Examining Charlotte FC’s Progress As Its Inaugural MLS Season Approaches

by | Feb 18, 2022 | MLS

Owner David Tepper Will See His Plans Come To Fruition On Feb. 26 Against D.C. United

By Jaden Dakwa – LA Soccer Press

When it was first reported that billionaire hedge fund owner David Tepper was closing in on purchasing the Carolina Panthers in 2018, there were still rumors circulating about whether Tepper would relocate the team. Some felt it would be apt to move the franchise to California or another state. 

Tepper did not oblige.

In fact, when Tepper was approved as the owner, he stood resolute in making sure he kept the team in Charlotte. Instead of looking outside of the Carolinas, he spent time “learning” about the Carolinas. He even ensured that a new stadium wouldn’t be built right now. He wanted to keep Bank of America as their home. In his first press conference, he emphasized to the public his plans to stay put. 

“It’s gonna stay as the Carolina Panthers,” Tepper said. “Charlotte is a logical place for the stadium. As far as a new stadium, you’re asking me too much. The only thing I have a market on right now is a lack of knowledge.”

That indifferent attitude towards leaving Charlotte and the time he spent “learning” about the Carolinas is a reflection of his intrigue to create another sports team in Charlotte. He wanted to create a Major League Soccer franchise in Charlotte. After a failed bid to bring an MLS team to Charlotte in 2016, Tepper wanted to reignite the idea of an expansion bid for the community. Carolina Panthers new team president Tom Glick assisted in arranging meetings for Tepper with MLS officials. Tepper eventually revealed his plans for a new team and instead of building a new stadium he opted to enhance Bank of America Stadium. The city approved $110 million dollars to fund the franchise and stadium renovations for an MLS team.

MLS league officials were left astounded and impressed with Tepper’s decisions. On Dec. 17, 2019, the MLS awarded Charlotte with the newest expansion team. 

A little over two years later Tepper is closing in on seeing his ideas, dreams and plans come to fruition. 

Charlotte FC will play their first ever match on Feb. 26 against D.C United and Bank of America stadium is now an elegant home for both types of ‘football’.

A new expansive LED screen, new bars, restaurants, a player tunnel and a lavish new dressing room headline the new renovations. It is a dressing room that will feature a mix of young talent and veteran experience. 

The club has tried to target a core of players either getting ready to enter their prime or already in their prime. Poland international Karol Swiderski, Atletico Mineiro starlet Alan Franco, an MLS pair of Christian Makoun and Anton Walkes, Ecuador international Jordy Alcivar and captain Sergio Ruiz may all have the perfect setting to showcase quality football. The core is heavily centered around defenders, youthful midfielders and only a few options as starters in the team’s attack.

As the roster is currently constructed, there could possibly be an inherent risk. Scoring goals has been a struggle for previous expansion teams in their inaugural season in the league. Four of the last five inaugural teams have not finished in the top half of the table. Take a look at the numbers of goals scored and the league positions of the last five inaugural seasons. 

(2021) Austin FC: 35 goals scored, 2nd lowest total in the Western Conference, 12th in the Western Conference

(2020) Nashville SC: 24 goals scored, 3rd lowest total in the Eastern Conference, 14th in the Eastern Conference

(2020) Inter Miami: 25 goals scored, tied for 4th lowest total in the Eastern Conference, 10th in the Eastern Conference

(2019) FC Cincinnati: 31 goals scored, lowest total in the Eastern Conference, 12th in the Eastern Conference

(2018) Los Angeles FC: 68 goals scored, most goals scored in the Western Conference, 3rd in the Western Conference

LAFC’s explosive attack helped to power themselves to a 3rd place finish in 2018. Similarly, Atlanta United scored 70 goals in their first season and finished 4th in the Eastern Conference in 2017. Goals may not have been the only reason for both teams’s successes, but it certainly played a major role. Atlanta United’s duo of Josef Martinez and Miguel Almiron scored 28 goals in 2017. LAFC’s trio of Carlos Vela, Diego Rossi and Adama Diamonde scored 38 goals in 2018.

The perceived absence of multiple goalscoring threats has left manager Miguel Angel Ramirez concerned. In a press conference on Feb. 10, Ramirez expressed his trepidation as the new season emerges.

“When we finish building the roster I will answer that question and I will tell you how I see things,” Ramirez said. “Right now. We are screwed!”

Earlier this preseason, Ramirez revealed that from his point of view his transfer wish list is left unfinished.  He is currently interested in signing two strikers and two wingers that can be inserted in the starting XI or compete for starting places. It has left Ramirez searching for definitive answers on how his team will line up without the exact personnel he is desiring. He has described his current formation as being “alive” noting it could change from a 4-3-3 to a 3-4-3, or any other construct at any given moment.

Although there is a desire to add more to the squad, Ramirez believes some of his young talents will be able to contribute to the team either immediately or in the future. There is a cohort of youngsters that have the club extremely excited about their potential to win.

MLS SuperDraft No. 1 pick Ben Bender has arrived from the University of Maryland. He is a skilled midfielder who has the capability to defend as well. His passing range is expansive, he can accelerate quickly across short spaces. He also has the ability to finish in forward positions.

Former Clemson goalkeeper George Marks, 19-year-old Brazilian striker Vinicius Mello, and Georgetown alum Chris Hedgardt will headline a group of promising youngsters. Ramirez has been left impressed with the progress of Marks and expects him to become a “big player”. The budding potential of each of these players is causing increased excitement around the club.

In the team’s first match against D.C United, Charlotte’s squad will be looking to play as a cohesive unit. There have been difficulties in preseason as the team lost 3-1 to Nashville SC on Tuesday, Feb. 8. Only four days later, Charlotte suffered another 1-0 loss to USL Championship outfit Charleston Battery. 

As the season approaches, Charlotte FC will have to quickly develop chemistry as a club.

David Tepper, the city of Charlotte and MLS fans will be watching closely.

Dakwa is a student at Elon University. He writes about European football for L.A. Soccer Press. Follow him at @JDakwa on Twitter.