Cary, NC – With North Carolina FC competing here in Cary, local residents have been able to see soccer teams from around the country and even the world play against the home team. Now a different set of teams will be competing here as North Carolina FC changes leagues.
New League Competition
NCFC, known as the Carolina RailHawks at that time, has been playing in the North American Soccer League (NASL) since that league’s earliest iterations in 2011. Now, the team announced they will be playing in the United Soccer League (USL), which now has a provisional Division II status. The USL is also seen as being closer to the Major Soccer League (MSL). NCFC owner Steve Malik submitted a bid for NCFC to join the MSL earlier this year.
With NCFC now playing in the USL, with gameplay starting in 2018, they will have the opportunity to take on teams such as regional rivals the Charlotte Independence, Richmond Kickers and Charleston Battery, as well as top-level teams such as Louisville City FC. NCFC will be part of the USL’s Eastern Conference.
“We are excited to be joining the USL effective immediately,” Malik said. “The USL has seen tremendous growth, not only in new markets and franchises, but in the quality of play and fan awareness. We look forward to contributing to that growth in years to come.”
This past season, NCFC was the third-ranked team in the NASL and made it to the playoffs, falling to the San Francisco Deltas in the first round before they went on to win the championship.
Plans Going Forward
As USL members, NCFC will continue to play at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park, although Malik is working on building a new stadium in Downtown Raleigh. That stadium is an effort to secure a MLS franchise, which the team is still pursuing even as it switches to the USL.
The United States Soccer Federation (USSF) voted to remove the NASL’s Division II sanctioning back in September. Since then, the NASL has been engaged in a lawsuit with the USSF, arguing the decision is a violation of anti-trust laws.
Malik also sits on the USSF Board of Directors and has been criticized by New York Cosmos owner Rocco Commisso of not doing enough to promote the NASL’s expansion. Malik has said these accusations have no merit.
NCFC will begin playing in the USL starting in 2018, though no schedule is up yet.
Story by staff reports. Photos courtesy of NCFC and Rob Kinnan.