Bristol was the home of professional baseball off and on in the form of the Appalachian League from 1911-2019 and it is where several future Major League Baseball standouts began their pro journeys.
Professional drivers have zoomed down the strip at Bristol Dragway and around the high banks of Bristol Motor Speedway for decades.
The short-lived Bristol Crusaders of the World Basketball Association were around for a few weeks in 2004.
Now, professional soccer is coming to the city.
It was announced on Thursday that Bristol Rhythm AFC will begin play in the semi-pro National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) in 2024 and will play home games at Gene Malcolm Stadium on the Virginia side of town. The season usually runs from March to August and Tulsa Athletic won the league’s most recent championship.
People are also reading…
“We are pleased and excited that Bristol Rhythm AFC has joined the NPSL,” National Premier Soccer League Director of Membership Development Dina Case said in a press release. “The Rhythm’s ownership group are seasoned business people with a passion for sport. The city of Bristol is unique in that it spans two states, and the Rhythm have done a great job in establishing strong support from the surrounding communities. We are confident they will be a successful addition to the league.”
General manager Diane Smith, president Matt Smith, and sporting director Andrew Rhoda spearhead the venture.
Diane Smith is a 2011 graduate of King University and has worked at Bristol Tennessee Essential Services as the Supervisor of Customer Experience since 2009.
Matt Smith is also a 2011 King graduate and owns Mountain Empire Capital.
A native of South Africa, Rhoda played soccer at King and graduated from the school in 2021.
“We are committed to creating an engaging and lively atmosphere, providing our fans with an unforgettable gameday experience,” Matt Smith said in the release. “We want to establish Bristol Rhythm AFC as the resource in our region for soccer entertainment and player development, uniting our region through soccer. We are One City, Two States, One Team.”
The NPSL consists of 92 teams across the country and rosters are comprised of both professionals and amateurs. It was formed in 2003.
The Alexandria Reds, Alexandria Rough Diamonds, Grove Soccer United (Glen Allen), Northern Virginia United FC (Leesburg), Virginia Beach City FC and Virginia Dream FC (Falls Church) are the other Virginia teams in the league.
Boone, North Carolina (Appalachian FC) and Knoxville, Tennessee (865 Alliance) also have NPSL teams.
“Many members of our leadership team had the privilege of playing in the prestigious NPSL during their college years,” Matt Smith stated in the press release. “Their firsthand experiences, including the intense competition and additional benefits, left no doubt in our minds. Considering the rapid growth of soccer in the United States and our advantageous geographical location, joining the NPSL is a perfect fit. With a dedication to excellence on and off the field, we are poised to make a lasting impact within the league and for our region. We look forward to delivering thrilling matches, fostering a vibrant fan base, and contributing to the ongoing growth of soccer in our region and beyond.”
The previous professional soccer foray in the Tri-Cities came in the form of the Johnson City, Tennessee-based Tri-Cities Otters of the United Soccer League’s Second Division. They did not field a team in 2023 due to financial reasons.
This is the second expansion pro sports franchise based in Southwest Virginia born in the last year.
The Blue Ridge Bobcats begin play next month in the Federal Prospects Hockey League with the Appalachian Regional Exposition (APEX) Center in Wytheville being their home arena.