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Knoxville sports expanding with soccer ahead of One Knoxville

"American football is going to be king for a long time ... But soccer, especially at the younger generations, is super competitive," said the founder of One Knox.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — On Saturday, the city's soccer team One Knoxville Sporting Club plays their first-ever game in a professional league. This will mark a historic move for the city's sports scene because Knoxville will now have its own professional soccer team. 

Drew Mckenna, founder and partner of One Knoxville, said this is huge for the city as soccer popularity in the Southeast region has gained momentum.

"Knoxville is already a soccer town," he said. "We're finally bringing pro soccer to Knoxville, which is something that it deserves."

He said competition for soccer is high in the city, especially for the younger audience.

"As you look at Millennials and Gen Z, you're seeing folks choose soccer as their first favorite sport, on par with all the other major sports," he said.

He describes this as a demographic shift in the sport and said soccer is making its way up in the sports world. Mckenna said the business of soccer is gaining momentum in the Southeast.

The "big four" sports in the region football, baseball, basketball and hockey. Now, he said it is now becoming the "big five" with soccer in the picture.  

For Mckenna, the start of the pro-league team is more than sports. It's to provide young people a space for them to pursue the sport. He said Knoxville needs soccer as much as soccer needs Knoxville, and the start of this chapter will link both gaps together. 

"We're focused on creating a Knoxville where every kid has the access and aspiration to pursue soccer, which isn't the case at the moment," McKenna said. "There's still a lot of work to do in the more urban areas in Knoxville, creating access, meaning places to play and affordable training and aspiration, providing something for those kids to aspire."

Kevin Cardona has seen the popularity of soccer in East Tennessee first-hand.

"Tennessee is more of a football, baseball type of state. But over the last few years, I mean, soccer has grown," he said.

Cardona is the Director of Coaching with Knoxville FC East Tennessee's Elite Soccer Club and coaches teen soccer. He said throughout his ten years of experience, more soccer jerseys are being seen. 

"More kids getting involved in competitive soccer, club soccer, and then obviously at the college level as well," Cardona said. "So it's definitely increased a lot."

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