When Major League Soccer became the prominent professional soccer league in the US in 1996, no one could have imagined it would grow into the multi-billion-dollar league it is today. At the start average attendance numbers rarely exceeded 15,000, eight of the ten teams were renting stadiums from NFL teams, and the league lost an estimated 250 million dollars in its first five years of existence. A stark contrast to the 28-team league we have today.
At least one new expansion team has come into the league each year since 2016 and its newest team, Charlotte FC, finally played its inaugural home opener on March 5th, 2022. The people of the Carolinas have been waiting for a professional soccer team for some time now. With previous failed bids to bring soccer to Charlotte and Raleigh, when David Tepper announced MLS would be coming to Charlotte on December 17, 2019, the crowd and city erupted.
Tepper ended his press conference with the question, “Charlotte, you ready to party?” The city was ready to party alright, with 7,000 people buying season tickets the first day they were released. With the soccer world beginning to take notice, Charlotte was preparing to become the newest hot bed for the fastest growing sport in the US.
Tepper spent 325 million dollars to bring MLS to Charlotte and another 50 million dollars in renovations to make Bank of America Stadium, home of the Carolina Panthers, accommodable for a soccer team. These renovations helped make the stadium feel more soccer oriented and enticed more than 20,000 people to buy season tickets for the upcoming season. The excitement for soccer in Charlotte was rising and the people of the city were eagerly awaiting more information on the team.
July 22nd, 2020 was the first big announcement, the team name. Charlotte town and Queen city FC were names that were being considered, but the organization decided on Charlotte FC. Frankly this is a boring name that many people weren’t too happy about. Nevertheless, people were still excited, now it’s time to sign some players.
The marquee signing came early January 2021, former Premier league and FA Cup winner Christian Fuchs. This was a big deal; the fans of Charlotte had a world-renowned player to call their own. Fuchs immediately embraced the fan base responding to dms on Instagram and showing his travels across the Carolinas on his social media platforms.
Everything started to come together. A coach was hired, more players were getting brought in, and more season tickets were getting sold. The beautiful blue and white home jerseys were released and more people started buying merchandise, all there is to do now is wait for the season to start.
February 26th, 2022 came Charlottes first competitive match. This game was against DC United away from home. Despite the game being eight hours away, Charlotte FC still had a respectable number of fans in attendance. There was even a point in the match where you could hear these fans chanting “Charlotte FC.”
Fans thought the team had scored its first ever goal in the 19th minute, but it was overturned by VAR. After this there wasn’t much to cheer about for Charlotte fans as they ended up losing 3-0, first game jitters maybe. Next up is the day that has been marked on every fans calendar for months, the first home game.
When David Tepper asked the Charlotte fans if they were ready to party, no one expected the party to be as big as it was. The home opener ended up being a historic night. In the days leading up to the inaugural home match, it was reported that upwards of 75,000 people would attend the game. This would break the attendance record for an MLS game, a feat no one thought was even a possibility.
It’s 3:00 pm on Saturday March 5th and the streets of Charlotte are already packed with thousands of fans wearing Charlotte FC gear. The party was starting to begin. Around 5:30 a fan group called the Mint City Collective began their march through the city towards the stadium. Thousands of people marched to the stadium singing and cheering. Flags were being waved, drums were being played, and blue smoke was in the air. In just over an hour the city of Charlotte was going to make history.
Thirty minutes before the game starts and the team is on the field warming up as David Tepper walks around the field waving and clapping to the crowd. He is met with huge cheers from tens of thousands of grateful fans who have been waiting for this moment for years. At 6:50 the teams head back to the locker room and 74,479 fans are in their seats ready for the national anthem and the game to begin.
Before the national anthem, Tepper had a couple more surprises for the fans. The stadium goes dark, then blue, white, and purple lights start going on and off around the stadium. Music begins to play, and people turn on their phone lights. For about ten minutes what was supposed to be a soccer match turns into a concert. Yeah, this is the party that everyone was promised.
A hype video comes onto the jumbotron, and the crowd is loving it. Ominous music is playing while creepy shots of a queen in a maze and close ups of the players faces are being shown. The lights turn back on and the camera points to Carolina Panthers legend Steve Smith. He sits in a huge black thrown and a crown is put on his head. The whole stadium is cheering for the man who is a legend in the Carolinas. The party Tepper promised is in full swing and all that’s left now is the national anthem, then we have kick off.
Up to this point everything had gone according to plan. The atmosphere is electric, and people are enjoying the party atmosphere that was promised to them. The 74,479 fans in attendance stand up in preparation for the national anthem. About two or three lines into the anthem and the microphone cuts out. This wasn’t part of the plan; Charlotte is going to be known as the team who messed up the national anthem in front of a record-breaking crowd. Instead of the disaster that could’ve ensued, a viral and iconic moment occurred instead.
Instead of complete silence, thousands of fans started singing the anthem right when the microphone cut out. More started joining in and it seemed like the whole stadium began singing.
It was a beautiful moment of patriotism. The video blew up on social media, and it brought much praise to the city of Charlotte. The lead up to the game was memorable, but now it’s time for the team to perform.
Throughout the game the fans were showing the same passion they showed during the singing of the National Anthem. Chants for Charlotte were being sang throughout the game and the players on the field matched this energy.
The game was tied 0-0 when a Charlotte player came inches away from scoring the opening goal in the 79th minute. Had this gone in, the stadium would’ve erupted.
Not even a minute later the opposing team went down the field and scored a goal to make the game 1-0. The stadium went silent, but when the game kicked back off the fans picked up right where they left off pushing their team to get the equalizer.
During the last minute of the game Charlotte came close the scoring again. The goal never came however, and Charlotte FC lost their inaugural home match 1-0. It was a disappointing loss, but the performance left room for optimism and fans knew they would see their team win soon. The team got a standing ovation at full time and chants of Charlotte FC still rang around the stadium as the players shook hands.
The 74,479 fans in attendance broke the attendance record in MLS and was the second highest attended sporting event in the world at the time for 2022. These fans left knowing they were part of an important part of history for soccer in Charlotte and the US.
The inaugural home opener for Charlotte FC on March 5th, 2022 went better than anyone could've imagined. With so many memorable and exciting moments, David Tepper brought the party all soccer fans in Charlotte had been waiting for.
There are many more moments that will come to these fans that will be worth celebrating; the first goal, the first win, the first championship. The party didn’t end at the final whistle, and it didn’t end when everybody left the stadium, the party is just beginning.
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