At what point does an MLS expansion club go from theory to reality? Is it the day they are officially awarded a club, the day of their inaugural match, or somewhere in between?
Charlotte FC are somewhere awash in that grey area. But every day marks one step further from the hypothetical and closer to the concrete.
Over the summer, Charlotte named Miguel Angel Ramirez as head coach, and they've signed a few more players since.
On Thursday night they unveiled their first-ever kit, and after the half-day trade window Sunday and Expansion Draft this Tuesday (Dec. 14), Charlotte’s roster could nearly double.
“This is one of the strongest moments that solidifies that we’re less than 90 days from our first match,” club president Nick Kelly told MLSsoccer.com. “You can actually envision what our players are going to look like on the field. This is a big moment for us. There’s been some people coming out of the woodwork like ‘Oh yeah, Charlotte FC are going to be a club come March.’ It’s funny that bringing a uniform to life, combined with the Expansion Draft and everything next week, it really brings this to reality.”
After MLS Cup 2021, full focus around the league shifts to the offseason. As an expansion club, Charlotte will take center stage with their draft, extra Allocation Money, roster spots to fill and general intrigue from onlookers.
“We want that,” Kelly said ahead of the half-day trade window. “We’ve been prepared for this. We’re prepared to make some trades Sunday, make some free agent signings. Our roster is going to go from eight to like 16 in the matter of 48 hours.”
It reached 10 Sunday when the club acquired fullback, and Charlotte native, Jaylin Lindsey from Sporting Kansas City for up to $325,000 in General Allocation Money. They also obtained goalkeeper Pablo Sisniega from LAFC for an additional $50,000 in GAM.
Every milestone is another step on the ladder toward their first game, Feb. 26 at D.C. United, and first home game, March 5 against the LA Galaxy. Kelly has publicly set a goal for Charlotte to sell out and, in doing so, break the league’s single-game attendance record of 72,528, previously set by Atlanta United in 2019.
Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium can hold at least 75,000 fans.
“To be perfectly honest, setting that record would send a message to fans that our expectations off the field is the same expectations we have on the field,” Kelly said. “If we set the expectations of setting a record, it mirrors what we expect on the field. This is what we expect long-term to ourselves and we want to show the world that the Carolinas are a big soccer market. If we can get 75,000 of them to show up, it’s a good representation of them, not necessarily us.”
Charlotte have already sold more than 40,000 tickets for that game, Kelly said, with more than two-and-a-half months remaining before kickoff. He believes they’re on track to sell out.
That is the first goal in a series of ambitious targets.
“Our goal is to sell out the first match, then average 30,000,” Kelly said. “You need a strong base. We’re satisfied with our base. Now we have to create a gameday environment and put a club on the field that fans will continue to come back for. That buzz will ware off after 3-4 matches if the product isn’t good.”
Charlotte are approaching 20,000 season tickets sold. Kelly believes those numbers will keep rising following the kit reveal and the full schedule being released Wednesday (Dec. 15).
They’re aiming for the most on the field, too.
“We want to be competitive, which is just a half-assed way of saying we expect to be good,” Kelly said.