Charlotte awarded MLS franchise

Los Angeles (AFP) –


The North Carolina city of Charlotte was handed Major League Soccer's latest expansion franchise on Tuesday, with the new team set to kick off in 2021.

The plans were announced at a press conference by MLS Commissioner Don Garber and David Tepper, the billionaire owner of the Carolina Panthers NFL franchise.

Added to other expansion franchises already awarded, the MLS now has plans for 30 teams.

Garber hinted that this would be the limit, describing Tuesday's unveiling as "likely our last announcement."

"We are thrilled to welcome Charlotte as Major League Soccer's 30th club," said Garber.

"During the last two decades, Charlotte has experienced enormous energy and growth, which matches soccer's explosive rise in popularity in the United States," added Garber, describing the choice of Charlotte as the "right decision at the right time."

Charlotte's arrival in the league marks another milestone in the development of MLS, which kicked off in 1996 with 10 US teams.

Twenty-four teams played in MLS last season, including first-year club FC Cincinnati.

David Beckham's Inter Miami squad and a new team in Nashville, Tennessee, are set to debut in 2020 with a club in Austin, Texas, scheduled to open in 2021 along with Charlotte. St.Louis and Sacramento will join the league in 2022.

The Carolina team will play at the Carolina Panthers' 75,000-seater Bank of America Stadium.

Tepper, a billionaire hedge fund manager and philanthropist who bought the Carolina Panthers NFL team in 2018, immediately spoke started stoking a rivalry with the successful MLS franchise in Atlanta in neighbouring Georgia.

Atlanta United has enjoyed meteoric growth since joining MLS in 2017, winning the MLS Cup in 2018 and smashing several attendance records. In 2019, Forbes magazine estimated the team was the most valuable in the league.

Tepper said Charlotte would now be targeting its near-neighbours.

"We're the hot city. Screw that city," Tepper said of Atlanta.

"We're going to have one hell of a rivalry."