RALEIGH — While soccer fans in the Wilmington area have to settle for college-level talent moving into 2017 as the Hammerheads shift focus to the Premiere Development League (PDL) after two decades of professional futbol in the Port City, the state of North Carolina and city of Raleigh could soon be home to the Tar Heel State’s next top level organization.
With NFL, NBA and NHL teams already in place, one of country’s growing sports may have reason to add a North Carolina team to its list of professional Major League Soccer (MLS) franchises. Earlier this week, Entrepreneur Steve Malik announced several initiatives bolstered by a new brand and vision for soccer in North Carolina.
For years the Carolina Railhawks operated in the North American Soccer League (NASL), which is home to several professional teams across the United States as a second-tier to MLS. The Wilmington Hammerheads played in a third-level and growing organization known as the United Soccer League (USL).
The initiatives of Malik center around bringing the highest level of men’s and women’s professional soccer in North America to the Triangle.
“This is a brand restatement,” said Malik. “We aspire to be at the top level of both men’s and women’s professional soccer, so we are pursuing MLS and NWSL bids as well as a new stadium. We made a conscious decision to brand ourselves as North Carolina’s professional club. A united soccer community will be one of the keys to reaching these goals.”
In conjunction with this brand re-positioning, the Carolina RailHawks are now known as North Carolina Football Club (referred to as North Carolina FC or NCFC), and will have a new crest and colors, which were revealed during the event in downtown Raleigh. While North Carolina FC is still expected to compete in NASL for now, the goal is to make it a top level MLS club in the near future.
Malik announced an aggressive public campaign toward being awarded an MLS franchise within the next 12-18 months. This desire comes after discussions with MLS executives over the last 12 months, as well as a market study, which reinforced the Triangle would be a successful MLS Market.
In addition, Malik stated he is planning to accelerate efforts to finalize a location and begin construction on a new 20,000+ seat stadium within the next year. The location and renderings will be unveiled in 2017.
“We feel we are well positioned for this,” Malik said. “The market is ready for an MLS team based on our geographical location, population growth, dynamic economic environment and significant soccer participation. MLS requires a minimum of 20,000 seats with amenities in order to maximize revenue, and a new stadium is vital to our plans as it would increase the economic impact in the area and allow us to better showcase the sport.”
Since taking over the team, Malik has advocated for a multi-team organization. To that effect, he also announced his desire to be awarded in the next three to six months a first-division National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) team.
“We have seen tremendous success in North Carolina with women’s soccer,” Malik said. “The numerous accomplishments of local college programs, paired with the continued success of the USWNT, have driven interest in women’s youth programs. We feel the time is right to bring the highest level of women’s professional soccer to the Triangle.”