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David Tepper and his Charlotte FC — Major League Soccer’s 28th expansion franchise — will see 26-plus months of hard work and patience come to fruition this weekend and soccer fans in the Carolinas will finally get the chance to witness the men’s professional game on their soil. With close to 75,000 fans expected at Bank of America Stadium, Saturday night’s inaugural home opener against the Los Angeles Galaxy could shatter the MLS attendance record for largest standalone match in league history and has a chance to be the largest club soccer attendance in the world — Barcelona vs. Atletico Madrid on Feb. 6 sits atop that list with 74,221.
Dec. 8, 2018
Atlanta United vs. Portland Timbers (MLS Cup 2018)
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Atlanta United vs. LA Galaxy
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Atlanta United vs. Seattle Sounders
March 11, 2018
Atlanta United vs. D.C. United
Sept. 22, 2018
Atlanta United vs. Real Salt Lake
Coming off a 3-0 defeat to D.C. United in the first regular season match in franchise history, Charlotte coach Miguel Ángel Ramírez will want to have a short memory and build on the good passages of play from the opener to take on the Galaxy.
The Galaxy opened the season in impressive fashion, defeating New York City FC at home behind an 89th-minute winner by Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez. With Douglas Costa also coming to town, this is a chance for Charlotte to announce themselves to the league in a big way, by taking down a storied franchise that’s won the MLS Cup five times, more than any other club in the history of the league.
“I think they’re going to support them pretty well, the city is happy and excited that this moment came to them,” Chicharito told reporters this week regarding his team’s trip to Charlotte. “They can go and support their team, the new team. So I think it’s going to be so so tough and we’re going to expect nothing less.”
Karol Świderski, who left Greek side PAOK to sign a designated player deal with Charlotte in late January, was not able to make his debut due to visa issues and had to watch the D.C. United game from his home in Poland. His presence was missed leading the line, but now he’s in the United States and ready to roll and potentially make his first appearance.
“I have never played for 70-75,000 people,” Świderski said, via the team’s official website. “This will be an unbelievable feeling. We can’t wait for this game, we talk about it all the time in the dressing room, having more than 70,000 people behind you is very special.”
If Świderski’s comments are any indication of what to expect, Charlotte will come out buzzing, but they will have to ensure that they don’t let that get ahead of their play. Based on what Ramírez wants the team to do, however, he’ll have them well drilled for the occasion. For a team that Ramírez considered “jodido,” which is Spanish for “screwed,” below you’ll see a slick passing sequence they showcased against a D.C. United team that nearly made the playoffs last season.
My favorite sequence for Charlotte FC in the game against D.C. United; a prime example of Ramírez-Ball.
A lovely bit of play that epitomizes the way head coach Ramírez wants his team to play. The team continues to improve on executing the game model with every game. pic.twitter.com/63KbFdqOEp
These passing plays take time to instill and it’s clear that Ramírez emphasizes those details to his team. It also points to something that expansion teams need to take into account coming into the league. Everyone has a goal to be Atlanta United or Los Angeles FC, but the reality is that turning out like Orlando City or Minnesota United isn’t a bad outcome for an expansion side.
The goal is to take the momentum from this home opener and use it as a selling point to new players. Fan support goes a long way to adding designated players which is something that Charlotte struggled with heading into the inaugural season. And it isn’t for lack of trying. They were outbid for a domestic winger, had another one get hurt after agreeing to terms, and also struck out trying to bring in Venezuelan forward Darwin Machís out of Granada, which would’ve been a coup of a signing in MLS. Here’s Tepper Sports CEO Nick Kelly showing some transparency to the club’s supporters:
Tough few weeks with DPs for the fans, coaches and front office:
-Outbid for a domestic winger that we couldn’t justify matching in any scenario
-Karol joins the club
-Agree to terms for a winger, player gets hurt next day, deal off
Frustrated…but not finished https://t.co/e73cIft4G5
But in a budding soccer market with fans clearly on their side as they try to unite South and North Carolina, Charlotte will get where they’d like to go by sticking with the plan. It’s a long road but as long as there is progress on and off the pitch, time is on their side. If performances slide, that’s when distress begins to seep in, but that’s not a concern at the moment.
Ramírez, the man from Las Palmas who led Ecuadorian side Independiente del Valle to their first ever continental title in the 2019 Copa Sudamericana, seems to have a plan in place. He is working tirelessly day and night with the hope of it translating into on-pitch success ahead of a celebratory day in Charlotte as the newly-minted franchise has a chance to mark their place in MLS with a new attendance record and a positive showing against a powerhouse franchise.
“We are working a lot,” Ramírez said, via the club’s official website. “Really early in the morning and until late in the evening. Yesterday we were here for 12 hours, and nobody knows. We want the fans to feel proud, we are doing our best to be competitive on Saturday. We want these people for not only the first game, we want this amount of people every single home game.”
Date: Saturday, Mar. 5 | Time: 7:30 p.m.
Location: Bank of America Stadium — Charlotte, North Carolina
TV: FOX | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Odds: Charlotte +220; Draw +245; Galaxy +123 (via Caesars Sportsbook)
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