Per USSF rules, each Top Division team must have a development program at the youth level, and must at least participate in player development beyond the youth levels. From the USSF Professional League Standards (and in reverse order that I just mentioned them):
Each U.S.‐based team must demonstrate a commitment to a player development program. This requirement may be satisfied by supporting either an amateur or professional reserve team competing in a USSF‐sanctioned league or by the league itself.
Each U.S.‐based team must maintain teams and a program to develop players at the youth level. This requirement may be satisfied by fielding teams in a Federation academy program.
So let’s get into it.
The first paragraph is a little more confusing, not least of which because the sentence structure is wanting. Basically, it means that the MLS team have to support an amateur or professional league below the top flight, and the recommended way of doing so is by fielding a reserve team. It’s not clear how USSF intends to have teams support the leagues without running their own reserve squad
That means at least one of a USL/NASL/PDL/NPSL/Etc. team has to be part of the senior setup. The U-23 team is on hiatus this year, though I expect it to be back eventually (more on that in the youth discussion). Owner John Ingram has also said that his long-term intention is to have both MLS and USL franchises playing in Nashville:
How would this work? It’s set up in a few different ways, though I like the vision that Atlanta United is taking with its new B-team in the USL: operate a team in a nearby suburb (for the record, there’s a lot to like about the way Atlanta United runs its franchise at levels below MLS – pay attention). That Atlanta and Nashville have some similarities in the way the city/suburb split is laid out is all the more beneficial.
A USL team in Williamson (Franklin/Brentwood), Rutherford (Murfreesboro), or Sumner (Hendersonville) County, rather than Davidson, would help create a regional identity around the organization, and make it more of a Middle Tennessee thing – with reach well beyond that, obviously – than a Nashville thing.
The USSF rules are very clear that teams must run youth academy systems to meet the Professional League Standards. Every MLS team except for one – Toronto FC – does this through the US Soccer Development Academy, which has emerged as probably the top system for youth development (with other competitors, like ODP, still around). TFC’s Academy is based in the PDL (U-23) and Canadian domestic leagues, rather than the US Soccer structure. In fact, it’s a little weird that Vancouver and Montreal have their youth setups run through the American federation rather than Canada’s, but who am I to judge.
There is not currently a boys’ or girls’ DA program in the state of Tennessee, so following Atlanta United’s method of absorbing a few youth clubs and convincing more grassroots organizations to feed into the academy is going to be tough (there are two girls’ clubs, including one in the area, in the ECNL, which until the establishment of the girls’ DA leagues had been tops at the youth level). However, NSC has already paired with the state association in the past, and it wouldn’t be surprised to see those two team up to create the youth structure.
From my perspective, youth teams at every level of the DA system, with good relationships with clubs throughout the region and state (a la ATL UTD) are a priority. If they were to run out of the facility for the USL squad mentioned above – like Real Salt Lake’s palace for its USL team and youth academy – that would be a solid way to support not only NSC’s self-interests in the youth academy, but also soccer throughout the state. Imagine an 8,000ish seat stadium for NSC B, with plenty of practice and competition fields on the same campus, for plenty of use by the state association for tournaments, leagues, camps, and more.
Another possible youth structure for academies (though one not likely to avail itself to NSC) is to partner with a fake high school sports factory that already exists. Orlando City is pairing with Montverde, a school that basically started to compete with the likes of IMG Academy (though its focus, in my experience, is primarily on basketball).
What will happen?
These decisions are quite a ways off: NSC suspended operations for the U-23 team – to say nothing of an academy structure at even lower levels – in order to shift all available resources into preparation for the debut of professional soccer (and the quick transition to MLS, no doubt). I’ve previously mentioned, and still believe, that it was a mistake to do so, because there’s not only an air of abandonment about it, but also you’re turning away from the grassroots aspects that the team was founded upon, to an extent.
Regardless, a U-23 team (and hopefully teams/programs at every age group of the academy program and beyond) will eventually return to NSC, but it appears we’ll have to wait some time to see just what the plans are for them.