North Carolina FC Will Elevate to the USL Championship in 2024

by | Aug 9, 2023 | USL

The Club Rejoins Second Tier After Three-Year Hiatus

By Jaden Dakwa – LA Soccer Press

North Carolina FC have exercised the option to elevate to the USL Championship beginning in the 2024 season, the club announced on Monday afternoon. 

The club’s return to the league marks a three-year hiatus away from the second division. During North Carolina FC’s most recent appearance in the league during 2019, the club finished in ninth place and barely missed out on a playoff spot.

North Carolina FC head coach John Bradford, owner Steve Malik, and president Francie Gottsegen all spoke to the media on Monday to speak about the team’s return to the league.

Malik spoke about the excitement around the club and the opportunity to continue the club’s growth.

“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,” Malik said. “We’re in first place right now, these players deserve to continue to grow their career, and we want to give them that opportunity. Coming out of the pandemic, we have worked really hard to put together a front office and the technical side that can be competitive. We’re excited about moving forward with those plans.”

The team currently sits in first place in the USL League One table and Bradford is focused on closing out the current season in a strong fashion.

“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,” Bradford said. “I think it’s just great that those guys that want to continue their career at higher levels will get the opportunity to basically audition for that chance next year to be pulling up the championship. But, we still don’t want to lose sight of where we are right now. In terms of League One and finishing off the season extremely well and obviously guys did a great job.”

Gottsgen mentioned a focus surrounding growth after the pandemic and Gottsegen spoke about the rebuilding of the organizational structure to succeed.

“We did an assessment of that for the early part to mid part of last year,” Gottsegen said. “And, like I said earlier, we’ve rebuilt the organizational structure over the past six to nine months really to be able to support the needs of the organization overall.”

The USL Championship is expected to have 26 teams in the league for the 2024 season. There is the impending arrival of an expansion side named Rhode Island FC. The upcoming club is set to be placed in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. North Carolina FC and Rhode Island FC will take the total number of teams in the league from 24 to 26.

There are ten players currently on the roster that have played in the USL Championship previously, but the team in the future may be looking to make new additions and seal departures to secure a roster that is deemed ready to play in the league. 

Bradford mentioned that he received contact from former players who played with the club during the tenure in the USL Championship. 

“The ability to attract players to North Carolina FC only gets elevated in the USL Championship,” Bradford said. “Just getting off the training field and checking my phone I’ve got a ton of former players that are in the Championship now that are saying congratulations. I can see some of those conversations taking place, that kind of thing, but for right now, we are focused on the season at hand and what we are doing.”

Along with the hopes of attracting new players, North Carolina FC and the Courage will seek to upgrade their stadium upon North Carolina FC moving up to the second tier. Malik believes the team will need better facilities for both teams. 

“We need facility upgrades that is for sure,” Malik said. “Just to speak to the NWSL, when we entered the league, we probably had the third or fourth best stadium and we don’t anymore. With the explosion of women’s soccer, our needs to be competitive go beyond what we currently have.”

Soccer has featured prominently in the Triangle this summer. The Soccer Tournament or TST was hosted for the first time at WakeMed Soccer Park. TST is a seven-a-side tournament that includes a $1 million prize for the winner. Wrexham and Chelsea were able to host an open training session at WakeMed Soccer Park in front of fans in July.

There will be more opportunity to see bigger teams and players with North Carolina FC going up to the second tier. With the 2026 World Cup coming to the United States as well, there definitely seems to be exciting hopes for the sport on a local and national level.

Photo courtesy of North Carolina FC.

Dakwa holds a BS in Journalism from Elon University. He writes about North Carolina professional soccer for L.A. Soccer Press. Follow him at @JDakwa on Twitter.