MLS commissioner: Charlotte in ‘front of the line’ for next expansion team

Charlotte appears to be in the “front of the line” for an MLS expansion team, commissioner Don Garber said Friday. (AP/Ted S. Warren)
Charlotte appears to be in the “front of the line” for an MLS expansion team, commissioner Don Garber said Friday. (AP/Ted S. Warren)

Major League Soccer is preparing to expand yet again in “the next number of months,” and commissioner Don Garber already has his eyes on a new city.

Garber, speaking in Seattle ahead of Sunday’s MLS Cup final, said that Charlotte, North Carolina, has surged ahead among candidates to host the league’s 30th team.

“It’s fair to say that Charlotte has done a lot of work to move their bid really to the front of the line,” Garber said, via ESPN. “It starts with David Tepper, the owner of the Panthers. He’s a very passionate guy about sport, he’s very passionate about Charlotte.”

The league has been expanding rapidly in recent years, and has a number of new teams set to launch. Inter Miami and Nashville SC will join the league next year, Austin FC will join in 2021 and both St. Louis and Sacramento will field teams in 2022. Las Vegas and Phoenix, which both have successful USL teams, are also vying for an expansion team.

One of the issues in Charlotte’s attempt to land a team is its plan to play home games at Bank of America Stadium — which primarily hosts the Panthers. The stadium, which holds more than 75,000 people, is much larger than almost every other stadium across the league.

Most hover around 25,000 seats, with only the New England Revolution and Atlanta United playing in stadiums with capacities near that of Bank of America Stadium.

Yet it’s Atlanta United’s ability to frequently sell out Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the home of the Falcons, that proved to Garber it’s possible to have success in a large venue.

“[Tepper] is reminding us that the league didn’t see what Atlanta would become,” Garber said, via ESPN. “I would be the first to admit that. There are lots of things happening in Charlotte that are very similar to the things that are happening in Atlanta in terms of the diversity of their fan base and a lot of the corporate energy that’s going on down there … I think the Carolinas are a good state for soccer. You know that from the women’s soccer perspective and the youth soccer perspective.

“Should we be able to move forward, and end up with a team in Charlotte, I’m confident we’ll be successful.”

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