There are too many MLS ties between Charlotte and Atlanta to ignore.
Geography, of course, is the obvious starting point. The cities are about three hours apart, nestled in the Southeastern United States. Both franchises are owned by charismatic billionaires who own rival NFL teams that share state-of-the-art stadiums with their MLS counterparts.
It’s no surprise, then, that the announcement of Charlotte as MLS’s 30th franchise would lay the obvious foundation to an MLS rivalry between the cities.
"I think on these things, we have to be led by the fans, but it makes sense they'll be a natural rival," Carolina Panthers president Tom Glick told MLSsoccer.com. Glick, who has also served as COO of Premier League champions Manchester City, was with owner David Tepper at the Board of Governors meeting earlier this month. "Atlanta have done such an incredible job of building Atlanta United and capturing the passion around the sport. They set a new standard for Major League Soccer and all of us will look to do what they've done, and maybe push on and go a little further, but that's saying a lot."
The path to MLS for Charlotte has felt more of a sprint than anything else. Tepper only acquired control of the Carolina Panthers in the spring of 2018 and now, just a year and a half later, Charlotte have earned an MLS expansion bid.
Along the way, a Charlotte supporters group has already formed and is growing rapidly. Mint City Collective, which to date has more than 500 paying members, are ready for the team’s quick ascent from a distant hope to now being on track to join the league in 2021.
And they’re not wasting any time stoking the flames of a rivalry.
“Atlanta. I don’t even hesitate — it has to be Atlanta,” Mint City president Jay Landskroener said. “When you look at the Panthers, their biggest rival is the Falcons. Regionally it’s the closest rival we have. Nashville can be a close regional rival, I hope D.C. is too, but Atlanta is going to be a fun rivalry. It’s a three-hour drive, an easy bus trip. It’ll be nice to fill that upper level in Atlanta with our colors.”
Landskroener was far from alone in his assessment.
“It’ll certainly be Atlanta,” added Johnny Wakefield, who is a Mint City member who does communications work and runs a newsletter for the group. “They’re a rival in NFL obviously and it’s the closest major city. I have a lot of neighbors who are Atlanta United fans, because they wanted a major league team. I’ve talked to them and they’re already like ‘screw that we’ll leave Atlanta behind.’ Even when they launched, I said hold on guys, we’re never Atlanta here. I’m trying to convince people they can’t be Braves fans, either.”
Outside of Atlanta, geographical ties may be the foundation for the likes of Nashville SC and D.C. United to grow naturally into rivals for Charlotte.
“Nashville and D.C. will be some, because they’re easy away trips,” Wakefield said. “Will we have a rival in Orlando? No, no one hates Orlando.”
All roads point to Atlanta.
“I hope Charlotte beats the crap out of Atlanta,” Landskroener said. “I’d love to be the second team to win the league in their first year and take Atlanta off their pedestal. At the same time, I’m just excited to have a team, to be honest.”
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