to be announced before the end of the year. The three candidates for that are Cincinnati, Sacramento and Detroit. The latest reports seem to be favoring Cincinnati and Sacramento, although no reports have leaked any information as to which one is getting the nod. While Cincinnati would be a new regional foe for the Fire, Sacramento would continue to leave gaps in the Midwest.
As more cities and teams are added to the MLS map, more rivalries have been created. For all of the attention that has been paid to the trio of Cascadia teams, Seattle didn't have Portland and Vancouver to play until 2011. New York City FC's addition in 2015 has made any games between NYCFC and the New York Red Bulls one of the premier games on the schedule. Two recent expansion teams in Orlando and Atlanta have a budding rivalry. LAFC's arrival should make any game against the LA Galaxy a tense affair.
Meanwhile, the Fire-Columbus rivalry has taken a back seat and could go away. While a marquee rivalry game isn't make or break for the Fire, it would bring more excitement, even if only on those matchdays. Cincinnati could potentially fill in for Columbus if the Crew leave, but that would take time. Detroit would make sense as a rival given the history of Bulls-Pistons and Blackhawks-Red Wings, but that bid doesn't seem to have much steam at the moment.
For now, the Fire and its fans wait for another geographical rival to add an extra intriguing match or two to the schedule.