KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Professional soccer is officially coming to Knoxville following Thursday’s announcement that One Knoxville Sporting Club will join USL League One in 2023.
After their inaugural season in the pre-professional USL League Two, the team will transition from a three-month summer schedule to a fully professional national schedule with 15 home games over seven months at the University of Tennessee‘s Regal Soccer Stadium.
The 2023 USL League One season will kick off in April and will feature no shortage of regional rivals, including Chattanooga Red Wolves, Lexington SC, Charlotte Independence and several other southeastern teams.
“One Knox is thrilled to be taking this next major step for both the club and for professional sports in Knoxville,” said Drew McKenna, partner at One Knox. “This step wouldn’t be possible without an incredible partnership we’ve been able to forge with UT Soccer. We’re grateful for the opportunity to host our 2023 season at Regal Soccer Stadium and look forward to growing the game here in Knoxville with the Lady Vols.”
The move to the professional ranks also means that Knoxville will be automatically entered into the U.S. Open Cup, America’s oldest annual team sports tournament, each year. The competition dates back to 1913 and features soccer teams from all levels, from Major League Soccer all the way down to the amateur level.
When asked if One Knoxville will apply to host U.S. Open Cup matches, McKenna said the club will make every effort to bring the tournament to the city.
“It’s unmatched in professional sports in America. There’s nowhere else where all these teams from across these different levels are playing each other in a knockout tournament,” he said. “I think Knoxville is really going to connect with that.”
With the USL launching both a second-division professional league and a pre-professional league for women, club leadership said that One Knoxville aims to field a women’s team in the future.
“We don’t have anything solid to say about when but we definitely want to make women’s soccer a part of the One Knox brand and that goal for us going forward,” McKenna said.
The team will be coached Mark McKeever, who lead the team in its inaugural season and was named 2021 USL League Two Coach of the Year after leading the Des Moines Menace to a national championship title.
He previously coached at Young Harris College for 16 years and will now take control of a professional side for the first time. McKeever told WATE his goals as coach remain the same even at the pro level.
“For me, things stay the same. I’m still trying to facilitate my players to be the best human beings they can possible be, the best players they can possibly be and together we’re going to have a set of goals that we’re going to chase,” he said. “Hopefully, that goal is common goal where we win for One Knoxville and then if their careers take them elsewhere to a higher level, I feel as though I want facilitate that journey for them as well.”
James Thomas, One Knoxville’s first ever team captain, will return to the team in 2023 along with goalkeeper Peter Swinkels.
Thomas, who also works as a youth coach with Knoxville FC, said the passion for soccer in the city has been a bit overlooked.
“People don’t realize that this is a soccer city. It really is.” Thomas said. “Now that I’ve been playing in it, I’ve been coaching in it as well I’m starting to see that. It just needed kind of a spark and a catalyst to really set it alight and I think One Knox has been that.”
The team plans to move into the 7,000-seat multi-use stadium in downtown Knoxville, sharing the venue with the Smokies minor league baseball team. Project leaders are planning to start construction in February with the goal of completing the structure by 2025.
Fans can reserve season tickets for the 2023 season with a $25 deposit at oneknoxsc.com.