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First year in, and Charlotte FC's building from the ground up
MLS franchise concentrates on development
Published Monday, December 14, 2020 7:07 am
by Ashley Mahoney

Charlotte FC officially became Major League Soccer's 30th franchise on Dec. 17, 2019.

Charlotte FC’s one-year anniversary is almost here.

There is still more to come from the Major League Soccer club, which takes the pitch in 2022. Sources confirm Nick Kelly will be named president after six years with Anheuser-Busch InBev. Kelly’s most recent position was vice president for partnerships, beer culture and community. He is also familiar with the Charlotte area, spending 2011-14 in Charlotte with NASCAR. There will be plenty of time to talk about Kelly. For now, travel back in time to a rainy Tuesday morning in December 2019.

Who knew the first year would throw so many challenges at the fledgling club, whose inaugural season was pushed back due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Everything seemed bright and filled with promise as MLS Commissioner Don Garber named Charlotte as the 30th franchise at the Mint Museum Uptown on Dec. 17, 2019. They announced their first hire in Sporting Director Zoran Krneta on New Year’s Eve. Charlotte’s biggest hurdles heading into 2020 looked like the necessary renovations to make Bank of America Stadium soccer friendly and ironing out the deal with the city of Charlotte for the club’s headquarters. The club has 10,000 season ticket deposits for 31,000 seats at the 75,000-seat facility.

The club announced six more hires by March 11 – seven if you count our scoop on Jorge Herrea retiring from the Charlotte Independence to join the MLS franchise in a community role. Additional personnel included naming Marc Nicholls as technical director, former Charlotte Eagles striker Dustin Swinehart as director of community engagement, Thomas Schaling as director of scouting, Dan Lock as academy manager, Mark Simpson as head of analytics and Tiffany Blackmon, previously of NFL Network, as the club’s host and producer. They also announced that they would participate in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, which the U.S. Soccer Federation dissolved on April 15.

Then the world turned upside down on March 12 when the MLS pressed pause on its 25th season due to COVID-19. Despite the lack of action on the pitch, Charlotte was still scheduled to commence play in 2021, which meant pandemic or not, they had an organization to build.

They added renowned scout Steve Walsh as a senior advisor. For a club looking for a head coach in a short period, Walsh’s experience in England as a scout with Chelsea, Newcastle United, assistant manager and head of recruitment at Hull City, director of football at Everton and assistant manager with Leicester City gave him plenty of experience. However, Charlotte does not expect to name their inaugural head coach until next summer.

April consisted of adding more pieces to the staff. Bobby Belair, previously of Atlanta United, joined as the director of player personnel with responsibilities that include overseeing salary budget. The club also unveiled the rest of the scouting team: Lisandro Isei, Davor Brasanc and Vincent van Raam, who would rely heavily on video and data analysis to assess players across the globe.

July was the most significant month. Spanish midfielder Sergio Ruiz became their inaugural signing, joining the club on July 8 with the announcement of his loan to Las Palmas in Spain’s second division in September. Then the league announced on July 17 that Charlotte’s debut would be delayed until 2022. Charlotte MLS became Charlotte FC on July 22. Then their attention shifted to the academy.

For the first two weeks of April, the DA still existed and Charlotte announced an academy structure consisting of two full-time teams with under-17 and U-14 sides, as well as a Charlotte Discovery Program open to U-12 and U-13 players. Then the DA dissolved, and MLS stepped in with their own elite system, which would officially become known as MLS NEXT in September. Charlotte’s academy teams began training over the summer and competing in September. Additional academy announcements filtered in following the unveiling of the club name in July. Lock was named head coach of the U-17 side and Simpson the U-14 head coach.

Charlotte also announced the hire of former Charlotte Eagle and Charlotte Soccer Academy Technical Director Patrick Daka, who was named the head of individual development and the U-12/13 head coach. Charlotte 49ers goalkeeper coach and Charlotte native Brian Edwards joined them as the academy goalkeeper coach, while maintaining his position with the 49ers. Things went quiet in August, but with MLS NEXT kicking off in September, hires continued. Herrera also joined the academy side as an assistant. Karyn Latorre and Devon Manifold joined the club in late September as head athletic trainer and head of performance respectively.

October proved another signature month for Charlotte FC. They signed Australian midfielder Riley McGree on Oct. 5. He is spending his time on loan in the second division English Football League Championship with Birmingham City. He became the first Australian A-League player to be nominated for the FIFA Puskas Award, which recognizes the most beautiful goal regardless of league or division. McGree was nominated for the 2018 award for his scorpion kick goal, which he scored while on loan with the Newcastle Jets.

An alternate logo was introduced in October through a mural on The Brickyard in South End painted by artists Matt Moore and Matt Hooker.

The month concluded with a historic moment for the academy sides when they played a rivalry match against Atlanta United at Bank of America Stadium on Halloween.

City Council unanimously approved plans to redevelop the former Eastland Mall area, transforming the former shopping center site into a public-private partnership with Tepper Sports and Entertainment to place the academy headquarters there. The vote authorized City Manager Marcus Jones to negotiate and establish terms with TSE for reimbursement for costs associated with improvements for MLS at Bank of America Stadium and the Eastland Mall site. Reimbursement will come from hospitality funds, and may not exceed an aggregate of $35 million.

The vote also approved setting terms for agreements, such as leases and licenses, with TSE for bringing MLS to Charlotte, and collaborating on a vision for the area surrounding Bank of America Stadium.





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