Charlotte FC Closes the Door on East Charlotte
... while opening the door on the playoffs.
I’ve been saving this week’s edition of Soccer Sheet for Sunday not only because Charlotte FC plays tonight, but also because so much has happened in the world of football … I mean soccer this week.
Charlotte FC revived their playoff hopes with a 1-3 win against NYCFC
The Crown Club finally has a headquarters, but it’s not in east Charlotte
In week 3, the top European leagues are topsy-turvy
Let’s start with Charlotte’s playoff hopes.
Every match is a must-win for Charlotte FC
On Friday morning, Queen City Nerve published my article on Charlotte’s playoff chances, and whether I thought my prediction that Charlotte would end up with 44 points and in the playoffs would hold.
I hope you’ll click through and read the article, but the short version is that Charlotte’s biggest advantage going into the playoff race is that the team draws fewer than 10% of their matches, 5 of their final 8 matches are at home, and 7 of the final 8 matches are at home and/or against an opponent they’ve beaten. Their biggest weaknesses are their inconsistent play, the loss of “talismanic” defender and backup captain Guzmán Corujo, and the fact many of their remaining opponents have improved significantly over the course of the season (looking at you Cincy and Toronto).
I also made the point that most of the remaining matches are must-wins, a point Goalkeeper Kristijan Kahlina echoed at a Friday press conference. “For us, we have eight finals starting from Sunday,” said Kahlina. 10th place Charlotte (10-14-2, 32 points, -7 GD) is four wins away from 44 points, and if one of those wins doesn’t come tonight against 9th place Orlando, Charlotte’s path to the playoff gets narrower and darker.
On the other hand, if Columbus loses or draws today a win against Orlando puts Charlotte into 5th place in the Eastern Conference, tied with Inter Miami on points but ahead on both wins and goal differential. With that result, Charlotte is back where they want to be going into the final weeks of the season, and they could still sneak into the playoffs with a relatively low number of points. Mid-table rivals Columbus, New England, and Cincinnati all have more draws (10) than they do wins or losses, and there’s no reason to think they will suddenly become less draw-prone.
Charlotte FC closes the door on east Charlotte, opens a new chapter
The saga of the Charlotte FC headquarters and training facility is finally starting a new chapter – four miles south of the former Eastland Mall site. On Wednesday morning, Tepper Sports & Entertainment and Charlotte FC announced their permanent home would be at their current practice site near McAlpine Creek Park in Charlotte City Council District 6 – more commonly associated with south Charlotte than east Charlotte.
🏈 Bank of America Stadium
❌ The original Eastland site
🟣 Charlotte East community boundaries
⚽️ Site announced by CLTFC on Wednesday
The announcement isn’t surprising. The club is already practicing there, and they’re used to the commute. The facility is both easily accessible from main roads and slightly tucked away, giving it some privacy. A spokesperson for the club assures me the fields are in “great shape” and the site can handle the additional pitches the first team, the MLS Next squad, and the academy need. It’s a convenient and simple choice for an expansion club that wants to be competitive as soon as possible.
However, it also puts a nail in the coffin of one of the club’s first promises: that a major component of their operations would be in the most diverse and international neighborhoods of the Queen City. As I wrote for Queen City Nerve a couple weeks ago:
First, developer Crosland Southeast and Tepper Sports & Entertainment proposed hosting the new MLS team’s headquarters at Eastland. Many East Charlotte residents come from countries where soccer is by far the most popular sport, so it was a natural fit. An assistant city manager for the City of Charlotte said “Tepper Sports will be [the] anchor” of the new Eastland development. In exchange, the city agreed to commit $110 million to soccer.
Later in 2020, Tepper’s involvement was scaled back to a headquarters for the Charlotte FC Elite Academy and public soccer fields. In April 2022, after staff shakeups in the front office, Tepper-controlled GT Real Estate pulled out of building a new headquarters for the Carolina Panthers in Rock Hill, S.C. after construction had already commenced, causing a flurry of lawsuits and bankruptcy filings. At a May 2022 press conference, Tepper avoided a question from WBTV’s David Hodges about the future of Eastland. The deal kept getting worse.
Then, Ashley Mahoney of Axios broke the story that TSE pulled out of Eastland entirely. With this week’s announcement Charlotte FC has left east Charlotte altogether, but at this point the reaction was muted.
On the other hand, Charlotte City Councilmember Tariq Bokhari is happy to have the team in District 6. “I’m excited this chapter is now beginning in what will be a long-term journey and investment by Tepper Sports & Entertainment in Charlotte, and I’m even more excited it’s coming to my district. District 6 has always been known for our great neighborhoods and the mall, but the future looks even brighter now that we welcome both the Charlotte FC headquarters and training facility.”
After the story broke, a Charlotte FC spokesperson talked with me about the project, but the clear message was the Charlotte FC headquarters will be in south Charlotte for the long haul. “It’s our long-term home,” said the club spokesperson. “We’re making a substantial investment into the property, so it will be our long-term home.” While the club doesn’t know if they’re going to go through Charlotte’s rezoning process (I would posit they have to if they plan on making major improvements since the sites have existing conditional zoning plans), the team is already engaged in permitting.
The result will be a location that is open to the public and for private events. “We’re not ready to fully commit to any specifics right now, but when we start doing these unveilings and renderings and start taking people in a little bit more, we’ll start to give more details,” said the club.
Topsy-turvy tables in Europe
The English Premier League, Spanish La Liga, and German Bundesliga are all shaping up to be fun to watch this year. While Arsenal, Real Madrid, and Bayern Munich are unsurprising league leaders at this or any point in the season, some strong clubs are having a rough start after three weeks. Though it’s early, there seems to be more parity than usual between European clubs this year.
In the Premier League, Arsenal leads the table after three matches, and 8 teams are still undefeated (though The Gunners are the only club with three wins). While having Arsenal and Manchester City leading the table is no surprise, the current top ten includes two promoted teams (Fulham and Nottingham Forest) as well as Leeds United, which beat Chelsea today, and Newcastle, which played City to a draw today.
Perhaps more surprising is the bottom of the table: both Manchester United and West Ham are in relegation territory. Chelsea is in 12th and Liverpool is 15th (though United and Liverpool play Monday, possibly improving the situation for one of the teams).
In La Liga, Real Madrid is on top after two weeks – no surprise – but FC Barcelona struggled in their first match back against Rayo Vallecano. Rayo – Spanish for “thunderbolt” – is best known as the third-best club in Madrid, but they were promoted to La Liga in 2021, finishing in 12th place in their first season back in the first division of Spanish football. While The Red Sashes finished last season with 3 consecutive losses, they stunned Barça fans around the world by drawing the supporter-owned club 0-0 at home in Catalonia. As a perpetual fan of underdogs, I hope Rayo can do the same in the hometown derby against Real Madrid.
Finally we come to the Bundesliga. Bayern Munich leads the table after three weeks with an obscene goal differential of 14. However, Borussia Mönchengladbach – not Borussia Dortmund – is in second place, and the top four is rounded out by 1. FC Union Berlin and 1. FSV Mainz 05. RB Leipzig is in 11th, and Bayer 04 Leverkusen – last year’s 3rd place team – sits winless and in last place. As a Union Berlin member and supporter, I was elated to see my club atop the live table early yesterday morning, even more so because they were beating the Red Bulls.
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