The next expansion team in Major League Soccer (MLS) has confirmed its official team name this month, becoming the league’s first professional soccer team in the Carolinas. Charlotte FC, owned by billionaire entrepreneur and Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper, will begin their MLS journey during the 2022 season. This marks the end of a long road in search of a place in professional soccer for Charlotte.
The new team name, which adopts the traditional European and South American style of soccer team names including no nickname, was announced on FOX Sports alongside its new logo. FOX Sports, which has its own dedicated sportsbook for legalized bets on MLS and other major league sports, confirmed that the new Charlotte FC logo will feature a blue crown as a nod to the city’s heritage as the “Queen City”.
During the infancy of the MLS in 1994, Charlotte was one of the cities to register an interest in signing up to the league, but the league opted not to award North Carolina a franchise. As the league expanded further, two years later in 1998 Charlotte was once again overlooked by the MLS hierarchy. Charlotte even played host to the MLS SuperDraft back in 2004 and the city itself is well-known for its sizeable population of soccer fans, but it has taken until now to make it in to the Major League itself.
David Tepper’s vision for an MLS expansion franchise paid off
The Charlotte Independence became a new professional team in 2014, plying their trade in the USL Championship – America’s second-tier – but, despite attempts to convert the Independence into an MLS franchise, the proposals continued to fall on deaf ears in the upper echelons of the Major League. That was until David Tepper arrived on the scene. Tepper, who has owned the NFL franchise of the Carolina Panthers since May 2018, presented a formal expansion proposal to the MLS last summer, having secured confirmation that Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium could be configured to be suitable for MLS action.
The league’s Board of Governors eventually approved the bid in December, following confirmation of the Charlotte City Council’s funding towards the franchise. Tepper forked out around $325 million to secure Charlotte’s place at the MLS top table, with the team now set to make their debut in the 2022 MLS campaign.
Within hours of the confirmation of Charlotte’s MLS expansion, the new franchise managed to receive over 7,000 deposits for season tickets in their debut season. This figure already suggests there is considerable appetite for an MLS franchise in the city. A quick glance at average attendances for the 2019 MLS campaign shows that Chicago Fire had the lowest average attendance of 12,324. With over 7,000 season ticket holders already confirmed for Charlotte FC, it’s highly likely that they will eclipse the Fire’s average attendance by some margin, as well as franchises such as FC Dallas and Colorado Rapids.
First formal signing confirmed last month
Although there are very few rumors regarding the make-up of the Charlotte FC roster, the franchise did announce their first official signing in July; Spanish midfielder Sergio Ruiz has agreed to become the team’s first professional player. The 25-year-old, who has captained his former team of Racing Santander in Spain’s La Liga 2, was pinpointed as a natural fit for the new-look Charlotte FC team by the franchise’s sporting director, Zoran Krneta. Krneta admitted the Charlotte FC hierarchy had been watching Luiz for “several months”, having noted him as a “natural leader” and praising his intelligence and versatility across the midfield line.
Ruiz will fill one of the franchise’s eight ‘international’ slots within their new roster. The Spaniard is due to be loaned out by the franchise until they are ready to begin life in the MLS. Aside from the overseas imports, Charlotte FC is working hard to ensure their roster will contain a string of homegrown prospects. The franchise’s new-look academy will provide a platform to provide local talents a chance to go professional. There is no doubt that North American talent is being given a chance to shine in European football too, with Canadian Jonathan David attracting the attention of Barcelona, having trained in Gloucester and Ottawa. The Carolinas have long been considered a hotbed for young soccer prospects, thanks largely to the state’s soccer culture, so there is every chance the next Jonathan David could come through for Charlotte FC. Finally, the state has an MLS franchise that can get first choice and build a roster that the Carolinas can be proud of.