Garber: Charlotte ‘at front of line’ to become MLS’s 30th team

Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper is looking to bring an MLS team to Charlotte (Credit: Getty Images)

Charlotte has moved to the front of the line to become the 30th Major League Soccer team, league commissioner Don Garber has revealed.

An announcement is expected in the next couple of months with Las Vegas and Phoenix competing with the Charlotte bid, which is led by Carolina Panthers’ billionaire owner David Tepper.

“It is fair to say Charlotte has done a lot of work to move their bid to the front of the line,” Garber said in his State of the League address in Seattle ahead of Sunday’s MLS Cup final between the Sounders and Toronto FC.  “It starts with David Tepper, the owner of the [National Football League Carolina] Panthers. He’s a very passionate guy about sport, he’s very passionate about Charlotte.”

A potential issue is Charlotte’s plan to play at the 75,523-capacity Bank of America Stadium, the home of the National Football League’s Panthers. MLS prefers its teams to play in smaller soccer-specific stadiums. But the success of Atlanta United at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, also home to the NFL Atlanta Falcons, indicates that larger venues can work.

The Seattle Sounders also play in an NFL stadium, CenturyLink Field, and generated a fervent, high-spending crowd for the November 10 MLS Cup. The game had an attendance of 69,274, which was the largest crowd for a sporting event in CenturyLink Field history and the largest soccer crowd ever in Washington state.

“[Tepper] is reminding us that the league didn’t see what Atlanta would become,” Garber added. “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.

“We’ve been engaged with them and will continue to do so…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,” Garber said.

Inter Miami and Nashville SC will join MLS next year, while Austin FC will join in 2021. This year it was announced that St Louis and Sacramento will field teams in 2022. Garber has also indicated that MLS could expand past its current goal of reaching 30 teams.