Raleigh takes on Charlotte in bid to land Major League Soccer franchise

Published: Dec. 6, 2016 at 7:26 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 6, 2016 at 7:34 PM EST
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RALEIGH, NC (WBTV) - The Raleigh-based soccer club known as the Carolinas Railhawks is renaming itself as North Carolina FC (NCFC). The new name comes with a new push to land a Major League Soccer franchise in the state's capital city.

"We aspire to be at the top level of both men's and women's professional soccer, so we are pursuing MLS and NWSL bids as well as a new stadium," said the club's owner Steve Malik. "We made a conscious decision to brand ourselves as North Carolina's professional club. A united soccer community will be one of the keys to reaching these goals."

NCFC says it plans to begin construction on a new 20,000 seat stadium next year. The club says it will announce a location next year.

Malik says his goal is to be awarded an MLS franchise in the next 12 to 18 months.

"We feel we are well positioned for this," Malik said. "The market is ready for an MLS team based on our geographical location, population growth, dynamic economic environment and significant soccer participation."

The NCFC push for a MLS franchise faces in-state competition. The Charlotte Independence has been laying the groundwork for a franchise for more than a year. Talks are on-going with community leaders to renovate Memorial Stadium near the campus of Central Piedmont Community College.

The Charlotte Independence say the Raleigh club's effort does nothing to slow or stop their efforts.

"We consider Steve (Malik) and his organization friendly competitors and welcome the competition," said Independence Club President Jim McPhilliamy. "Both teams have MLS ambitions and a lot to do to achieve that goal.  As it is on the field, our job is to beat teams from other cities."

The Independence currently play matches at Ramblewood Soccer Complex in south Charlotte. The club competes in the United Soccer League (USL), which is a notch below the MLS.  The USL Board of Directors meet in the next couple of weeks and Independence executives say news about their future could come out of those meetings, but no specifics were offered.

"We look forward to competing with (NCFC) but feel we have a viable plan to win including a plans for a revitalized downtown stadium, growing corporate and community support and, hopefully, a future seat at the MLS table," said McPhilliamy.

MLS currently has 20 franchises. It is set to add four new clubs over the next two or three years. MLS announced last December it eventually plans to expand to 28 teams.

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