The Carolina Railhawks have changed their name to North Carolina FC and are pushing to become an NWSL franchise within the next six months and an MLS franchise within the next year and a half.
Team owner Steve Malik said that his club is "well-positioned" for the jump to the top tier of American soccer.
“The market is ready for an MLS team based on our geographical location, population growth, dynamic economic environment and significant soccer participation," Malik said. "MLS requires a minimum of 20,000 seats with amenities in order to maximize revenue, and a new stadium is vital to our plans as it would increase the economic impact in the area and allow us to better showcase the sport.”
Malik said during the meeting that he thinks "we’d need some public support on infrastructure and parking at the least," indicating a proposal to the Raleigh and/or Wake County governments is most likely in the cards. The statement said that the team would unveil the "location and renderings" next year.
The announcement comes at a time of turmoil for the league the team is currently in, the North American Soccer League. Earlier today, the New York Cosmos - who just won the league title in November - announced that it had terminated the contracts off all of its players and coaching staff
and was ceasing operations. The team was by far the most visible in the NASL.
The third-tier of American soccer, the United Soccer League, is making a strong push to become the second-division
; as a result of that and other problems plaguing the NASL, the league now has, including North Carolina FC, just four active teams remaining. The soccer website FourFourTwo speculates
that the new club moving to the USL would be a logical "cost-saving move," given Malik's MLS plans.
Since buying the troubled club last year, Malik hasn't masked his intention to turn the team into an MLS franchise. In an interview with the INDY
in April, Malik told us that he expected a brand new stadium in Raleigh. "I expect Raleigh to have a twenty-five-thousand-seat stadium, expandable to fit forty thousand people," he said. "I'm telling you, it's going to happen...we're spending millions and millions of dollars ahead of the curve. I'm doing it because, over a period of time, I'll recoup that."
If the team is awarded a franchise in the NWSL - the top tier of womens' professional soccer in the United States - it'll mark a return to North Carolina. The stadium the team currently plays at, WakeMed Soccer Park, was originally built for the Carolina Courage, a team in the now-defunct WUSA. The team folded in 2003.
But for mens' soccer, North Carolina has never had a team in the top division — and Tuesday's announcement indicated that he intends to change both of those things.
“This is a brand restatement,” Malik said. “We aspire to be at the top level of both men’s and women’s professional soccer, so we are pursuing MLS and NWSL bids as well as a new stadium. We made a conscious decision to brand ourselves as North Carolina’s professional club. A united soccer community will be one of the keys to reaching these goals.”