a A nice North Carolina day kicked off in December 2019 with Commissioner Don Garber appearing in Charlotte to officially award the city the MLS franchise. Also in attendance was David Tepper, the billionaire owner of the newly minted company Charlotte and Carolina Panthers of the NFL. The day ended with Tipper surrounded by crazy Charlotte FC fans – Literally Day One Fans – At a brewery where it wasn’t easy to spot from the crowd the man who cut the $325 million expansion fee checks.
Charlotte FC was more than a theoretical concept back in the day. Eight months ago, the team did not have a coach. Three months ago, they had quite a few guys. Five weeks ago, the coaching staff and players met together for the first time.
Damn the pestilence, Charlotte is here. And if they don’t get your attention yet, they’ll soon aim to create a new file MLS The record attendance for a single game was less than 75,000 at Bank of America Stadium on March 5 for the opening game on their home ground.
It didn’t happen by accident, nor did it come with a bit of frustration along the way.
“I’m feeling good, I’m feeling positive,” says Zoran Krnita, Charlotte FC’s sporting director. “I mean, this is a group of guys who saw each other for the first time in three weeks. Nobody knows each other, more or less.”
Charlotte sure hasn’t been boring during their time in the spotlight this off season. They have acquired a number of interesting players, such as Spanish midfielder Sergio Ruiz. Christian Fox, who won the Premier League title with Leicester City; and emerging talents from South America including Ecuadorean Jordi Alcivar and Alain Franco, as well as young Brazilian striker Vinicius Melo.
A few weeks after the pre-season opening, Charlotte had only filled out one of the three specific player pointsPlaces reserved for stars are exempt from the league’s salary cap rules. With Tepper’s billions and big ambitions, fans have expected a bit more from their designated player so far, Polish striker Karol Swiderski.
Charlotte’s coach, Miguel Angel Ramirez, seemed to be expecting more, too. Ramirez was candid in a video that went viralby choosing the phrase “estamos jodidos”, which can be politely translated from Spanish as “we screwed up.”
Ramirez’s comments came the same week that Charlotte’s $6 million deal to acquire Venezuelan international Darwin Macis fell through at the last minute when the player was reported to have been in Charlotte ready to be revealed. The club is understood to have pulled out because Machis has an active lawsuit in Spain centered around a fight in the pub.
Another deal for Polish player Kamil Jowiak collapsed around the same time after the winger was injured while playing for Derby County. That disappointment came two weeks after a league record bid to buy American winger Paul Areola failed.
“I know the fans might be a little less impatient, and we’re disappointed too,” Krenta says. “I think that’s part of the game. This is a game full of emotion, full of emotion. When things don’t go the way you want them to, you express frustration and emotion. We have everything under control, everything is positive.”
These fans are going to be strong. Charlotte aims to set a new MLS record for attendance in a single game. This record is particularly sought after because the current top ten list for MLS attendees is dominated by their rivals in the southeast Atlanta United. At the time of writing, the club is well on its way to achieving its goal, considering a potential sale of just under 75,000 fans.
“Honestly, I’ve had some sleepless nights,” admits Nick Kelly, who was recently promoted to CEO of Tepper Sports & Entertainment after serving as Charlotte’s president.
“Look, to be completely honest, it was really hard [aiming to set the attendance record]. To create a game that you want to be in and be a part of history – yes, it’s old school marketing – but we really wanted it too. And the building we’re in, we’re the only team that can do that.”
Charlotte has already sold more than 20,000 season tickets, a number that can be compared to the full capacity of some other MLS stadiums. The club will share Bank of America Stadium with the Carolina Panthers, and this stadium has undergone $50 million upgrade To accommodate the Charlotte Club, including locker rooms designed specifically for the football team. Capacity will be reduced to 38,000 for most of the team’s home matches, with fans restricted to the lower bowl and club sections.
Despite a passionate fan base and high club ambitions, Ramirez’s “estamos jodidos” quote has raised concerns that Charlotte might struggle to match Atlanta United, who won the MLS Cup in only his second season.
“We just want to be competitive and build, and that will be a successful season for us,” says Krneta. “We can’t predict how much to win, lose or draw, this is a long season. For me, I want Charlotte to be a place that teams don’t want to play because they know they’re going to have a tough game. The rest? We have to see what happens.”
It all starts on Saturday when they fly to DC United, before their home opens a week later, followed by a trip to Atlanta United.
“This is part of history, and it won’t happen again,” Kelly says. “We did it in the middle of a pandemic, we did it in one year. We should be proud of it.”
Pause for a while.
“But, man, we can’t fall off a cliff from top to bottom. We can’t head out to Atlanta next week and smoke.”
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