The city of Charlotte will soon get to welcome the arrival of its third major league sports franchise. Already home to the basketball Hornets and the football Panthers, next to arrive will be the newest soccer team in Major League Soccer.
Over the last few years, the Hornets have struggled to find their sting in the NBA, while the Panthers have been unable to claw their way to success in the NFL. Still, the city of Charlotte did rate 28th in ‘Best Sports City’ rankings for 2020. This inevitably gets local sports fans wondering, will a new soccer franchise fare any better and help boost the local reputation?
Let’s take a look at the recent fortunes of our existing major league teams, along with a glance at what the future may hold for the ‘beautiful game’ of soccer in Charlotte, once the MLS bandwagon finally arrives in 2022.
For the fifth season in a row, much to the disappointment of patient fans who always hope for better, the Charlotte Hornets posted yet another losing season. Finishing the 2020-21 regular season 4th in the Southeast Division, with 33 wins and 39 losses, the team was unable to make automatic qualification for the NBA Playoffs.
However, by virtue of ending the regular season campaign 10th in the Eastern Conference standings, the Hornets did grab the last spot for a unique play-in tournament, with two places in the Playoffs up for grabs. Unfortunately for the Hornets, they missed that opportunity by losing 144-117 against the Indiana Pacers. Thus ended another campaign without Playoffs.
While the NBA are looking to adopt the play-in tournament concept on a permanent basis, the Hornets will now be looking ahead to how they can improve their fortunes, ahead of the 2021-22 season. There are positive foundations upon which to build, given that LaMelo Ball will continue improving, while other key players like Gordon Hayward will be back to full fitness.
Alongside other important figures in the team such as Terry Rozier, Miles Bridges, and P.J. Washington, the core of a strong team is already in place. Nevertheless, management will undoubtedly seek to improve the center position, along with adding further depth to the perimeter. GM Mitch Kupchak is expected to be busy sounding out potential trades, along with calculating possible free agency options.
Just like their basketball cousins, the football fortunes of the Carolina Panthers have fallen below expectations in recent years. After making it all the way to the golden anniversary 50th Super Bowl in 2016, eventually losing 24-10 against the Denver Broncos, subsequent seasons have not reached the same lofty heights. Something more for annoyed fans to complain about, beyond the habitual gripes about shirts and merchandise.
The Panthers have only managed to reach the playoffs once in the past five seasons, losing the Wild Card game against the New Orleans Saints in 2017. That was the only winning season achieved by the team in the last five campaigns, while the last two consecutive seasons have seen the team post 5-11 losing records.
Despite boasting the wealthiest owner in the NFL, since David Tepper purchased the franchise from founder Jerry Richardson in 2018, the Panthers are still a long way from realizing their true potential. Now the official NFL schedule for the 2021-22 season has been released, ahead of his second campaign at the helm, head coach Matt Rhule will be hoping for improvements.
That said, looking at the early June NFL outright odds for the Carolina Panthers, they are tipped for another year of struggles, valued as +6000 longshots to win Super Bowl LVI and +750 to top the NFC South. Right now, the main objective will be just reaching the NFL playoffs, as that would at least be an indication of positive progress.
After what seems like an eternity of patient waiting for soccer fans in Charlotte, from the 2022 season onwards, they will, at last, have their very own MLS franchise team to cheer for. Founded in December 2019 and as the latest sporting venture of Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper, the new team will also play home games at the Bank of America Stadium.
Establishing the fanbase of a new soccer franchise shouldn’t be too difficult. The local soccer market is already strong, thanks to the popularity of teams like North Carolina FC in Raleigh, while North Carolina Courage have enjoyed huge success in the National Women’s Soccer League. If the fan reactions at Courtyard Hooligan’s in 2014 are any indication, Charlotte could boast some of the most animated fans in the MLS.Hopefully, this new soccer club will be able to assemble a quality team of players, worthy of living up to such positive local support. In fact, Charlotte FC recently announced the signing of defender Christian Fuchs, which is a name fans are sure to love chanting! He won the English Premier League with Leicester City, so if that’s any indication of how ambitious our new soccer club is, we could be in for an exciting adventure when 2022 kicks into action.