by Ryan Bailey
Many of Charlotte’s residents were born and raised outside of the Carolinas. The birth of a new soccer team offers common ground for people from all walks of life.
CHARLOTTE—The cranes in the Uptown skyline, the frequent arrival of new multinational company headquarters and the increasing rush-hour crawl on I-77 all indicate one thing: Charlotte is a city of growth.
According to the latest census data, the Queen City showed a 1.5 percent increase in residents between 2018 and 2019, surpassing San Francisco as the nation’s fifteenth-largest city.
Charlotte has long garnered a reputation for being a city of transplants, and the rate of arrivals from other parts of the country isn’t slowing down. Census data tells us that only 41 percent of residents are native North Carolinians, while the national average of people living in their home state sits at 58 percent.
Charlotte is unquestionably a sports town, with many residents remaining fans of teams from other parts of the country—and the world. With the new Major League Soccer team, however, transplants have a unique opportunity: a chance to be a part of something new, which will become a part of their identity in their new home.
“So many people have moved to the area throughout the years, and this is a chance to have something we can share as our own.” says Mike Karas, who moved to Charlotte from Philadelphia last year.
Despite hailing from a town with an MLS team, Karas feels a much stronger bond with the soccer start-up in his new home.
“The Philadelphia Union feel really far removed from the city, probably 40 minutes out from actual Philadelphia,” he says. “Charlotte MLS feels like something happening in my backyard that I can be a part of, and something I can actually claim as my own without jumping ship.”
“The energy and the momentum around the team has been incredible,” adds Karas. “I grabbed on to the runaway train the day after it was announced—I didn’t even know it was happening before the announcement!”
The Mint City Collective supporters’ group has become a catalyst for momentum among fans, who are already shaping the atmosphere that will reverberate around Bank of America Stadium come game time.
“To be able to say that I have been there from the start, that I helped set up these traditions, that I was there for all these major milestones—it’s way more than special,” says MCC member Russell Varner, originally from Los Angeles.
“Being a major part of a team’s history is something you always dream about. I get goosebumps just thinking about it,” adds Varner.
Charlotte is not only attracting residents from other parts of the country: the city’s international aspirations are reflected in its increasing overseas demographic. Alex Stefanescu, for example, moved to the Queen City in 2000 from Romania, when his family was successful in the Visa Lottery Program.
“We lived a comfortable life in Romania but the allure of life in the U.S. was too much to ignore and my parents decided to relocate here,” says Stefanescu. “I love this city. I have seen it grow from a soulless banking hub to the wonderful, culturally diverse metropolis it is today. It is 100% home and will be forever.”
As a European, Stefanescu brought with him an affinity for the world’s game, and a passion for Romanian giants Steaua Bucharest. However, a disaffection with his hometown club, arising from a controversial political situation—they were recently forced to change their name due to a dispute with the Romanian military—has led him to fully embrace Charlotte’s new team.
“In many ways, Charlotte MLS came at a perfect time though,” says Stefanescu. “I am ready to fully devote my fandom to this club and live and breathe the colors. I am so excited that the highest level of the beautiful game is coming to my beautiful city.”
In a city populated by people with vastly different backgrounds and little in common, soccer is becoming a great unifier. Evidently, the birth of Charlotte MLS is bringing people together in a manner that an existing sports franchise simply cannot.
“I think it’s amazing to be a part of something brand new,” says Ryan Parker, who hails from Rochester, NY and has called Charlotte home for five years. “Having conversations with fellow fans around branding, gameday experiences, and creating new traditions within the supporters’ group is something you won’t get with any established club. “
“Being able to participate from the start is very satisfying,” he adds. “It makes you feel like you are really a part of the club.”