North Carolina FC has made its change in leagues official, as the club is leaving the NASL in favor of the USL for 2018.
Reports in recent weeks had indicated that North Carolina FC could be changing leagues. The NASL’s status for 2018 and beyond has come into doubt, as the U.S. Soccer Federation announced in September that it had denied the league’s application for Division II sanctioning for next season. As part of the legal fallout from that decision, the NASL sought to obtain a preliminary injunction to restore its status, but U.S. District Court Judge Margo Brodie denied the request. The NASL has appealed that decision, but reports before the ruling indicated that North Carolina FC could go the USL route.
The club and USL confirmed on Thursday that the shift will take place for 2018, and North Carolina FC owner Steve Malik believes the decision should help the organization to grow. More from WRALSportsFan:
“The move is consistent with our mission, which is that we want to field teams at the highest possible level,” Malik says. “The USL is a league that, in recent years, has proven its growth and stability. I think this will allow our club to grow, and that’s on a parallel path with us securing a new downtown Raleigh stadium and eventually earning a new Major League Soccer franchise.”
The move means North Carolina FC will enter a league comprising 30-plus teams throughout the country, including erstwhile regional rivals in Charlotte, Charleston, and Richmond, as well as teams in Georgia, Florida, Tennessee.
“People love those rivalries, which date back in some cases to the late 1990s,” Malik says. “I think those rivalries are fueled by the growth of the sport in our region. There’s a lot of passion in our cities when you can face off against rival cities. You get to travel to those games, and I think that’s going to help soccer in our region. Our fans recognize that and appreciate not just the regional but national competition. It looks like the [USL] will grow to 34 teams [in 2018], and to play against more teams than we have in a single season ever before will make for more diverse and entertaining competition.”
“Today we are thrilled to announce the addition of another successful club to the USL,” USL Chief Executive Officer Alec Papadakis said in a press satement. “We were very impressed with the level of sophistication of the operations and the ownership of North Carolina FC, led by their visionary owner and chairman Steve Malik. Steve brings a wealth of business experience to the league and has strong local community support. This is a first-class club with premier facilities, in a desirable market with a strong base of support – all the qualities that make a club successful in the USL.”
“We are excited to be joining the USL effective immediately,” Malik said in a statement. “The USL has seen tremendous growth, not only in new markets and franchises, but in the quality of play and fan awareness. We look forward to contributing to that growth in years to come.”
North Carolina FC plays its home matches at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, and is also the operator of the NWSL’s North Carolina Courage and the Premier Development League’s North Carolina FC U23. In July, the club unveiled a pitch for a new downtown Raleigh stadium as part of its MLS expansion bid.
This is also the latest club to join USL for 2018. Nashville SC, Fresno FC, Las Vegas Lights FC, and a Gwinnett County, GA-based team operated by Atlanta United FC have been confirmed to be joining the USL for next season.
Image courtesy North Carolina FC.