By: Chris Long
The Research Triangle region of North Carolina has long been known for its college sports. With 3 Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) schools within 20 miles of each other, central North Carolina is college basketball heaven. However, within the past 20 years, North Carolina is beginning to become a hotspot not only for college teams, but for pro ones as well. To date, there are 3 professional sports teams in the state; 2 in Charlotte (NFL’s Panthers and NBA’s Hornets), and 1 in Raleigh (NHL’s Hurricanes). Now, a group of businessmen are hoping to raise that number to 4, by adding a Major League Soccer team in the Triangle area.
Since 2006, the Carolina Railhawks have been providing Triangle soccer fans with exciting action at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary. Through the 10 years since their creation, the team has gone through a few owners and leagues; however, fan support has never wavered, and recently team owners have rebooted the team’s brand in hopes to attract Major League Soccer to the area.
On December 6, Railhawks owner Steve Malik announced that the team would no longer be called the Carolina Railhawks. Instead the team would now be known as the North Carolina Football Club (FC). At the same time, Malik announced that ownership had interest in bringing in a National Women’s Soccer League team also to North Carolina. On January 8th, ownership announced that their dream of a women’s team in Raleigh had come true with the purchase of the Western New York Flash, to start play in April as the North Carolina Courage.
Finally, in the last major transaction ofthe past few months, team owners announced that a formal bid had been submitted to bring a MLS team to the Triangle. The team’s Twitter account reported that the franchise’s bid is now in the hands of Major League Soccer and its commissioner Don Garber. North Carolina FC has asked for fan support, encouraging fans to use the hashtag #919toMLS on their social media accounts.
With the bid, the Triangle area is one of 10 finalist markets that the MLS is interested in for expansion. The league has expressed that they are interested in having a 28 team league, and while they currently sit at 23 teams, a 24th team in Miami is close to being a done deal. That leaves 4 spots for 10 teams, and only time will tell now whether the top soccer league in North America will choose to come to the Triangle.