MLS expansion hopeful North Carolina FC moves to USL for 2018 season

North Carolina FC - USL - introduction graphic

North Carolina FC hope to be in MLS in the future, but on Thursday, they announced they are moving to the USL.

Previously known as the Carolina RailHawks before a rebrand ahead of the 2017 season, NCFC will begin play in USL starting in 2018, while also continuing to make a case as one of the next MLS expansion candidates. NCFC owner Steve Malik submitted a bid in January for the Raleigh-Durham area to be considered as one of the next four MLS expansion cities.

“We are excited to be joining the USL effective immediately,” said Malik in a team statement on the move to USL. “The USL has seen tremendous growth, not only in new markets and franchises, but in the quality of play and fan awareness. We look forward to contributing to that growth in years to come.”

One of the new aspects for North Carolina FC in playing in USL is the number of local rivals they'll have in league play. In addition to an in-state rivalry with the Charlotte Independence, NCFC will also be near USL mainstays Charleston Battery and Richmond Kickers.

Malik also owns an NWSL team, the North Carolina Courage, which plays at the same stadium as North Carolina FC. The Courage won the NWSL Shield as the best regular-season team in 2017, and finished as runners-up for the league title behind the Portland Thorns.