CARY, NC— North Carolina Football Club announced today that they will exercise their option to move up from USL League One to USL Championship in the 2024 season.
USL Championship is the top tier of the United Soccer League. NCFC returns to the Division Two pro soccer league after spending three years competing in USL League One. North Carolina FC will join expansion team Rhode Island FC to expand USL Championship to 26 teams in 2024.
“We certainly are excited to be able to step up in the USL Championship, where we have a history, and compete at a higher level,” North Carolina FC Majority Owner Steve Malik said at the Monday press conference.
“These players deserve to continue to grow their career; we want to give them that opportunity.”
Head coach John Bradford said that the news was very well-received among the players this morning. But no one is losing site of the task ahead of them.
“I think it’s an exciting announcement, and obviously our players, who I shared this with this morning ahead of the announcement going public, were excited about it. It brings…those guys that want to continue their careers at a higher level, that opportunity to basically audition for that chance next year—to be going up to Championship,” Bradford said.
“But we certainly don’t want to lose sight of where we are right now,” he continued. “In terms of League One and finishing off this season extremely well, and obviously, the guys have done a great job. So, we’re excited to continue that, too.”
A CHAMPIONSHIP-QUALITY MARKET
NCFC competed in USL Championship from 2018 through the 2020 season before moving to USL League One in 2021 in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. North Carolina currently sits at the top of the League One table.
“I think our community is a championship-quality market and we are looking forward to playing next year at a higher level,” said Malik.
Although the move means they’ll no longer face their closest rivals in Charlotte, Richmond, and Greenville, they will renew their rivalries with Loudoun United and Charleston Battery.
REBUILDING CLUB INFRASTRUCTURE AND THE TIMING OF THE MOVE TO CHAMPIONSHIP
North Carolina Football Club has seen a rebuilding of the club’s infrastructure over the past two-and-a-half years. The move back to USL Championship seems to be a natural extension of the club’s growth, according to club president Francie Gottsegen.
“We’ve spent the past couple of years coming out of the pandemic really focused on rebuilding the infrastructure of the club. And we are at a point where we have a great framework in place to support a Championship club in addition to continuing to support the (North Carolina) Courage. And we plan to continue to build on that framework to make sure that we continually improve the experience, both for our fans as well as our players.”
Gottsegen noted the Triangle area’s storied soccer history as another data point for making the move back to USL Championship now.
“We live in a soccer hotbed,” she said, “and the Triangle has a long history of soccer both at the collegiate level and the many youth organizations that are here, including NCFC Youth, which is the largest in the country with over 15,000 participants as well as the pro clubs here, which have a long history as well.
“We have a soccer-savvy market…so we are really excited to be able to rejoin USL Championship because we know that is what our community wants and that’s what they’re going to embrace.”
THE STATUS OF THE DOWNTOWN SOUTH STADIUM
With the move up to USL Championship, the needs of a top-caliber NWSL team, and the international matches that have made their way to the Triangle recently, including TST, does this put the Downtown South stadium complex back in the picture?
While he sees the need for upgraded facilities, Malik left the question open while praising WakeMed Soccer Park’s new neighbors in the Fenton complex and the opportunities for an enriched pre- and post-game experience for fans.
“We need facility upgrades, that is for sure,” Malik said. “There’s an opportunity in our market, you saw, when TST came in and we got global exposure for our market and Cary.
“Those kinds of opportunities—Chelsea, Sunderland…the Rayados, who we have coming in in a few weeks…there is certainly a need for us to do better in that regard.”
THE CONTINUED FOCUS ON PLAYER DEVELOPMENT
North Carolina Football Club has built a solid reputation as an organization that develops young players and prepares them for a professional soccer career. Notable players who have come through the NCFC Academy and gone on to careers in Major League Soccer include D.J. Taylor, Manny Perez, and Britton Fischer, and current goalkeeper Nicholas Holliday looking to begin a professional career overseas.
What Bradford, Gottsegen, and Malik all agree on is that NCFC will continue to support young players on their path from youth to pro.