Cary, NC – When the Carolina RailHawks rebranded as North Carolina FC, it was part of an effort to get the team into Major League Soccer. Now, as MLS appears to be picking a different North Carolina soccer team, this may mean the local team’s chances to make it into the league are done for now.
NCFC Not Picked for Expansion
MLS has been steadily expanding, picking up five new teams in the past five years, and it announced in April 2019 that it would grow to a 30-team league. The 28th and 29th team are already confirmed with St. Louis and Sacramento set to debut in 2022. That only leaves one spot left and while it looks like it is coming to North Carolina, it will not be North Carolina FC.
Instead, signs point to Charlotte getting the #30 spot. MLS’ Board of Governors met Thursday, December 5, 2019 and Commission Don Garber all but confirmed Charlotte’s pick.
“The MLS board authorized the MLS expansion committee to enter into what I expect to be final negotiations with [David Tepper] to have Charlotte be our 30th team,” Garber said. “No formal approval was granted today. What was approved was the expansion committee to now meet with David and his staff to try to finalize an agreement.”
Tepper is also the owner of the Carolina Panthers NFL team, and Panthers President Tom Glick is the owner of the MLS team NYC FC. The current plan is for the Charlotte team (possibly an expanded Charlotte Independence) to play at Bank of America Stadium for its MLS games. Tepper made a presentation to MLS during the Thursday meeting.
Currently, NCFC owner Steve Malik is working on building a new Downtown Raleigh-based stadium for its games, which is also a part of their bid for an MLS franchise. But in his comments, Garber said NCFC has not formally bid for a spot in the league.
“This is a very formal process; you’ve got to have a bid, you’ve got to have an application, you’ve got to have a stadium plan that’s something that can lead to finalization, you’ve got to have corporate support,” Garber said. “Steve Malik is a guy that I’ve got a close relationship [with], I really believe in and there’s nothing in this that’s taking away anything with the city of Raleigh. I’ve spent time down there. But they have not submitted a formal bid, so it’s just not something that’s happening.”
Malik commented on NCFC’s bid or lack-thereof in a tweet, saying, “I think Garber means ‘bid’ in the context of all the final details including a stadium plan. We have work to do. You saw Mark Abbott at our rally, there is no conspiracy theory here! Of course we put in an application.”
Plans for the new NCFC stadium and the surrounding venue and apartment complex are still in the works, with Malik selling his company Medfusion for additional capital to put toward the stadium project.
If MLS goes forward with its plans in Charlotte, this would not necessarily mean NCFC could not join the league in a future expansion. There are several other teams in the same state as one another. For example, there are teams in Orlando and Miami in Florida, teams in Columbus and Cincinatti in Ohio and teams in Dallas, Houston and Austin in Texas.
Last season, NCFC played the Charlotte Independence twice, with one win and one draw.
Story by Michael Papich. Photos courtesy of Gensler and Leland Privott with North Carolina FC and North Carolina FC.