It’s been eight months since North Carolina’s longstanding entry in the North American Soccer League decided to rebrand the club and change the name from the Carolina Railhawks to North Carolina Football Club.
In those eight months, NCFC have aggressively chased the stated mission of owner Steve Malik to “bring the highest level of soccer in the United States to North Carolina’s Triangle area.” The Triangle is an area that includes Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and is one of the fastest growing areas in the country.
Since then, NCFC has put together an impressive bid for a Major League Soccer expansion franchise, purchased the Western New York Flash of the National Women’s Soccer League and moved it to Raleigh, and announced plans for a glitzy new downtown Stadium.
North Carolina FC Announces Preferred Location for Stadium Complex in Downtown Raleigh
— North Carolina FC (@NorthCarolinaFC) July 19, 2017
“In December, after Steve had been the owner for a little over a year, not only did we rebrand, but we really worked to articulate internally and externally what our priorities were,” said NCFC President Curt Johnson, a Raleigh native who played college soccer at North Carolina State. “We spent a lot of time listening to people and setting priorities.
“First, we wanted to create a brand we felt better represented who we are now and what we wanted to be,” continued Johnson. “We also wanted to create a brand that would resonate with passionate soccer supporters as well as the average person who just likes soccer.”
All of that has not gone unnoticed by MLS. Members of the league’s front office and expansion committee visited on July 22 and attended a press event with roughly 1,200 NCFC supporters, who marched in a parade through the city streets. The MLS folks saw plans for the new stadium, and watched NCFC play to a draw with Swansea City in an exhibition with the English Premier League club that night. And “partied a little bit into the night,” according the Johnson.
“I think it was really positive,” said Johnson. “It was well received while they were here. They met with the business community and gauged their support. They met with the media and talked through the process. We also had our preferred stadium location and economic impact study announcement and a huge rally. They saw what they wanted to see and maybe more than they wanted to see.”
A unique aspect of the new North Carolina Football Club is the top-to-bottom structure of the club. At the top, of course, is the NASL team, and the NWSL team, the North Carolina Courage. The men’s side also has an Under-23 team that plays in the USL’s Premier Development League. But it doesn’t stop there.
“One of the biggest things we have that doesn’t get a whole lot of attention is that we are going to have the largest youth-to-pro soccer club in the country,” said Johnson.
To be able to make that claim, NCFC accomplished a near-miracle, something that rarely happens in youth soccer. Two of the largest youth clubs in the region – Triangle Football Club Alliance (TFCA) and the Capital Area Soccer League (CASL) – merged and now come under the banner of the North Carolina Football Club.
Starting this fall, NCFC includes roughly 14,000 youth players.
“That’s very important to our local community and to what we are trying to accomplish, but nationally and internationally that is a very big deal,” said Johnson. “It helps us in a lot of different ways.”
Johnson and Malik are well aware that a top-notch club needs a top-notch product on the field. The Courage are currently atop the NWSL table, but the men’s team finished fifth in the NASL’s spring season with a 6-7-3 mark and 15 points out of first.
Since the end of the Spring season, however, NCFC have brought in six new players and have a win and a draw after two fall games. The win came on the road against the Spring’s runaway champion Miami FC.
The work is not finished yet, though. There’s always room for improvement as NCFC chases Malik’s vision.
“We know there’s a food chain,” said Johnson. “Barcelona and Manchester United are at the top. We are somewhere in the middle of this global food c