Charlotte fans celebrate MLS arrival, chance to further unite their diverse city

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – A little rain was never likely to dampen the mood in Charlotte on Tuesday.

Just a few hours prior, Christmas came early when Charlotte was officially awarded MLS's 30th franchise. And now, as team owner David Tepper decreed to his city, it was time to party.

“Charlotte, you ready to party? We’re going to have one big party all season long,” Tepper declared on a stage earlier in the day alongside MLS commissioner Don Garber and Charlotte mayor Vi Lyles.

So in a tight downtown alleyway lined with bars, under a light North Carolina rain on a 60-degree day, some of the 2021 expansion side's most ardent supporters did exactly that. 

They take declarations from Tepper seriously. And Tepper practiced what he preached. 

All of a sudden, the billionaire owner who delivered MLS to Charlotte walked through that alleyway. His presence was all the invitation the supporters needed to begin chanting his name. 

"He does what he wants, he does what he wants, David Tepper, he does what he wants!" 

A big smile flashed over Tepper's face as he raised an arm to the crowd. It was indicative of the day, in which night seemed to come early. It was five o'clock somewhere long before it was five o'clock in Charlotte on this otherwise mundane Tuesday. 

“It’s fulfillment," supporter Jeff Walker told MLSsoccer.com from the fan event. "David Tepper came in and said what he wanted to do, then he did it. For him to bring it fruition in less than two years is insane. It’s fulfillment."

After a couple of hours at the first celebration, the supporters boarded a handful of buses from downtown Charlotte to the next location, the official fan event. The party kept rolling on. Tepper, of course, would meet them there. 

The Carolinas are a great place for soccer and Charlotte is no exception. The fans on hand were ecstatic that MLS will be coming to their city. A supporter group called Mint City Collective had already been set up, with fans boasting jerseys with "Day 0" written on the back. They've long been ready and now want to use their new club to further unite the diverse city behind a common cause.

“This sport always bring people together," said Mint City's Johnny Wakefield. "It’s a Southern hospitality city. Since I moved here, people have been nice to me, even though I’m not from here. It’s a very accepting, culturally diverse city. Everybody comes together for the betterment of the city. For [Mint City Collective], we come from all different areas to come together for the love of the game and the love of the city.”

Charlotte is growing, with a number of transplants taking up residence and work. Some fans jokingly refer to people born and raised in Charlotte as unicorns. 

“I hope this club can bring people together and give Charlotte an identity," said Jay Landskroener, president of Mint City. "We haven’t had an identity since the '90s, when the Hornets were a big team in the sports landscape. Charlotte has an opportunity now to define who we are through soccer, to bring all those transplants closer to home. This is our chance to be their sport in Charlotte, every freaking week.”

Added Walker: “It can put us even more on the national stage, makes us more prominent in the minds of especially like millennials and the young educated workforce. It gives them something else to look towards this city when they’re looking for places to live.”

Charlotte's latest push for MLS was something of a whirlwind. Tepper worked effortlessly to convince the league, expansion committee and board of governors that this was the perfect market for Major League Soccer. That whirlwind won't slow down, either, with the club set to begin play in 2021. 

“Today has been an awesome day," said Pedro, who didn't provide his last name. "Me as a Mexican-American, I’m proud to be here with new friends. We’re going to be great cheering people for the team. It’s a day I’ve been looking forward to, but I wasn’t expecting it would come so soon."

Speaking with the fans, one message was clear: They see Charlotte MLS as a chance to further unite all corners of the city.

“I love the fact that there’s not just middle-aged white guys here like me," said Matt Garner. "If you want to commit to the city, you cannot commit to a segment of the city. You have to commit to the entire city. To do that, you have to bring in folks that don’t look like me, like a character from the Game of Thrones!”  

The beers were flowing, the fans were loud and the music as bumping at the larger fan event. Near the end of a day-long party, Tepper took the stage once more, playing to the crowd. After speaking for a few minutes, he jumped down and took a lap around the room, signing scarves, taking pictures and trading laughs. 

“Soccer is love, soccer is family, soccer is everything," said Pedro, clanking his recently filled glass of beer with those around him to punctuate his words. "Thank you, David, for making it happen.”

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